A Ducks fan tries to console one of the dejected Badgers fans, who had to endure… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Wisconsin fans will remember this Rose Bowl for years to come. Exactly how they remember it may take some time.
This was clearly not your father's Rose Bowl. This was yet another chapter in the wild and wacky world of Chip Kelly/Oregon football. The Ducks have hundreds of moving parts, none of them moving slowly or ever stopping to catch their breath. A long drive is 1 minute 30 seconds. A huddle is something guys wearing leather helmets used to do.
Woody Hayes once ran an offense he called "three yards and a cloud of dust." The Ducks run "hike and lightning." If you happen to see what is going on, it is already past you and probably in the end zone. Most teams run wind sprints in practice. The Ducks just roll out rocket launchers.
Chris Borland is the Badgers' star middle linebacker. That made him the leader of the impossible — slowing down this Ducks offense. During interviews leading up to the game, he had said that the last thing he and his defensive teammates wanted was "a shootout." Afterward, he admitted that that's what they got.
"Yup, it was a shootout," he said. "The biggest thing was just their players' ability. They had speed, they knew how to cut. They were like a boxer, going for the knockout punch on every play."
Louis Nzegwu, Wisconsin defensive end, who picked up a fumble and scored a touchdown in one of the game's rare moments of defensive dominance, said scoring a touchdown in the Rose Bowl was "an electric moment" but that he would trade it in an instant "for a win."
He called it a "game of inches," and he was not rolling out a cliche. The inches Nzegwu referred to were the line gaps that Oregon's running backs seemed to find easily and scoot away to big gains. Borland said the same thing.
"If you were one gap off, if you missed covering just one," he said, "they found it and were gone."
Nzegwu pointed to the preparation and high hopes Wisconsin had.
"It is hard to accept," he said, "that the things they have done to other teams they were able to do to us."
For Wisconsin fans, it wasn't just the 45-38 final score, which set Rose Bowl scoring records for the first period, half and game. Early on, you had to feel sympathy for the defensive coordinators, who could be forgiven if they were reaching for wigs and fake beards in the first period. Oregon's Nick Aliotti is used to this — offense is king in Eugene — and smiles through the pain. Wisconsin's Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge may walk around for a few days with that deer-in-the-headlights look.
Many Wisconsin fans in the crowd of 91,245 may have that look for a few days, too. For them, for everybody, this was more like watching a tennis match than a football game. Postgame memories will include cricks in the neck.
Badgers fans may be angry for a few days. Things such as Rose Bowls tend to be a lot more than just another game, despite what coaches preach, and especially when Wisconsin lost a close one in this same postseason extravaganza last year to Texas Christian.
There will be much discussion about the kickoff in the end zone, when Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas caught the kick, hesitated, then elected to take a knee, rather than run it out. Replays showed that, as he took a knee, his other foot touched the goal line.
Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema went partway onto the field to discuss the play and its technicalities. Should that be a safety? Should the ball be on the one-inch line? It turned out that the issue was not where Thomas' foot was, but where the ball was. And it was clearly well behind the goal line.
"I was trying to get a read from the sideline official, if we could review forward momentum," Bielema said.
But, according to Bielema, the officials felt that the situation had been explained and instead of allowing him a challenge, they charged him with a timeout.
Of course, in a back-and-forth game such as this, that turned out to be crucial.
With the clock ticking down and Wisconsin within seven points, Russell Wilson completed two passes to the Oregon 25. The clock was stopped to move the chains, the scoreboard showed two seconds left, the Badgers lined up quickly and Wilson immediately spiked the snap.
But then the scoreboard read :00. The officials reviewed the ending and delivered the final blow to Badgers fans. Game over.
One more timeout would have been quite nice for the Badgers at that stage.
Angry Badgers fans would have been best served by witnessing the scene in Wisconsin's locker room immediately afterward. Each position coach had about a dozen players gathered around him. Hands were clasped. Arms were around shoulders.
The message was the same in each scrum. "Be proud. You fought to the end. You played a great team. You played hard and you played for each other."
Jared Abbrederis, who had fumbled after a long reception late in the game that would have put Wisconsin in great scoring position, left his group and stood and answered question after question, facing wave after wave of reporters. His message varied little.
"It was fun to do battle with them," he said. "They have lots of great players and hats off to them. They won."
And so, in defeat, on a day of great competition and entertainment, there was perspective and class.
Maybe that's how Wisconsin fans ought to remember this one.