Monday, July 7, 2008

1999 Rose Bowl

Charlie and I spent Thursday afternoon together watching the 1999 Rose Bowl. Know what I remember most about it? That my friends were all there watching it while I was stuck in my oversized closet of an apartment in Fremont, Ohio, cheering my heart out in solitude. Think about that next time you plan on graduating in four years flat, kids.

Anyway, fun game to watch. The second thing that sticks out in my memory was that Craig James called the Badgers the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl, and then Bucky went out and dominated a UCLA team that until early December had been a national title contender.

My third memory was that the one Badger game I saw in person that year was the loss in Ann Arbor -- the only loss that season. Great timing.

-Keith Jackson is just a treasure to listen to. My favorite line of the game from him is as we're lining up near the end zone and he says "First and goal Nebras - Wisconsin." Not a confused old man, but someone watching the spitting image of Tom Osborne's great Cornhusker teams. A high compliment indeed, worth exploring later this week as I decompress in the UP.

-The other thing I want to follow up on is Barry's Five Great Players Theory, which I believe was first advanced this season. The five on this team were Aaron Gibson, Ron Dayne, Tom Burke, Kevin Stemke, and Matt Davenport. That doesn't even include Jamar Fletcher, Wendell Bryant, and Chris Chambers, who were all young guys on that roster who hadn't yet proven themselves. Or Chris McIntosh, who may have been better than Gibby. Or Casey Rabach, who quietly may have been the best UW center since Mike Webster. Does the 2008 edition have five great players? Let's discuss later.

-If you would have told me in 1994 that Bob Adamov and Leonard Taylor would one days be starters on a Rose Bowl champion defense, I would have looked at you funny. But that's a testament to those guys' work ethic and the coaching they received.

-Seven starters on that defense were Wisconsin natives. For defensive starters were former walk-ons -- Nebraska comparison there.

-The run-pass ratio for the Badger offense was 552-183 entering the Rose Bowl. Hard to argue when Dayne is your tailback, Mike Samuel is your quarterback, and the line goes McIntosh, Bill Ferrario, Rabach, Dave Costa, and Gibby. But Brad Childress's offense was just so damn unimaginative -- same basic sets, same plays. Works against horrible defenses like UCLA's, but not hard to see why Michigan shut us down in our one loss that year. Was that Chilly's preference or Barry's influence on the offense?

-That said, Dayne's first touchdown run was a simple play executed to perfection, a thing of beauty that gave me goose bumps. What great blocking, and Dayne flat-out outran Ryan Nece.

-Bryant didn't start, but played a tremendous game, you could see he was going to be a beast.

-UCLA's defense was the worst tackling unit I've ever see playing a game of significance, god were they awful. They had a few NFL guys on that side of the ball, but most of them were young.

-If you're UCLA, it has to be disheartening to come out of the tunnel of your home stadium and see that less than half of the fans are wearing your colors. Must be what it feels like to be a Minnesota or Northwestern player.

-On Dayne's second TD run Rabach pulled right and paved the way. He was so athletic, but never really earned the recognition he deserved.

-Watching Samuel throw short, touch passes was painful, but a. He was a tough sucker, b. As was well-documented, he was a winner, and c. His deep ball wasn't half bad. Watching his two-handed pump fake brought back good memories.

-Davenport was 32-of-37 heading into the bowl game. That's a lot of field goal attempts, and a great conversion percentage.

-That team had so many interesting stories attached to the players. Nick Davis could catch a BB in the dark. Gibby could do the splits, dunk a basketball, needed a custom helmet for his huge melon. Davenport's nickname was Money. Donnel Thompson sold sodas at Camp Randall as a kid. Don't see too many of those anymore.

-Burke had 21 sacks on the season, an amazing total for a college season. The Badgers didn't sack Cade McNown all that often in the game, but forced a lot of holding penalties.

-Fletcher with the ball was as exciting as any offensive player we've had in the last 15 years. Why did he play only nine games that season?

