Without John Cooper, there could be no Bret Bielema - Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE
Misty water-colored memories of 20 seasons ago, when Barry Alvarez beat the Buckeyes.
October 1992 was a time of hope. America was going to elect a president from a town called Hope (and Estonia and Lithuania were going to be electing their first independent leaders). The greatest baseball player yet to be in Bryce Harper was first taught to hit baseballs. And in the movies? David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross taught a generation just how to be a better douche bag and Emilio Estevez's The Mighty Ducks taught a generation that ducks fly together.
And the Badgers? This was the moment where the first hints of light were shining on the program. I should know. I was there.
See? My dad has had moments where he was a big enough wheel on the Republican side of the aisle that the Republican then-congressman out of Madison (seems weird to say even now) invited a special club of fundraisers and their families to the game between the Badgers and the Buckeyes. So, I got to go to the game.
Kirk Herbstreit remembers this game very well. One of our more impish fans threw a tomato that spoiled his white duds. This was an omen. Senior year, Ohio State coming off a Carrier Dome beatdown of No. 8 Syracuse and some all too soused Badger fans completed their tomato toss.
We hadn't seen much success from the Badgers yet. Barry Alvarez was 8-17, and five of those wins were from current and future MAC or FCS programs (a .435 opponent winning percentage). I was 11. And when you're 11, the things that seemed whimsical when you were seven?
Well, they were for babies.
Little did I know that something small was going to change the course of the program. John Cooper's pretty reviled for his tenure as the Buckeyes head coach, but for his lack of beating Michigan. What he doesn't receive is enough credit for being the tipping point for the Badgers.
See, the Buckeyes scored a late touchdown, and the Badgers were still dealing with their youth. And the Badgers jumped. And the obvious play of kicking the extra point? Didn't seem so obvious. So they went for two. And the Mike Thompson-led defensive line stopped Raymont Harris short, leaving the score at 20-16 in Wisconsin's favor.
The Buckeyes would get the ball back. And the little emo 11-year-old me was saying, "Okay, here it is. Here's where the Badgers lose."
I was wrong. Ohio State got inside the 30. And they got no further. It was kind of like me. I got close to storming the field. But I got no further. Thanks, Dad.
It didn't lead to a bowl game. The offense would grow into something great, but it wasn't there yet. They would struggle to score two touchdowns in three consecutive games at the end of the month. They would lose three games by four points (23-22 to Iowa, 13-12 to Illinois, and the heartbreaking 27-25 loss to Northwestern). Add that to a 10-3 loss to Indiana, and this would turn into a season of missed opportunities.
But we all the foundation was built. We know what happened in 1993. And we've been generally consistent ever since. All thanks to John Cooper.
Thanks John Cooper. Thanks for making us. Thanks for making us a legitimate rival just two decades later. Thanks for giving hope to a child.
Thanks for making this, despite what Urban Meyer would say, a rivalry.