A visitor arriving at the University of Wisconsin last week during the bustle of preparation for the homecoming football game with Illinois was immediately struck by the solid virtues of the school and its team. It was evident that the stately campus on the south shore of Lake Mendota was permeated not only with a sense of the university's stature but also with the historic idea at the core of its achievements. Everywhere you heard about the Wisconsin Idea—a concept which originated before the turn of the century and has come to have a two-pronged meaning: first, public service and, second, freedom of thought.
To a remarkable degree the Wisconsin football Badgers have mirrored, in their own way, the fundamental virtues that the Idea bespeaks in academic terms. The university has not won its distinction in a flashy way, and neither have the 1959 Badgers.
Starting out with the narrowest kind of victory over Stanford, Wisconsin embarked on a season of coping, persevering and muddling through. The Badgers, averaging 222 pounds on the line and 197 in the backfield, were big; they were rough and they were tough. So punishing, indeed, that an irreverent outlander dubbed them The Terrible Huns. But they lacked speed in the backfield, and the player in whom the highest hopes were placed, Quarterback Dale Hackbart, was afflicted with slow-mending knee injuries.
Stanford's damn-the-torpedoes passing star, Dick Norman, did everything but send the ball by mail in rain-drenched Camp Randall Stadium in the hectic opener. He threw for 219 yards and once even ladled out a 10-yard left-handed pass when threatened from the right. Still the Badgers prevailed.
Except in a breather with its traditional home-state opponent, Marquette, Wisconsin was never able to run up a comfortable scoring advantage. As Northwestern's star ascended, the Badgers absorbed a 21-0 walloping from Purdue and seemed to be on the brink of an abrupt decline. Then Wisconsin was the foil for Iowa's Olen Treadway and his scorching, record-breaking aerial assault that gained 304 yards. Again the granite virtues of the Badgers won the day. Ohio State grudgingly fell 12-3, and resentful Michigan, loathing its doormat role, 19-10. Hackbart led the Badgers to a close but gorgeous 24-19 triumph in Evans-ton over Ara Parseghian's unbeaten Northwestern team.
Now in Madison, from the summit of Observatory Hill to the foot of University Avenue, the scent of roses was circulating among the elm and oak and tamarack trees on the lake shore. The team that was solid but not showy just might muddle through, just possibly might win the right to represent the Big Ten at Pasadena, just amazingly might erase the dreadful distinction of having been the only conference invader not to win its Rose Bowl game in the current postwar series.
Last week's pregame snowfall and bitter temperatures did nothing to dispel the feeling at Madison that the Badgers would carry on against Illinois. They had played in atrocious weather all season. In his Spartan office in the stadium, the big, bluff coach, Milt Bruhn, was the embodiment of the team's homely virtues. Hackbart, emerging from his modest 1951 Chevy sedan for a visit at the stadium, telling of his soda-fountain romance and eventual marriage with his Madison sweetheart, looked as foursquare and dependable as apple pie with Wisconsin cheese.
Everyone knew that Illinois, in Ray Eliot's 18th and last season as head coach, had a typically big, bruising line and speed to spare in the backfield, that the Illini had tied the Purdue team which had thumped Wisconsin, that Illinois' record of three victories, three defeats and one tie was not as unimpressive as it appeared to be beside the Badgers' 6-1 record. Wisconsin was wary, but essentially optimistic.
The sullen, snow-laden skies of Thursday and Friday gave way on Saturday to clear, sunny—and icy—20� weather. The tarpaulins came off the field, and a bundled-up crowd of 56,028 tramped into the stadium for what was to be one of the most emotionally charged and peculiar games of any season.
They did not have to wait very long for the fireworks to begin. On Illinois' second play of the game little John Easterbrook superbly faked two handoffs, drifted back and passed behind the deepest Wisconsin defensemen to Halfback Ed O'Bradovich. The play began on the Illinois 32. O'Bradovich caught the ball at the Wisconsin 30, galloped on and then inexplicably fumbled at the 10 when in the clear. Although O'Bradovich recovered his fumble at the six, the resolute Badgers produced one of their famous goal-line stands and got possession of the ball within the one-yard line. The second-string Wisconsin quarterback, Jim Bakken, promptly fumbled on a sneak. For less fortunate teams this might easily have meant disaster. But Fullback Ed Hart managed to cover the ball in the end zone (see page 32) to prevent an Illinois touchdown and limit the damage to a safety. For all its striving, Illinois had only a two-point lead.