After James White scored on a 93-yard touchdown run against Indiana on Wisconsin’s first play from scrimmage against the Hoosiers on Saturday, there was a mad scramble to the Badgers record book to see where White’s run stacked up among UW’s longest.
But one man knew as soon as White got past the line that the running back was en route to the longest run in school history. That’s because he had set the record 50 years earlier.
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“I knew what the record was and I knew they were set up at the 7. As soon as he got through I said, ‘There it goes,'” said Tom Brigham, who set the UW record with a 91-yard touchdown run in the waning moments of 41-0 win over Western Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 21, 1963. “Good for him. Fifty years is a long time, it was time (for it to be broken).
“That was my gut reaction. I was excited. I remember how excited I was when it occurred.”
“For 50 years it is hard to believe as there have been some fantastic running backs at Wisconsin,” Brigham said. “To believe it would last for 50 years, I wouldn’t have believed that. Every time someone got the ball, I’d root for them — for it to happen.”
Brigham noted that freshmen couldn’t play back in the 1960s – he missed out on Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl appearance the previous season – and he started on the scout team as a sophomore before making the traveling team, “which is big time,” he said.
Against Western Michigan, Wisconsin’s coaches decided to see what Brigham could do on offense – he mainly played strong-side linebacker or left cornerback.
“I stepped in and got a handoff and broke through the line off tackle,” remembered Brigham, who said he was excited to get a chance to play offense. “I got to the outside up along the sideline. When I got to the end zone … there was no spiking the ball or touchdown dances back then. I was just trying to catch my breath. Just a tremendous moment for me as a sophomore.”
Brigham would remain on defense – mainly at cornerback – during his time at Wisconsin, as well as returning kicks and punts, and was had a chance to play for the NFL’s Detroit Lions (drafted in the 10th round) and the AFL’s Miami Dolphins (Brigham said he was taken by Miami, but he was likely invited to training camp as he is not listed on any draft list), the latter an expansion team in the fledgling league.
Figuring Detroit would be a “safer bet” as the Dolphins and the league could fold, Brigham chose the Lions. During training camp, he suffered an eye injury.
Still under contract with the Lions the next year, Brigham instead chose to get his degree and go into college teaching. He got a job with the Wisconsin center system – which was for all the two-year colleges in the state – and ended up being the athletic director at UW-Washington College for 38 years before retiring in 2005. Since 2008, Brigham has held the part-time position of commissioner of athletics of UW’s 13 two-year colleges.
During all that time, Brigham retained the record for longest run in Wisconsin history. Until this past Saturday, that is, when Brigham was moved down to the No. 2 spot in the record book.
But Brigham is shedding no tears on seeing his record broken, in fact quite the opposite. He is genuinely happy for White.
“For 50 years I was able to hold on to it, but it was time and this young man, Jimmy White, just sounds like a fantastic student- athlete,” Brigham said. “Not only a great player but a great person. I hope to see him play on Sunday.
“Now there’s a whole new chapter. Hopefully (the record) will stay for 50 years for Jimmy. It’s been fun but at 70 years old, now football is a young man’s game. Let him cherish the moment.”