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The Voice: As one wild ride ends, another begins

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgOf course the Badgers' football season was supposed to end on a better note. Unfortunately, Stanford had other ideas, and thoughts of a better ending turned into a bitter one. When the sting of another Rose Bowl heartbreaker begins to fade, hopefully those who watched, and more importantly, those who played and coached, will remember why this team won a third straight Big Ten title.

Perhaps there have been UW teams with more overall talent. Maybe this group needed an additional playmaker or two. But anyone who paid any attention would never question the heart and genuine class of this team. To me, that is what made it special.

Early in the season, or probably even before the season, there was reason to wonder why Montee Ball returned for his senior year. An assault before training camp. Early struggles in general with the offense. An injury in the game against UTEP. There were plenty of reasons to second-guess Ball's decision to come back.

I think now we can say it worked out pretty well for the Doak Walker Award winner. Yep, by staying in school, the NCAA's career touchdown leader may have outsmarted us all.

It would be difficult for many of us to even try to imagine what Curt Phillips has gone through. With multiple knee surgeries, who would have blamed him for giving up the game?

I think now we can say it worked out well for the fifth-year senior. He started the final five games, and was able to live a dream by playing in the Rose Bowl, and playing well.

There are many other stories of players who overcame injuries, such as right guard Kyle Costigan. He was not going to let a "little" thing -- like a dislocated kneecap -- keep him off the field very long.

The return to health of cornerback Devin Smith was a big step for a secondary that turned out to be very solid. The improvement of Marcus Cromartie was fun to watch, and the play of safety Dez Southward should have everyone excited for next season.

The defensive line returns next fall, led by tackles Ethan Hemer and Beau Allen. The linebacking corps will miss Mike Taylor, an all-day tough and talented player who helped recruit a Hall of Fame coach back to the sideline.

To say the least, the 2012 Wisconsin Badgers had a few obstacles. Down-to-the-wire games that got away. An in-season change with an assistant. Then, a change with the head coach following a stunning performance in the conference championship game.

While Bret Bielema's decision to leave for Arkansas was quite a jolt, the chance to watch Barry Alvarez back on the field was a treat for players and fans alike.

"I had a blast," said Alvarez shortly after the game. So did the players, both past and present. Watching Alvarez lead his team out of the tunnel one more time in Pasadena is a snapshot I will keep in my mind forever.

To those who are leaving, the coaches and especially the senior players, I say thank you and wish you great success in the future.

To those who are returning, your future looks promising. New coach Gary Andersen and his staff are eager to get to know you better. While the result on New Year's Day was not what you hoped, my guess is the new boss liked much of what he witnessed in the last couple of weeks.

Hopefully there is a Rose Bowl title in your future. But until then, being the three-time Big Ten champs isn't all that bad.

Path to Pasadena: Episode 4

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The fourth episode of "Path to Pasadena" takes you along for the Badgers' final run-up to the 99th Rose Bowl Game, from practice to the Lawry's Beef Bowl to their pep rally at LA Live.

Rallying the troops

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Photo Gallery: LA Live Pep Rally

The Badgers put in their penultimate practice for the Rose Bowl on Sunday, but not before being energized by thousands of fans who have descended on Los Angeles for the game.

Prior to heading back to The Home Depot Center for drills, the team made an appearance at LA Live for a special Rose Bowl Pep Rally. Around 3,000 UW fans showed up for the event, which included a performance from the UW Marching Band and remarks from special guests like UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward and Badgers legend Ron Dayne.

The biggest cheer, however, came when the team emerged from the Staples Center onto a balcony overlooking the plaza at LA Live, tossing T-shirts and autographed footballs into the crowd. Following some words from interim head coach Barry Alvarez, defensive captains Chris Borland, Shelton Johnson and Mike Taylor spoke to the fans, as did Travis Frederick, Curt Phillips, and finally, Montee Ball.

For Alvarez, the event followed one last media availability leading up to game day, a morning press conference for both head coaches at the Rose Bowl media hotel in downtown L.A.

Monday's schedule has the Badgers heading to Pasadena to take a team photo outside the Rose Bowl, followed by one final practice session and a screening of the movie "Jack Reacher."

