From Madison to Milwaukee. From Milwaukee to Chicago. Either of those two trips represents a distance of roughly 80 miles — the distance the Wisconsin Badgers football team will be from the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, one of four airliners used in the coordinated attack on the United States by terrorists just one week ago.
The objective, however, will not be to participate in any sort of relief effort for the victims of that tragedy. Instead, it will be to partake in the aspect of America’s healing process where society attempts to get back a sense of normalcy. In this case, it includes the resumption of America’s athletic contests, and in particular, college football.
“I am sure [the team is] anxious to play,” Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. “You practice to play, you prepare to play. I would guess that they’re anxious to get back out on the field.”
Alvarez and the Badgers (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten) will have a chance to relieve that anxiety this Saturday, as they take on the Penn State Nittany Lions (0-1,0-0 Big Ten), the first game in two weeks for either squad following the cancellation of both teams’ games in light of last Tuesday’s tragic events.
Wisconsin coaches chose to give players a few days off to recuperate and reflect and also to use the week as a sort of bye week, a practical measure, as the make-up date for the game against Western Kentucky was set for Sept. 29, previously an off date for UW.
However, the result of the rest and reflection remains to be seen, and the players’ reactions to the tragedy and the effects they will have on each individual, will not be apparent until Saturday.
“I am not qualified to get into everyone’s psyche,” Alvarez said. “That’s very difficult, and I certainly don’t want to act like I’m qualified or I have insight on everyone’s psyche or how everyone is going to respond. It’s too difficult, and everyone has responded differently.”
Yet on a Saturday that will see a full slate of NCAA games, the impression Wisconsin currently gives is that the Badgers refuse to let their close proximity to the tragedy, or the flight there, affect them when they take the field at newly renovated Beaver Stadium in front of more than 106,500 screaming fans.
“I am going to try to be focused on football as much as I can at that time,” quarterback Brooks Bollinger said. “For me, personally, I think I will be all right.”
Wisconsin’s duty this weekend in the Badgers’ trip to State College, Pennsylvania, a.k.a. Happy Valley, is an attempt to prevent Penn State from putting its head coach, Joe Paterno, in the record books. A victory against Wisconsin will tie Paterno with Alabama legend Paul “Bear” Bryant for third on the NCAA career all-time career wins list (323), and first among Division 1-A college coaches.
In order to accomplish that feat, the Badgers will be have to ignore any possible apprehensions they may hold about traveling so near an area so directly affected by those terrible events of just one week ago.
Yet, as Wisconsin has reason to worry about the upstart Lions, who are anxious to avenge their embarrassing loss to the Miami Hurricanes and give Paterno his much-deserved victory, it would also be completely understandable to many if the Badgers were slightly fearful.
So far, however, it seems the team and its coaches will handle that burden with flying colors.
“If everything is clear, I won’t have reservations,” Alvarez said about preflight anxiety.
If those beliefs are reflective of the team, as appears to be the case, then the Badgers do indeed appear to be without any sense of fear or reservation, and instead rightfully focused on the task at hand.
And judging those reactions to an unnamed minister’s comments made after last week’s attacks, a comment reiterated by many, “If you let fear paralyze you, then the terrorists have won.”
According to the merits of this statement, it appears the Badgers may already choose to claim victory.