PASADENA, Calif. – J.J. Watt didn’t want it to end.
But after a thrilling run to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance, Wisconsin’s season did just that – it ended – and it did so with a gut-wrenching 21-19 loss to Texas Christian University.
Watt walked into the post-game press conference room alongside Scott Tolzien and head coach Bret Bielema in full uniform, hesitant to take his helmet off.
And when the helmet was removed, a face full of pain and dejection was left to answer questions. Questions about how one handles such an agonizing loss.
Before uttering a word, the tears came.
“We know how much this means to everybody, to everybody involved,” Watt said, struggling to fight off the tears. “We work 365 days a year for this, and then we come out here and don’t execute.”
Watt was physically unable to say anything more but there was nothing more to be said.
The Badgers had worked toward an opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl all season long. For some, it had been a dream since childhood.
But after four hard-fought quarters of play, the dream of winning the Granddaddy of Them All slipped away. After a missed two-point conversion and failed onside kick, TCU came away victorious. The joy of reaching Pasadena is immediately replaced with the agony of a two-point defeat.
Bielema felt that pain as a player for Iowa in 1991 when the Hawkeyes lost to Washington in the Rose Bowl. Now as a coach on the losing end, he knows exactly how his players feel.
“Extremely difficult,” Bielema said of the loss. “We said some things in the locker room there, and you could tell by the expressions on these two young men to my right, this is going to be something that burns in their memory for a long, long time.”
Like every other team across the country whose season has ended, the Badgers have already turned their attention to the future.
Players like Tolzien, and perhaps Watt (if he declares for the NFL draft) will have to be replaced and the rest of the program will have to bounce back from such a heartbreaking defeat.
“Hopefully the scar that we’re going to take from this game can get us back here sooner than later,” Bielema said. “For the guys that return out of that locker room, I really think they enjoyed the taste of success, and hopefully they’ll keep that taste in their mouths and want to return to it next year.”
Bielema hopes this scar serves as the ultimate motivator for his team. He hopes this loss causes the competitive fire inside his player’s to burn even more.
Watt is confident this loss will do just do that. Whether he wears cardinal and white again or not.
“The Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl. I haven’t made my decision, but if I’m back, if I go, the Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl,” Watt said. “I don’t know if it will be next year, but Coach Bielema is an outstanding football coach. The Wisconsin football program does things the right way. And Coach Alvarez leads the athletic department the right. No doubt about it, the Badgers will be back. They’ll be back better than ever. When they come back, they’ll win.”
Senior captain Culmer St. Jean sure hopes so.
“I just hope that they take this pain that we feel and all the work we put in this year and move forward next year and get back here, or even further, have an undefeated season and make it to a national championship,” St. Jean said.
To get back to Pasadena, to win another Big Ten title, to compete for a national championship, the Badgers will have to put this loss behind them. Bielema knows the disappointment will persist for some time, but a new season, with new aspirations lies ahead.
“To have this memory not come out with a win is hard for a lot of people that were wearing red and white today,” Bielema said. “But we’ll take this and we’ll move forward.”