Taking time to give back

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Photo Gallery: Media Day & AbilityFirst Visit

A rainy morning in Los Angeles made it an easy decision for the Wisconsin coaching staff to call of practice for the day, but the inclement weather brought with it a silver lining.

The Badgers called an audible and held a walk-through at the team hotel instead of busing to The Home Depot Center for what was scheduled to be a quick 12-period practice. Interim head coach Barry Alvarez told the team that the staff's focus for Saturday was aimed at mental preparation anyway, so the hotel walk-through fit in well with the schedule.

After the offensive and defensive units finished their walk-throughs in adjacent ballrooms at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, the Badgers had the opportunity to host guests from AbilityFirst, an L.A.-area charity aimed at "expanding possibilities" for children and adults with special needs.

The group had originally planned to join the team on the practice field, but the change in venue brought an opportunity for the Badgers to bring their guests into the players' game room and lounge at the hotel.

No one from either side was complaining when a pool table, ping pong and video games were thrown into the mix, as evidenced by junior LB Chris Borland's tweet:

The Badgers' walk-through and time with the guests from AbilityFirst came after the entire squad bused to The L.A. Hotel Downtown for the Rose Bowl's annual media day. Players and coaches spent 30 minutes being interviewed, including some who took time to join an onsite crew from BTN captained by Rick Pizzo, Glen Mason and fromer Badger Brandon Williams.

Path to Pasadena: Episode 3

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From takeoff in Madison to touchdown in Los Angeles and beyond, the latest episode of UWBadgers.com's video series "Path to Pasadena" takes you behind the scenes of the Badgers' preparations for the Rose Bowl.

If nothing else, it's worth watching Beau Allen go from searching Disneyland for princesses to telling Darth Vader he's making the switch to the Dark Side.

Also be sure to check out the first two episodes:

Path to Pasadena: Episode 1 Small Video Graphic  |  Path to Pasadena: Episode 2 Small Video Graphic

There's the beef

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Photo Gallery: Practice & Lawry's Beef Bowl

For many of Wisconsin's players, the highlight of the week leading up to the Rose Bowl came Friday as the Badgers descended on Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills for the annual Lawry's Beef Bowl.

A part of the Rose Bowl since 1957, the event gives both participating teams in The Granddaddy of Them All to have one grand meal.

Over the years, the Beef Bowl has also developed into an unofficial competition between the Rose Bowl opponents. Last year, the Badgers consumed 723 pounds of prime rib to easily defeat Oregon and its total of 612 pounds.

Travis Frederick led the way by putting away what is believed to be a record eight servings of prime rib. That came on the heels of his seven servings in 2011.

Frederick's mark was in danger of falling on Friday once sophomore OL Dallas Lewallen picked up his fork and knife. However, Lewallen's night came to an end after he finished seven servings to match the effort of Stanford freshman OL Joshua Garnett from the Cardinal's appearance at Lawry's on Thursday.

"They couldn't bring the meat out fast enough," said Lewallen, who simply ran out of time to eat before he was forced to return to the team buses in order to make the trip back to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.

Frederick still managed to take center stage, however, getting the honor of being the "salad spinner" and applying Lawry's signature dressing to the first bowl of salad.

Not to be outdone, junior DT Beau Allen -- considered by many of his teammates to be a challenger to Frederick's throne going into the event -- drew the duty of making the ceremonial "first cut" of prime rib. Wearing a chef's coat and hat, Allen served the first cut to Badgers interim head coach Barry Alvarez.

Preparations continue on practice field
The Badgers' day began with LB Chris Borland, DT Ethan Hemer, S Shelton Johnson, CB Devin Smith and LB Mike Taylor accompanying defensive coordinator Chris Ash and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge to a morning media session at The L.A. Hotel Downtown.

After position and special teams meetings, the Badgers returned to the practice field at The Home Depot center and worked for 16 periods. The practice again featured live contact in short scrimmages between the offensive and defensive units.

New head coach Gary Andersen, who takes the helm at UW following the Rose Bowl, was a guest on the sideline for the practice session after arriving from Logan, Utah. His arrival into L.A. came a day later than planned due to winter weather that grounded air travel out of Utah on Thursday.

Andersen met with members of the media following practice and said he hopes to announce the bulk of his coaching staff over the next few days.

