Before the viral dunking clips of Jim Leonhard in the early 2000s or Joe Schobert in 2015, another Wisconsin Badgers football walk-on made a name for himself slamming home a basketball.
“‘Hops?’” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph posited on Tuesday following a question about Chris Hein.
“‘Hops’ was the one of the finest dunkers of all-time. Heinie Hops.”
“Heinie Hops”—a nickname that Hein received but admitted he never actually had the first part of the informal moniker written out—played a key role on the Badgers’ defense during that historic 1993 season, one that is etched in history for winning a then-school record 10 wins, clinching a Big Ten championship and the program’s first Rose Bowl victory.
This weekend, Hein will reunite with approximately 70 former teammates and coaches from that squad to be honored at halftime of Saturday night’s game between Wisconsin and Nebraska (6:30 p.m. CT, BTN).
Naturally, Hein is excited to to recall the stories and highlights with those he trained with, battled for out on the field, and changed the complexion and trajectory of Wisconsin football with.
But does it feel like it’s been around a quarter-century since that team made history?
“No it doesn’t, but I’m excited about this weekend, but it’s a kind of a reality check that it was 25 years now,” Hein said. “It’s a little bit depressing that way, but it’s going to be a great weekend, just reliving the memories with the guys and former coaches.”
Hein said he received the “Heinie Hops” nickname from former starting linebacker Dwight Reese.
“I kind of had a reputation as a dunker,” said Hein, a former three-sport prep letterman. “While obviously a lot of our time and energy was focused on football, a lot of us liked to play basketball and played intramurals or played pick-up games. I was a fairly good player from high school, an all-state basketball player in high school, and got a chance to show some of the guys that I had a little bit of a basketball game too, so they started calling me ‘Heinie Hops’ just because of my vertical jump and ability to dunk.
Bucky’s 5th Podcast, Ep. 37: Nebraska-Wisconsin preview; 1993 team memories with Joe Rudolph. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, and TuneIn.
During that 1993 season, Hein recorded 53 tackles with two pass break-ups in 11 starts. Rudolph, a left guard on that team’s offensive line, recalled watching from the sideline a defense that tied for 15th in the NCAA in scoring defense (16.3 points per game), ranked 19th in rushing yards allowed (130.3 per game), and 38th in total defense (358.6 yards per game).
“I just remember that defense, playing together, energy feeding off of each other,” Rudolph said. “Playmakers in the backfield like [defensive backs Jeff] Messenger and Kenny Gales. In the lines, like ‘Shack’ [Lamarck Shackerford] and ‘Thomps’ [Mike Thompson]. You had good players—Yuseff [Burgess] at ‘backer and ‘Unvy’ [linebacker Eric Unverzagt]—they just fed off of each other. The names, the faces, the energy, it was good.
“When they were out on the field, man, you were pumped and cheering. Sometimes [offensive line coach Bill] Callahan couldn’t get me back to sit down to listen to the coaching points because I’m screaming. It was a good energy back and forth.”
On Friday, former head coach and current Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez described Hein as “very athletic, good speed, tough,” noting the outside linebacker spot “was a perfect position for him.”
“He could use his athleticism to rush the pass and still fast enough to cover, but really good player,” Alvarez said. “Really sound fundamentally.”
Hein called out several highlights when asked for the first memory that runs through his head about that team in 1993, a year that saw him starting for the first time after mostly playing special teams and a reserve role on defense the prior two seasons.
The first revolved around the big home victory against Michigan, where Wisconsin held on for a 13–10 win in front of 77,745 fans that featured a great on-the-field triumph but nearly became catastrophic when students were trampled while trying to rush onto the field.
“Probably the highlight for me that season was the Michigan game,” Hein said. “With us coming off the disappointing loss at Minnesota and then being underdogs against Michigan, or not a lot of people thinking we could beat Michigan after we just dropped one to Minnesota, and pulling off that great victory. For me personally, having one of the better games of that season. Then you think about the tragedy after that with the celebration that kind of went wrong in the stands. You think about the Michigan game and the peaks and valleys of that day, the highs and then the lows of what occurred after, I think about that.”