-I know this is probably just because of how the sideline assignments fell, but the ratio of Bob Toledo close-ups to Alvarez close-ups was about 20:1. Sort of ridiculous.

-What a solid Badger defense. Great pass rush. Solid tacklers at linebacker. Emerging star young corners. They defended UCLA's screen to perfection.

A vintage Badger win from a vintage Badger team. Great balance between stars and role players, experience and youth, great coaching, great special teams. We've rarely come close to achieving that balance again, but watching games like this give you hope that it's going to happen eventually.


Will said...

Thanks for that stroll down memory lane. I was lucky enough to be in Pasadena, and the post brought some things that I haven't thought about in a while.

-- The Rose Bowl press box had a shrine dedicated to Jim Murray, who had died in 1998 (at his normal first row seat). Anyone who hasn't read Murray should - he was a great columnist who influenced a ton of the guys we grew up digesting.

-- Having grown up in NYC and having attended college at a pretty big school for 2.5 years at that point, I still felt pretty awestruck by parts of Los Angeles and the UCLA campus (I tagged around with Schwalbach who was working on a story). Everyone had cell phones! And every location seemed like a movie set, and probably was, at some point.

-- His NFL career might be so-so, but Fletcher was just an incredible college football player (and I'm afraid that even with Thorpe award, he gets lost in a lot of national conversations). Besides his talent, he had a remarkable confidence level and that in turn helped Echols.

--Not sure if TV does it justice, but the Rose Bowl is an incredible place to watch a football game.

Matt said...

Agreed, Will, there were a lot of great memories:

--While Will and I were wandering around the UCLA campus, walking past Pete Sampras and then seeing Pauley Pavillion.

--As the guys were dropping me (and maybe Will) off early to "prep" for coverage of the big game, Roddy's brother spots a Bruins fan with a McNown jersey on. He proceeds to stick his head out of the sunroof and yell, "Cade McNown sucks d--k for crack!" Classy, I realize, but it was pretty damn funny in the moment.

--The sun setting on that stadium on that evening is something to behold - it's a game that lives up to it's hype as the granddaddy. I would go back anytime regardless of who is playing.

--Ryan Nece and Fletch talking smack back and forth through the press. Needless to say the UCLA defense did not back up it's bravado.

--The Roddy family fights - hilarious.

--Having the privilege to be on the field after the game and then in the lockerroom - quite honestly the giddiest, most fun lockerroom I've ever been in.

--Seeing Eric Nies from the Grind playing basketball in a park on the ocean. What a joke.

Mr.Man said...

Regarding some of the comments about UCLA-- I spent that season in Southern California, and that UCLA offense was really, really good. Despite the props you gave to our defense, they generally lit up Wisconsin, except for the huge play that Fletcher made down the stretch to turn the game. I had seen so much of UCLA lighting people up that year that I was convinced Wisconsin wasn't going to be able to stop them, and I thought UW wouldn't be able to score enough to keep up because UCLA would just stack the line.

But that didn't happen, because the game was a colossal mismatch in the trenches. UCLA had lost at least three of its starting defensive lineman, and was starting several freshman on the line. Against Gibby, Rabach and McIntosh, three first day draft picks? And follow that up with one of the great college runners ever? Serious trouble for UCLA.

I, too, felt that game was a great example of the fair-weather fandom of SoCal fans, but it's kind of hard to blame them. Wisconsin was ecstatic to make the Rose Bowl and UCLA was disappointed. It would have been in the National Championship game had a hurricane in September not canceled their pre-conference match-up with Miami. Instead, that game got pushed to November, when UCLA's D-line had been ravaged by injuries, and they lost. So the local fair-weather fans were all bummed out, and Wisconsin and it's running game was hardly the sexiest opponent.

As far as my personal memories go, man that was a wonderful day. Parked on the golf course North of the Stadium in Arroyo Seco. Learned my Uncle had gotten us seats in the Budweiser luxury box, on the lowest level of the boxes, right on the 50-yard line. Beautiful view of the mountains and the field. Plus, that morning my great-uncle had bought me and my older brother Rose-Bowl edition Ron Dayne jerseys. I normally would have stuffed myself in the box, but was too freaked out to eat the entire game. Then when Wendell sacked McNown, I started pounding lukewarm Bud Light like you wouldn't believe. Such a wonderful experience.

