Hose Bowl!

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Nearly one year after Melvin Gordon ran through the snow and the Nebraska defense for 408 yards at Camp Randall Stadium, the wintry weather weather returned yesterday for a not so glamourous match up against the Mildcats of Northwestern in Madison.

Never one to venture out into a crummy weather environment for a football game, especially when no one bothers to scrape 6 inches of snow off the aluminum bleachers, the contest between two 8-2 teams going nowhere still held a shred of intrigue, so I settled in to watch the farce in the comfort of our basement.

There’s nothing quite like the final home game of the season, the parents of the players paraded onto the field before the game, each one of the football heroes clutching flowers and exchanging hugs with anyone and everybody. This is all well and good when it’s 65 and sunny, but when the temperature is hovering in the 20’s it established a weird dynamic to what would become an even more bizarre game that followed.

Once again the student unfaithful failed to show for the opening kick-off, undoubtedly preoccupied with massive snowball fights among all the pre-game beer bongs and half barrels. But when they did finally shuffle into their assigned snow throwing positions, they wasted no time pelting Bucky Badger and the easy to find red snowmobile suit clad Spirit Squirt of a Squad on their list of targets.

Perhaps they should have directed their baseball sized missiles at the crew of zebras working the mess on the field instead. After Joel Stave started his Senior day in style with a pick and a fumble, the Badgers had given the snowball hurling thousands plenty of ammunition. With no running game in sight and Stave looking more like a Freshman than a Senior, the Badgers mercifully tucked their tails between their legs and headed into the frozen locker room beneath Camp Randall at halftime trailing, 10-0.

As the afternoon grew longer the lights illuminated the field, and later they would add the glare of a white hot spotlight for what would become some of the most embarrassing display of officiating gaffes in recent memory. Despite several more attempts by the inept offense, Wisconsin somehow manged to hang around, 10-7, as everyone anticipated the Jump Around late in the third quarter.

Up until that point, with the help of Northwestern’s pathetic field goal kicker, Jack Mitchell, the Badgers were miraculously still in the game when Alex Erickson retreated to return a punt from his own 22 yard line. Signaling to his teammates and everyone in the world to stay away from the bouncing ball, Erickson realized the officials hadn’t blown a whistle and decided to pick up the ball, evade a horde of tacklers and race 78 yards for the scintillating go ahead score. A but wait, maybe not. Despite no flags to be found on the field, the play was ruled an invalid fair catch and the scored remained, 10-7. Wha?

And, as Murphy’s law would have it, Erickson fumbled the next punt he attempted to field which lead to stunning field conversion by the MIldcats giving them a seemingly insurmountable 13-7 lead, late in the fourth quarter. With 5 turnovers under their belt, the Badgers seemed poised to to accept the fate of the first ill-fated punt return, and get the hell out of frigid Camp Randall.

But wait, there’s more, in fact, there were 2 more touchdowns yet to be recalled by this officiating crew.

Much like he has done in his final year, Joel Stave somehow transformed himself from Jay Cutler into into Tom Brady for one final Senior Day drive. With less than 2 minutes remaining, Stave found his good form and marched the Badgers into position to win the game. What would have been a signature 23 yard touchdown strike to Troy Fumagali with 31 seconds left was taken off the broad after the good old replay showed Fumagali’s knee hitting the one yard line as he crossed the goal. That was a tough, albeit correct call bullet to swallow for Badger fans, but the zebras were saving their best decision for last. And what the heck, it was first and goal from the one yard line for chrissake. Where’s Corey Clement?

Never mind, on the ensuing play, Stave found his receiver Jazz Peavy, open in the left flat of the end zone, and delivered a perfect throw. He watched as Peavy took four steps in bounds with the ball and rolled out of of the play with the football, losing it as he landed out of bounds. Touchdown Wisconsin! Wait. Maybe not. Once again the replay clearly showed us all that even after you fall down out of bounds and drop the ball after having possessed it for four steps in the end zone, technically it’s not a catch. Huh?

Wisconsin, of course, still has 3 plays left after the review mess, but Stave inexplicably, well, check that, of course Stave would take a 10 yard sack, suffer a concussion, and be saved total embarrassment when Dare Ogunbawale alertly aligned the offense and spiked the ball, saving 6 seconds on the clock for one more shot form the 11 yard line.

Finally, Bart Houston had been freed! Stave, concussed, tried to get his bearings on the sidelines as Houston delivered a perfect throw for the final winning touchdown. Ah, no. The ball fell incomplete, and unfortunately, as replays clearly showed, the Northwestern defender was draped all over the Badger receiver before the ball was thrown. Of course, no flag.

Unfortunately for those of us who pour more than the required amount of passion into this team and it’s university, this Northwestern game will be the black eye everyone remembers when they talk about the 2015 season.

Wisconsin will limp into Minnesota next week and probably drop another game to the scrappy Goophers. Who cares, really. Ultimately they’ll take their 8-4 record to a meaningless December bowl destination and still finish this first season under Paul Chryst with a winning record.

Call it what you want on Wisconsin’s behalf; lack of a running game, a turnover riddled, sloppy performance after a bye week, even with with the controversial calls notwithstanding, this was, indeed, in all my years of watching any level of football, the Hose Bowl of all time.

And For What

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