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.
Soon after his fumble Bakken made amends by intercepting a pass from Easterbrook at the Wisconsin 47. With Hackbart running for substantial gains from Bruhn's slot-T formation, Wisconsin marched—and bogged down at the Illinois 14. On fourth down, with five yards to go for a first down, chunky Karl Holzwarth trotted in to try a field goal for Wisconsin. Or so everyone supposed. Hackbart knelt to receive the ball. Instead of placing it for Holzwarth's toe, he stood up, wheeled and raced to his right. Hit at the five, he fumbled the ball forward into the end zone, where End Henry Derleth providentially swooped down to cover it and score the Badgers' only touchdown of the day. Hackbart's running try for a two-point conversion failed.
There cannot be many things in football more dispiriting than missing out on an almost certain touchdown and seeing the enemy fumble to achieve one of its own. Illinois continued its explorations in the realm of futility and left the field at half time still behind 2-6. Then the news came of Michigan State's 15-10 upset of Northwestern, giving the Badgers a clear shot at the Rose Bowl, and the Wisconsin students' section erupted in a frenzy of pompon and balloon waving.
"On, Wisconsin!" pleaded the fans as the second half began; on marched the gallant, if bewildered, Illinois team. Early in the third quarter the Illini spurted all the way to the Wisconsin four, only to see another threat perish as the Badgers' illustrious guard, Jerry Stalcup, jarred Easterbrook loose from the ball and, temporarily, his senses.
With just five minutes left in the game, the score still 6-2 and Sophomore Mel Meyers in for the groggy Easterbrook, Illinois had the ball on its 19. A squat, bull-necked, 211-pound Illinois fullback, Bill Brown, barreled 20 yards up the middle on the first play. Alternately faking to Brown (younger brother of another damaging Illinois fullback, Jim Brown) and handing off to him, Meyers exploited to the utmost the then soft underbelly of the Badger line. He finally crossed everybody up by passing nine yards to Halfback Gary Kolb at the Badger one.
Two cracks at the line were unrewarding, but on third down, on a play called in the previous huddle in the race against time, Bad Bill Brown slashed off right tackle for a touchdown at the final gun. Gerry Wood, fellow Mendota, Ill. townsman of the Brown boys, kicked the conversion to make the score 9-6, and delirious Illinois students ripped down the goal posts.
Not the least of the day's paradoxes was the fact that thundering hold-the-line pleas by Wisconsin fans during the 81-yard Illinois drive contributed to the Badgers' defeat. By coolly holding up play when the din overrode his calls and receiving brief official time-outs for crowd-silencing, Meyers preserved additional precious seconds for his team's march. Well aware of the danger, Dale Hackbart and other Wisconsin men frantically gestured—in vain—for quiet.
Bill Brown frisked through a shower and hurried off to keep a date in Mendota with his home-town fiancee. Brother Jim, looking like a Madison Avenue adman with buff raincoat and furled umbrella, grinned and said, "That Wisconsin line seemed to be a little vulnerable up the middle."
It certainly did. But the homely virtues could still prevail, and Wisconsin might yet go to Pasadena on New Year's Day. Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan State have identical 4-2 Big Ten records. Michigan State has completed its conference schedule—which is both a help and a hindrance to the Spartans. Should Wisconsin lose to or tie Minnesota this Saturday and Northwestern lose to or tie Illinois, Michigan State is on its way to Pasadena. But should either Wisconsin or Northwestern win, Michigan State is out. If either Wisconsin or Northwestern wins on Saturday and the other loses, the winner is automatically in. But if both win, then the Big Ten directors of athletics will vote to determine which represents the conference in the Rose Bowl. Either team might be selected, but the guess is that because of its victory over Northwestern the directors would vote for Wisconsin. On New Year's Day in California, then, either Washington or Oregon may well receive its first formal instruction in the Wisconsin Idea.
COLOR OF THE WEEK: TWO BIG POINTS
Clutching the football desperately to his chest in the Wisconsin end zone, Badger Fullback Ed Hart gives up a safety but averts an Illinois touchdown by beating Ed O'Bradovich (40) and Dave Ash (52) to this Wisconsin fumble. The bobble was almost a boon: Wisconsin moved out of danger and scored once to lead by 6-2 until the Illini finally broke through to score as the gun sounded to end the game.
ALL OUT FOR A BOWL INVITATION
Step ahead of an Auburn defender, Georgia's Fred Brown hauls in a 40-yard pass to help Bulldogs gain Southeastern Conference title in 14-13 upset.
Knee-deep in well-leveled Northwestern line, Michigan State Halfback Herb Adderley gains five yards in second quarter at East Lansing. He later scored on a 28-yard pass. The Spartans won 15-10 and popped back into running for Rose Bowl.
Battering through to end zone from one yard out, Mississippi Fullback Charley Flowers scores first touchdown in 37-7 rout of Tennessee. Flowers gained 168 yards in 26 carries as once-beaten Ole Miss remained high on three bowl lists.
Knee-high drive over Cal goal line gives Washington Fullback Jackson score from one yard out to start Rose-Bowl-minded Huskies on way to 20-0 victory. Jackson gained 40 yards in the 70-yard drive.
Ballet spin between flag, and clawing hands of Texas defender in rare Austin sleet gives TCU's Marvin Lasater score on sweep from five, First Longhorn loss, by 14-9, complicated Cotton Bowl picture.
Passing through scattered SMU tacklers, Lance Alworth sprints 13 yards for Arkansas touchdown in 17-14 win. Alworth piled up 131 yards rushing to guarantee Porkers share of Southwest Conference title.