Barry is back and all is well with the world! I have to admit I found myself thinking the sun was shining a little brighter yesterday, the air seemed a little warmer yesterday--and I would have sworn the sound of the Badger Band was wafting through the air all day yesterday. And everywhere I went, people could barely contain the same enthusiasm. It was almost like the word "hello" had been replaced by "Hey, Barry is back!"
And such is the power that Wisconsin's all-time winningest football coach still has on the fan base. As I watched yesterday's press conference, I couldn't help but think of that January 2nd, 1990 presser when a younger Barry Alvarez told fans to "get their season tickets now, because you won't be able to get them soon"--and everyone responded with "yeah, right". And his comment that "the Rose Bowl is our only goal"--that elicited the usual eye roll from those of us who had heard the same thing from Jim Hilles and Don Morton just a few seasons before.
But Barry proved all of us doubters wrong. Camp Randall did sell out every game. And there wasn't just one fluke Rose Bowl trip--there were three. AND THE BADGERS WON EVERY ONE OF THEM!! College GameDay came to Madison every year. There was another Heisman Trophy winner and we started beating Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa regularly. You could actually include Wisconsin in the discussion for a National Championship and not get laughed out of the room.
And that is why so many of us are so willing to believe Barry when he said yesterday "We're going out there (Pasadena) to win. He's done it before--obviously he's going to do it again.
But as the euphoria of Thursday morning wears off, the reality of the situation sets in. Barry is not going to the Rose Bowl with a team nearly as talented as the ones he took there in the past. Joe Panos, Aaron Gibson and Mark Tauscher won't be putting on the Cardinal and White on January 1st. Neither will Darrell Bevel or Brooks Bollinger. Ron Dayne won't beating the defense into submission with bruising run after bruising run. And Chris Chambers and Owen Daniels won't be out there catching passes against a "D" keying on the run.
I'd be willing to bet Barry doesn't even know the offensive terminology anymore, or have a copy of the playbook for that matter. The assistant coaches upon whom he will have to lean heavily are still young and relatively inexperienced. And those guys face a very uncertain future as well--since anyone Barry hires is going to want to bring in "his own people". So the weeks between now and game day will also include getting some applications out and calling some of the other new head coaches in college to see if anyone is interested. Add to that, the Stanford team that Wisconsin plays January 1 is much better than the Cardinal team they beat in 2000.
There is one thing I do feel better about with Barry at the helm--the kids on that team will play their guts out for him. The Badger training facilities are shrines not only to Alvarez, but all of the kids that he brought in to build that program up from the junk pile 22-years ago. The guys from Wisconsin now grew up watching those Badgers teams and Barry grind down opponents and win big game after big game--and that is part of the reason they wanted to come to Madison as well. And given the difference that emotion can make in college sports, perhaps that desire to win one more for The Legend could give this underdog a fighting chance.