Max Henson

Four years ago, I didn’t know much about Wisconsin football.

As an out-of-state kid coming to UW with an obsession for all things sports, I wanted to change that. But if I knew one thing about Big Ten football it was the significance of the Rose Bowl.

You’ll notice an addition has been made to my mug photo this week. The image you see is a drawing I made during my freshman year (I used to be a bit of an artist). UW came into that 2007 season with Big Ten title hopes and a No.7 preseason ranking. So, caught up in all the excitement, I designed an image representing what every Big Ten fan one day hopes to see: Their team playing in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin ended playing in the Outback Bowl in ’07 to finish a 9-4 season.

I was young(er) and na?ve but the Rose Bowl is what everyone associated with Big Ten football aspires to.

Before ever stepping foot in Camp Randall Stadium, it’s clearly understood that the goal is to get to Pasadena.

Those framed pictures of Ron Dayne celebrating Rose Bowl victories are hanging in numerous establishments around Madison for a reason. The intro video played at Camp Randall this season shows former players smiling with roses between their teeth for a reason. Everyone across the country knows about the Rose Bowl’s prestige and tradition. It’s what makes “The Granddaddy of them all” so special and ever since Jan. 1, 2000, UW has worked to get back to Pasadena.

Now, after last night’s BCS selection show, it’s official: The Wisconsin Badgers are going back to the Rose Bowl.

The die-hards out there have been waiting 11 years for this moment. And the less-experienced Badger fans are just as excited because everyone understands the magnitude of this rare opportunity.

After a Big Ten championship season, the 2010 Badgers now have the chance to cap off the season with a win on one of sports’ greatest stages.

And at the football awards show this past Friday, Barry Alvarez, the man with three Rose Bowl victories to his name as former coach of UW, made sure Bret Bielema’s Badgers and the fans in attendance understood how extraordinary that opportunity is.

Because while all BCS bowls are great, the Rose Bowl is just on a different level.

“You’re going to go to Pasadena and when you’re there take everything in. Absorb every second of it,” Alvarez said. “There is nothing like it. Just think of all the players that have ever played this game. Very few have the opportunity to play in the Rose Bowl.”

Joe Thomas, Brian Calhoun, Lee Evans – all Badger greats who never stepped foot on the Rose Bowl grass.

And Alvarez will be the first to tell you just how majestic that sacred field is.

“There is no venue in sport prettier than taking the field at the Rose Bowl. You come out of that tunnel and you’re looking at the scoreboard and three palm trees. The field is painted up prettier than you’ve ever seen,” Alvarez said.

“It’s the prettiest venue you’ve ever seen in you’re life.”

Alvarez’s words hit home with senior guard John Moffitt.

“He got me really excited about it,” Moffitt said. “That’s the game. That’s the venue that I’ve always wanted to play on. The Rose Bowl means a lot and it’s a great opportunity.”

But after all the excitement about the Rose Bowl’s unequaled environment dies down, a very important football game will be played.

The Badgers have grown into a team capable of playing with anyone in the country. They’ll square off with No. 3 Texas Christian University – a team that hasn’t lost a game in two years – for the title of Rose Bowl Champion.

With that, Alvarez had a final message for the players.

“Now there is one other thing – playing in the Rose Bowl is not good enough,” he said. “Win that Rose Bowl and then we’ll really celebrate.”

Like every other week this season, Bielema’s Badgers will take that famed “1-0” mentality to Southern California.

Wisconsin has matured into a disciplined, focused machine, and the Badgers will be ready on New Year’s Day to compete at the highest level in search of their 12th win of the season. The preparation and mindset won’t change.

But on this journey to Pasadena we’ve witnessed some transformations, myself included.

Much like this very columnist, senior tight end Lance Kendricks used to be a bit of an artist and Kendricks even competed in national art shows during high school.

But in his final collegiate game, Kendricks will display the violent art form that is the UW tight end position. Like all of us, Kendricks has changed quite a bit throughout his college career.

“Lance Kendricks was a drawer, an artist and now he’s a killer tight end,” Jay Valai said with a laugh at the awards show.

Four years ago I was a freshman with high hopes and a cool drawing, a kid who couldn’t yet appreciate the work that goes into earning a trip to Pasadena. But now with over a decade gone since UW’s last appearance, Badger nation isn’t just creating another Rose Bowl fantasy.

We’re all living it.

Max is a senior majoring in journalism. What’s your reaction to the official announcement that Wisconsin is going back to the Rose Bowl? Let him know at [email protected] or tweet @maxhenson.