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Five years later, Brad Nortman's fake punt is still a Wisconsin football legend

How "Chains" changed the fortune of Wisconsin in its 2010 matchup against Iowa and led to a Rose Bowl berth.

Neil Ament, UW Athletic Communications

It was called "Chains."

Wisconsin inserted the play into its game plan leading up to the Oct. 23 matchup against Iowa during the 2010 season. Scouting the Hawkeyes' game film revealed their punt coverage only rushed one or two defenders toward the punter and his personal protection, while the other nine turned their backs to block their assignments. It was a huge gap that could be exploited by the Badgers if the opportunity arose.

But why the name?

"So we noticed that on film and all week we put a call in and called it 'Chains,' because we determined that if we ran it, it was going to move the chains," former Wisconsin and current Carolina Panthers punter Brad Nortman said.

The need to run it became apparent late in the game. Facing a 4th-and-4 situation from their own 26, the Badgers gambled but executed "Chains" to near perfection. With less than seven minutes remaining and UW trailing 30-24, Nortman took the snap and ran the ball up the middle with only green surrounding him for a 17-yard gain and a key first down.

That fake punt extended the pivotal drive ending with running back Montee Ball's 8-yard touchdown run. After Philip Welch's extra point, Wisconsin took a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter -- and ultimately won 31-30. The win, following an upset of No. 1 Ohio State just a week earlier, would further fuel the Badgers toward a share of the Big Ten title and their first Rose Bowl berth since the 1999 season.

Nortman's fake has become engrained in Wisconsin history and stands as one of the most memorable moments in the Iowa-Wisconsin rivalry.

The call itself, though, didn't come on that drive. According to Nortman, then-head coach Bret Bielema told him at the end of third quarter they would be running the fake on the next opportunity they had.

"Between then and when I actually ran it, I had about 30 minutes to chew over the fact I was about to become a ball carrier in this huge game," Nortman said with a laugh on Thursday.

The Badgers punt coverage unit had the chance to audible out of "Chains" if the Hawkeyes showed something different from what the game film showed. When the Iowa defenders didn't, Nortman, personal protector Ryan Groy and the team went with it.

Bradie Ewing played guard on that punt coverage unit. A week earlier, the fullback was an integral part of another special teams highlight, leading returner David Gilreath through a pack of Buckeyes on the opening kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown that set the tone for Wisconsin's 31-18 upset victory over Ohio State.

Ewing almost didn't make it on the field for the punt coverage, however. A thigh bruise suffered a few plays earlier almost held him out of the unit in that fourth quarter. Toughing it out, he and the other players knew their responsibilities after preparing all week.

"I'm pretty sure we all knew [about the call]," said Ewing, now an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Wisconsin after spending a couple of seasons in the NFL. "So we all wanted to outside release to get our guys to turn and just kind of run as fast as we could to get our guys' hips turned.

"It ended up working out."

A key aspect of selling the fake itself was Nortman looking like he was going to punt. That is, walking the steps a punter normally takes when preparing to kick the football. Once the Iowa players saw those motions, they conceded acknowledgement of any trickery and followed the Wisconsin blockers downfield.

From there, Wisconsin's personal protectors -- three of them -- only needed to block the two edge rushers to spring Nortman.

"I remember catching it, walking my first two steps and then just literally tucking it and starting to run," Nortman said. "I had to yell ‘Go!' a couple of go calls, so the shield in the front would lead block. I remember there was one guy that just got shoved out and there was nothing but green."

"I was running down the field almost in disbelief that it worked so well."

Seventeen yards later, Nortman slid for the first down. The fake punt stunned the crowd, but the Badgers were ecstatic, picking up the punter and former Brookfield Central standout.

After upsetting the Buckeyes and downing the Hawkeyes in consecutive weeks, the Badgers continued their undefeated ways for the rest of the regular season en route to the Big Ten title. The significance of winning in Iowa City that season only adds to the rivalry between the two programs, who will compete for the Heartland Trophy yet again on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

"My most recent one, when we were down there [in 2010], that was a big win," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said on Monday.

"I think our players would have maybe said that was maybe the biggest win of that season, because we had a big win at home, but that one gave us a chance to be in the hunt. Every game has been -- you've got to go win it."

Nortman echoed those sentiments.

"If we would have lost that game, the Rose Bowl wouldn't have happened, and it would have been another solid season at Wisconsin, but not the incredibly special one it was," Nortman said.

Nortman is now in his fourth season as a member of the Panthers after being drafted 207th overall in the 2012 NFL draft. He's averaged over 48 yards per punt this season and 45.4 for his career. In his time at Wisconsin spanning 52 games, Nortman was a two-time All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention honoree, averaging 42.1 yards per punt and spiking 69 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

His run against Iowa in 2010 is legendary, but it wasn't his only executed fake punt -- he ran for 11 yards against TCU in the 2011 Rose Bowl. He's also known for his last punt against Michigan State in the 2011 Big Ten Championship game, where Michigan State defender Isaiah Lewis ran into Nortman to earn the Badgers a first down and secure their second consecutive Big Ten title.

Though his leg has fueled his progression through the collegiate and professional levels, Nortman realizes his popularity stems not just from punting.

"Though the stakes were great memories," Nortman said laughing, "I think it's most ironic I was a punter there -- I'm most known for my fakes, me running the ball opposed to me actually punting the ball."