Serendipity. It’s a word I originally came across in the fourth grade while reading the back cover of the VHS-version of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
By definition, it’s “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident” — essentially, unexpected good luck or good fortune.
It proved to be an appropriate word to describe Ferris’ experiences, as the 17-year-old averted disaster time and time again during his eventful day on the town.
But much like Bueller, I think the word also serves as a fitting characterization of this year’s serendipitous Wisconsin football team.
A fortuitous bounce of a blocked UNLV field goal resulting in an 86-yard touchdown run by Jim Leonhard; a game-winning field-goal attempt by Arizona’s Nick Folk missing wide left; and a Scott Starks’ fumble recovery leading to a game-winning 40-yard dash against Purdue are just some of the many fortunate breaks the Badgers have experienced this season.
But, and many Wisconsin fans would agree, Lady Luck probably owes the Badgers a favor or two.
Whether you want to bring up the special teams miscue that led to a heart-wrenching 20-17 loss to Michigan in 2001, the injury to Lee Evans during the 2002 spring game or falling four yards shy of beating Iowa in 2003, the list goes on and on for the Badgers in recent years.
“The last couple of years we’ve definitely been through a lot of tough situations,” Leonhard said. “We’ve lost some close games, suffered some tough injuries, a lot of stuff. This year we feel like we’re catching a little more of a break.”
It should be noted, however — and Leonhard is quick to point this out — catching a few more breaks doesn’t put wins on the board all on its own. The team still has to put itself in a position to win.
Granted, Wisconsin has benefited from a few missed field goals and a lucky bounce here or there this season, but to even be put in a position where a big play can make or break a game is a feat all in itself.
“I always feel like you make your own breaks,” Leonhard said. “They have missed some field goals and things like that, but guys are in the right position and we’re playing hard. We’re putting ourselves in that position to win, and we’re finally catching a couple breaks.”
The whole reason I even got to thinking about the role a few lucky breaks have played in UW’s breakout season — which finds the Badgers currently undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in both major polls — is because of a few discussions I had with some dejected Boilermaker fans in West Lafayette last Saturday night.
The most memorable grumbling I heard was, “I realize Wisconsin won the game, but you and I both know they just got lucky.”
To which, and keep in mind we were having this discussion in one of West Lafayette’s five downtown bars, I responded, “How about the fact Purdue didn’t even start moving the ball until three quarters of Wisconsin’s defensive front four went down with injuries? Or that John Stocco absolutely picked the Boilermaker defense apart on the Badgers’ final offensive series?”
I continued to make my case, throwing in a few of the aforementioned unlucky breaks Wisconsin had been dealt in the past, and managed to reduce him to at least a, “Whatever. It was just a really good game.”
A statement to which I had absolutely no reservations with just shutting up, nodding and walking away in total agreement from — as it was without question the most exciting college football game I had ever witnessed (including Wisconsin’s win over Ohio State last season).
So, basically, I believe it’s just time for Badger fans to forget about the pass Nick Davis stoned against Oregon in 2001, the Lee Evans injury of 2002 or any other unfortunate episode of years past.
With four games remaining on Wisconsin’s regular-season schedule, anything is possible. And an undefeated season, a trip to the Rose Bowl or another major bowl game may be in the cards.
Whether a sense of serendipity continues to have a role in the Badgers’ success remains to be seen.
But if I were Wisconsin fullback Matt Bernstein, I wouldn’t take that ace of spades out of my shoe anytime soon.