Having grown up in Detroit, attended Michigan State and worked here at Wisconsin for the past 14 years, the Rose Bowl has always held a special place in my heart.
I clearly remember watching Michigan and Ohio State battle USC every year (or so it seemed) as a kid in the 1970s. As a student at Michigan State, I was able to get a gig doing stats for our home radio network when the Spartans played USC on New Year’s Day in Pasadena in 1988.
But my most recent experiences in Pasadena involved the Badgers. Today, Jan. 1, 2009, marks the 10th anniversary of Wisconsin’s 1999 Rose Bowl win over sixth-ranked UCLA. It has to rank as one of the more satisfying wins in Badger history.
This was the Wisconsin team that, despite a 10-1 regular-season record and a Big Ten title to its credit, was called by CBS analyst Craig James “the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl.” If you recall, this was a team that had Ron Dayne, Aaron Gibson, Chris McIntosh, Matt Davenport, Donnell Thompson, Jamar Fletcher and defensive end Tom Burke, who had one of the single most dominating years you’ll ever see. There were plenty of other standouts on this team, as well.
UCLA was ranked No. 6 in the nation and was led by QB Cade McNown. In fact, the Bruins nearly went to the national championship game, but a late-season loss to Miami prevented that.
Dayne was the game MVP after rushing 27 times for 246 yards (one shy of the Rose Bowl record) and four touchdowns. Fletcher intercepted a McNown pass and returned it for the Badgers’ other touchdown. Freshman Wendell Bryant sacked McNown to clinch the game for Wisconsin with less than a minute to play.
It was Wisconsin’s second Rose Bowl victory in five years. And the Badgers would win it again a year later over Stanford in Dayne’s final game at Wisconsin.
The Rose Bowl is a magical experience. You can always see the gorgeous San Gabriel mountains in the distance as the sun begins to set. It’s a beautiful venue and it’s loaded with tradition. If you’ve never been, it’s worth the trip.
That ’99 Rose Bowl was an unusual one for me because I was the men’s basketball SID here at UW. The men’s hoops team, led by Sean Mason and Ty Calderwood, was hosting Scoonie Penn, Michael Redd and Ohio State on Jan. 2 at the Kohl Center. Madison residents will remember that we had a big snowstorm the night of Jan. 1.
I left the Rose Bowl after the game and flew back to Madison all night with our band. I believe we were the last plane to land in Madison before they closed the airport due to the weather. There were about 5,000 people in the Kohl Center that night to watch the Badgers fall in overtime against the Buckeyes. Many Badger fans were “stranded” in California and had to spend an extra day soaking up the sun and reveling in the win over UCLA.