WHY NOT WISCONSIN? WHEN YOU START WINNING A COUPLE OF GAMES, you start believing that you have a chance to be pretty good. In 1990 the team had won only one game. In '92, when I was a freshman, we were one win away from going to our first bowl game in almost 10 years. We didn't get it. Our school hadn't had a winning season since '84.
I remember the first team meeting the following year, Coach Alvarez put up on the board that our goal was to get to a bowl game. It wasn't the Rose Bowl, and it wasn't any big, grand, specific plan. It was just to get to a bowl game and win the bowl game. It turned out to be a special season.
We were tough, and we were a very close group. About 75 guys had stayed in Madison that summer, all working together, going through the training that we needed to do. We were a real blue-collar, tough team. Coach talked about being a lunch-pail gang, just taking your lunch pail and going to work, and I can definitely say that I'm proud of the accomplishments that we had while I was there. I was one piece of that.
We started winning a few games in a row and felt pretty good about it. We beat teams that were supposed to be better than us just because of their names. On November 11 we went to Illinois with one loss and one tie, and we needed things to work out for us against the Illini. We beat them pretty good, 35--10, and the next week Michigan beat Ohio State. That put us back in the driver's seat, and we realized, Hey, why not Wisconsin? But we had to play this game in Tokyo against Michigan State to really seal it for us and allow us to go to the Rose Bowl.
Playing in Tokyo added more unknowns and more distractions. But Coach had a plan. Before the trip we started practicing later and later at night, and the last time, we practiced at about midnight and then got on the bus. They were trying to get us on Japan time even before we got over there.
Once we got to Tokyo, I remember it was really clean and felt very safe. We had a couple of guys leave their Walkmans on the bus. That makes me old, talking about a Walkman, right? But they left their things on the bus, and the bus left. It came back a couple of hours later, and there it all was, all the stuff, still sitting there.
When we went over to the Tokyo Dome, the spectators in one half of the stadium were given one color pom-poms, and the other half had another color. Wherever you sat, that was the team you were going to cheer for. The Japanese really didn't understand the game the way people do over here. We would be standing there in a timeout, and the place would be going nuts. Or we'd score a touchdown, and it would be dead quiet. But the game went according to plan. Early on it was back and forth, and then we were able to take over and win 41--20. I think we were just a team that knew where we wanted to go, and the Rose Bowl was completely on our minds.
Because we were over in Tokyo, it was just our team and all the people who were really close to the program having a little party on the field after we won. It was everything for us, and particularly for those seniors. To think that they had gone from where they were in '90 to Big Ten champs going to the Rose Bowl was amazing. Down on the field there was a bunch of roses. I don't know where they came from, but a lot of guys carried roses off the field. We were all generally ecstatic, for the older guys and for Wisconsin as well. It was all Wisconsin, all the way.