Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Only Michigan left on horizon

In a program that has legitimately competed for the Big Ten title for the better part of a decade and for a school that has prided itself on its football excellence, the 2002 Badgers have been a disappointing aberration.

On-field struggles have compounded into off-field troubles, and a team that traditionally sets its sights on a New Year’s Day bowl game is scratching and clawing to earn an invite to the Dec. 23 Tangerine Bowl.

They’ve lost five of their last six games and are two weeks away from back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in 10 years.


Forget about winning the final two games of the season. Forget about the 5-0 start to the year and forget about an invitation to one of the Big Ten’s seven bowl games.

The only way Wisconsin will walk away from this season with even a shred of satisfaction is if the Badgers beat Michigan on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Sure, the record-setting season of Jonathan Orr was encouraging to the future of the program. Of course, Anthony Davis extending Wisconsin’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers amplifies the normally proud tradition of the university.

But the fail safe for the disappointing 2002 campaign resides solely in Saturday’s battle with the always-hated Wolverines. A win here is the only anecdote for the Badgers’ downward-spiraling season.

Why? Because Beating Michigan is just one of those things Wisconsin doesn’t do very well. It’s something Barry Alvarez has yet to figure out. The Badgers haven’t done it since 1994, and Alvarez has only done it twice during his tenure in Madison.

In fact, Wisconsin has only beaten Michigan 10 times since the inception of this so-called “rivalry” in 1892. And Saturday will be the Badgers’ last chance to do so until 2005, when the rotation of the Big Ten schedule will allow them another opportunity.

A win over Michigan in this city is so huge that the last time it happened students rushed the field so violently that a handful of people spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital while the Badgers marched toward their first of three Rose Bowls in the ’90s. Lawsuits were filed and university officials withstood extreme criticism for allowing such chaotic aftermath in the wake of a seemingly normal victory.

It made the national headlines, and Camp Randall was forced into renovation for preventing such hoopla in the future. Fortunately for them, though, Wisconsin hasn’t beaten Michigan since then.

Last year’s game had some hearts beating, though. A gritty offensive performance and a stingy defense put the Badgers in position to win the game as time was winding down. But a missed field goal and botched punt return in the final minute of play handed the Wolverines their fifth consecutive victory over Wisconsin and terminated the Badgers’ dimming bowl aspirations.

Two years ago UW nearly pulled it off on the road, but of course fate intervened once again. A miraculous Drew Henson pass late in the contest sealed it for the Wolverines in a game that saw both Michael Bennett and Lee Evans errantly slip on the Michigan turf en route to sure touchdowns.

Wisconsin couldn’t even beat the Wolverines in the Badgers’ back-to-back Rose Bowl years of ’98 and ’99.

Oddly enough, the last time Wisconsin won this game, it was played at Michigan, when the unranked Badgers knocked off the number 10 ranked Wolverines: the identical scenario Saturday’s game presents.

So once again the Badgers are pitted against the Wolverines in one of the more pivotal games of their aging season. But this time it’s not for a Big Ten title, and it’s not to see who will be packing for Pasadena when the New Year rolls around.

This one is just for good old-fashioned pride. While the Badgers can’t walk away chomping on roses as they leave the field, they have the opportunity to leave the Big House with something no Badger has accomplished in years: a victory.

In fact, they would only be the second team to do so since 1962, when Wisconsin crushed Michigan 34-12.

So although the Badgers can lose Saturday, win next week at home against Minnesota and spend the holidays honeymooning in their meaningless bowl game, a win at Michigan would be much more defining and much more sentimental.

When Brooks Bollinger, Al Johnson, Jake Sprague and the rest of the seniors are reminiscing on their playing days 30 years from now, a stolen victory at the Big House will resonate much more strongly than a vacation to a charity bowl game.

Saturday’s game means a lot more to this program than their second potential win in the conference. It will be a statement about the toughness of this program and the legacy of the 2002 Badgers.

They might not be remembered as the team that won the Rose Bowl or the year they had a Heisman trophy winner. But they could be remembered as the team that finally beat Michigan.

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