In the win, Hein recorded three tackles and was named the WTMJ Player of the Game. He still has the plaque he received for that honor.
Hein also called out two early road wins, a 24–16 win at SMU and a 27–15 win against Indiana, as two key defining contests.
“I think about the SMU game earlier in the year, the second game of the season when nobody really had expectations for us, and we were down at halftime in that game and then found a way to win,” Hein said. “The second half on the road, which was something that Wisconsin hadn’t been doing traditionally, is finding ways to win. We really had been finding ways to lose games for the previous 10 years, so you think about that game.”
For that win against the Hoosiers in the first Big Ten contest of the year, another prominent walk-on, Joe Panos, echoed a phrase that seemingly became a rallying cry for the team and the fanbase.
“For me, that was kind of a point where I realized that, ‘Why Not Wisconsin?’ as Panos would famously say, that I knew that we were contenders,” Hein said.
Of course, Hein vividly recalled the iconic 1994 Rose Bowl win over UCLA and the scenery of walking into the stadium surrounded by mountains, and then seeing the stands filled with, in his estimation, 70-to-80 percent Wisconsin fans.
Prior to the game, however, he remembers a different atmosphere.
“We were out there a week before the game, and just the general kind of disrespect that we received from some of the locals,” Hein said. “Obviously, it was their hometown team and we were playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl, their home stadium, and them kind of viewing us as these rural farmers from the Midwest who are coming in here and think they can play West Coast football and that we were inferior athletes.
“I mean, that’s kind of the vibe I remember getting from some of the people in the week leading up to the game, being around the community.”
On the field, it was a different story. Wisconsin eventually tamed the Bruins in a 21–16 win in front of 101,237 fans. Hein recorded three tackles in that program-defining victory.
“From the game itself, the biggest memory I have is [quarterback Darrell] Bevell running in that score from 17, 20 yards out, something like that,” Hein said. “Just thinking, ‘This is our day. If ‘Bev’ is going to be running in for touchdowns, then this is definitely our day.’”
Hein and the defense couldn’t sit on the sideline and take in their accomplishment at the end of the game, however. UCLA drove down the field at the end of the game on what could have been the game-winning drive until Bruins quarterback Wayne Cook was tackled at the UW 15-yard line and time ran off to strike zero.
A flurry of emotions erupted thereafter.
“It was elation, it was relief, it was exhaustion, all those things wrapped into one,” Hein said. “Then immense pride for what we’d accomplished and where we had come from. To me, those are the best stories in sports, the stories of the underdog. There’s no doubt going into the season, if anybody would have projected us to be Rose Bowl champs and a top-10, top-five team in the nation, people would have thought you were insane.”
That triumph concluded Hein’s redshirt junior season, as he went on to record 86 tackles, five for loss, with an interception for the 1994 squad that defeated Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl the following year.
Fast forwarding to today, Hein makes an impact in a critical way as the activities director and associate principal for Sheboygan South High School.
“He was a coach, and he’s an athletic administrator, and he’s awesome,” Rudolph said. “He’s touching lives, and he’s helping kids.”
On Friday, Hein started reuniting with former UW teammates inside the Steven M. Bennett Student-Athlete Performance Center, chatting and embracing with those that became the catalyst for the current level of success the Badgers program has seen in the past 25 years. Wisconsin has recorded a mark of 232–91–4 (a 71.6 percent winning percentage) in the past quarter-century, seventh-best in the nation during that time and second in the Big Ten.
Before that 1993 squad, the program competed in six bowl games. Wisconsin has now played in 23 bowls in the last 25 years, coming out with 14 wins.
“As I reflect back, you want to have humility and not sound arrogant, but I think our group really set the foundation for Wisconsin football and what it would become,” Hein said. “Obviously that was all a result of coach Alvarez and the great leadership we had with all of the assistants, but the culture of the program became that of grinders, people that were going to be accountable to one another and to each other, and I think that’s the foundation that we laid out.”