I still think that's the best sporting event I've ever seen in person.

frank said...

Another vote for the greatness of the Rose Bowl. I've been to a few football stadiums but I'd take that as the top one, barely edging out Lambeau. Of course, the two games I saw there were Rose Bowls. If I had to sit through some random half empty UCLA non-conference games it might not be the same.

Tappa, you can keep posting on these old games and I'd be fine with it. One thing I remember well from that game, and I don't know why (and it has been edited out of the ESPN Classic replay) is the first offensive play -- Dayne plowed through guys for like 10 yards, and the Badgers fans gave this roar that just seemed to say "That's coming all day, UCLA. Buckle up." What a game. I also think that's the best one I've been to in person.

By the way, does anyone have the Stanford-UW Rose Bowl on tape? Don't think that's getting played on ESPN Classic anytime soon, but I've found myself wanting to see it again.

Will said...

Good memory, Matt. I forgot about Eric Nies! That was the second part of the trip, when we headed to the "O.C." and Laguna Beach area for a few days. Clearly, we were way ahead of our time.

My memory might be a little spotty, but didn't some guy razz you, Schwalbach, at the Mini-golf course? (quick aside: this was the coolest mini-golf course I have ever seen...I know I'm talking about mini-golf) I think he said something like "This must be Wisconsin's lucky week or something."

The Earl's said...

Alright, Taps, you drew me into your little web. It is very well done, I might add.

For the 1999 RB, I was back in Eau Claire, anchoring the sports that night so I was watching a "raw" feed, without commercials, and logging each play.

A few quick thoughts on the 1998 UW squad:

- They absolutely came out of nowhere. Remember that awful, sluggish San Diego State roadie to open the season? Samuel & crew were struggling on the old dirt infield at Jack Murphy and needed late magic to pull it off.

- I was still skeptical after the UNLV and Ohio blowouts. I saw something guttural in the Indiana road win (probably Nick Davis's catch while on his rump).

- This was a shaky team against the good opponents but clearly better than the Big Ten dogs that year (Iowa, Illinois, NW, Minnesota).

- I will always back up Mike Samuel as the perfect quarterback for that system. When Bevell got KO'd at Purdue in 1995, you could see Samuel had a winner's mentality in his eyes. It was there in toughness even if not always in smarts. Samuel was awesome to deal with after victories. (Example: Drew Brees threw 83 passes in the '98 night game. Samuel after the win: "They won't let me hit 83 passes the whole year.")

- As with '93 and '99, a big thank you to the schedule maker. No Ohio State and catching Purdue and Penn State at UW. The Michigan loss was not unexpected.

- UW was solid at so many key positions outside of quarterback. At cornerback, at placekicker (this was VERY shaky in '93, between kick far/kick wide John Hall and "the pitching wedge" Rich Schnetzky). However, I will always contend the 1993 squad was the best UW team I've ever seen. They had an unmistakable swagger about them for every quarter except for the first three quarters of the awful Gopher game.

As for the game, I have no great thoughts that haven't already been brought up here except...

- I always get tingles when it is Sunset in Pasadena. Usually the third quarter when the sun dips behind the mountains and it shifts under the lights.

- Mike Samuel's option was the perfect foil when everyone knew Dayne would be getting the ball.

- Yes, UCLA was AWFUL as tacklers. I still can't believe the Bruins took UW lightly. Actually, I can because Terry Donahue was not coaching in '98. If Toledo wouldn't have been there and Donahue would have, UCLA would have cared more.

On a personal note, I was too broke to go for the 1994 RB, working in 1999 and I left to take a job in Duluth two weeks before the 2000 RB (I was slated to go to Pasadena to cover it).

Wish I would have.

Keep up the good work, Taps. I'll check in from time to time.


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