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Fashion flash from Madison, Wis.: Earrings are becoming pass� in this Berkeley in the heartland. Beatniks and Wisconsin undergrads along State Street are opting for pierced nostrils and, in some cases, pierced lips. Shocking the bourgeoisie isn't as easy as it used to be.
Among Wisconsin football players, meanwhile, letter jackets are making a comeback, for the simple reason that the Badgers are no longer embarrassed to wear them. "There were a few years when we just left them in the closet," says senior strong safety Reggie Holt. "For a while we were a laughingstock."
Having humbled Purdue 42-28 last Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., the Badgers are 6-0 and off to their best start since 1912. They are tied with Ohio State for first place in the Big Ten and ranked seventh in the country by a computer at The New York Times. (They're No. 15 in the AP poll.) A school-record four games have been sold out at 77,745-seat Camp Randall Stadium, and a sense, of entering unexplored territory pervades the football program.
Consider novelty-item quarterback Darrell Bevell, one of the world's oldest sophomores. A Mormon who will turn 24 in January, Bevell won the starting job at Northern Arizona in the spring of 1989. A few weeks later he surprised his coaches with the news that he was embarking on a two-year mission for his church. Recalling the long days he spent knocking on doors in Ohio, Bevell says, "I think everyone in that state owns a rottweiler."
When Bevell transferred to Wisconsin in the spring of '92, he hadn't worked out in two years. "He had the muscle tone of a dishrag," recalls offensive coordinator Brad Childress, who held that post at Northern Arizona when Bevell was there and recruited him for the Badgers. Says offensive tackle Joe Panos, "I saw him and thought, This guy's gonna lead us?"
Affirmative. Against Northwestern on Oct. 9, Bevell completed his first 14 passes and finished 17 for 18. Then he torched Purdue with four touchdown throws before leaving the game early in the third quarter. After only 16 starts Bevell is seventh on Wisconsin's alltime passing list. Says coach Barry Alvarez, "We break records every week." Pause. "They're not hard to break, actually."
Alvarez struggles to be tactful when talking about the shambles he inherited three years ago. His predecessor, Don Morton, had come to Wisconsin from Tulsa in 1986. Morton's plan for the Badgers: recruit in Texas and Arkansas and run the veer option. Hey, it worked at Tulsa. Morton won six games in three years. One week during the '89 season, he began his TV show by sitting up in a coffin and declaring, "I'm not dead yet!"
His career at Wisconsin, however, was. Alvarez, who had been defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, took the Badger head job in January 1990. His practices were so arduous that in less than a year 58 players, many of them walk-ons, quit the team. After going 1-10 in '90, Alvarez had two five-win years before turning the corner this season.
He has surrounded himself with assistants who have had success in the Big Ten and who can recruit. In his first staff meeting at Wisconsin, Alvarez told his coaches that they were to go after the best athletes in the country, something their predecessors had not dared to do.
The marquee name in this year's batch of recruits was Carl McCullough, an All-America tailback out of St. Paul who was also recruited by Miami and Florida State. McCullough, who has 26 carries for 143 yards and one TD this season, was sold on Wisconsin by defensive coordinator Dan McCarney, who regularly poached Minnesota's best high school talent when he was an assistant at Iowa. Badger tight ends coach Bernie Wyatt, who worked at Iowa as well, was renowned for luring studs from the Eastern Seaboard. He and McCarney have diverted their pipelines to Madison.