Saturday morning is Rose Bowl media day, with the entire Badgers roster set to head to the media hotel downtown for availability with members of the local and national media.

Badgers discuss, practice for Stanford

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Photo Gallery: Press Conference & Practice   |  Live #Badgers Updates

The fun and games of Wednesday's trip to Disneyland behind them, the Badgers got back to work on Thursday by returning to the practice field at The Home Depot Center.

After being relegated to an artificial surface on Wednesday due to wet field conditions, UW drilled for 18 periods on natural grass Thursday to better simulate the turf they'll play on in the Rose Bowl.

Prior to practice, Jared Abbrederis, Montee Ball, Travis Frederick, Curt Phillips and James White accompanied offensive coordinator Matt Canada to the Rose Bowl's media hotel in downtown Los Angeles for a morning press conference.

The biggest news of the day came from Canada, who told reporters that junior QB Joel Stave will be cleared to play for the game. Canada said Stave, who has been recovering from a broken collarbone suffered vs. Michigan State on Oct. 27, will be worked into the game plan in some capacity, while Phillips will be the starting quarterback.

"There's a chance you'll see him out there at times," Canada said of Stave.

That came as news to Stave -- who had yet to be officially cleared for game action -- when reporters questioned him on the development following practice.

"I figured by the way I was practicing without any pain that I'd get cleared sooner or later," he said.

Back to the fun and games, the Badgers' last stop for the day was the Improv in Hollywood to take in a stand-up comedy act. The annual stop has become a favorite of the players over their past two trips to the Rose Bowl,

Back in the 'Happiest Place on Earth'

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Photo Gallery: Practice & Disneyland

Wednesday brought the first on-site practice for the Wisconsin football team in Los Angeles, with the Badgers working through 12 periods of drills at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Their Rose Bowl preparations done for the day, the team loaded buses and headed for Anaheim for an afternoon at Disneyland.

Seniors Montee Ball, Shelton Johnson, Curt Phillips, Mike Taylor and Rick Wagner joined interim head coach Barry Alvarez for a special introduction ceremony welcoming both the Badgers and Stanford to the "Happiest Place on Earth." The welcome event included a brief session of media interviews before the players got a VIP tour of the park.

The first stop was The Matterhorn, with Wagner drawing the unfortunate duty of cramming his 6-foot-6 frame into the front car of the Badgers' train. All five made it through the classic ride without incident and then were whisked away to the California Adventure park.

The Badgers had the chance to ride the Radiator Springs Racers ride inside the new Cars Land area of California Adventure and then posed for a group photo before heading out to experience the rides of their choice. At a minimum, Phillips planned to lead the group to the Tower of Terror and Space Mountain before they headed back to the team hotel in Century City.

A number of other players were planning to take advantage of a team meal at the ESPN Zone at Downtown Disney, adjacent to the park.

Wednesday's schedule begins with a news conference for offensive coordinator Matt Canada and selected offensive players at the Rose Bowl's media hotel in downtown L.A. The team then returns to the practice field for an 18-period session, followed by a team trip to the Improv comedy club.

Badgers settle in, get back to work in L.A.

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Photo Gallery: Travel Day   |  Live #Badgers Updates on Twitter

All families have their holiday traditions. For the Wisconsin football family, it's become a Christmas tradition to pack up and head west for Los Angeles.

The Badgers did just that for the third-consecutive year on Tuesday, as they returned to L.A. to continue their preparations for the 99th Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1.

The team met for a conditioning session in the morning before loading buses bound for the Dane County Regional Airport. After a four-hour flight, the Badgers' Delta charter touched down at LAX just after 3 p.m. local time and the team hopped on some specially-decorated buses to head to the Rose Bowl for a first look at the stadium.

Interim head coach Barry Alvarez said he likes taking the team to the field immediately to give the players a chance soak in the setting and enjoy taking some photos so they arrive for the game on Jan. 1 focused on the task at hand.

After the brief sightseeing excursion, the Badgers settled in at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza and met briefly as a team before enjoying a less-than-traditional take on Christmas dinner -- with pizza, pasta and chicken fingers.

The work truly begins for the Badgers on Wednesday, when they take the practice field at The Home Depot Center for the first of six scheduled practices leading up to game day. Of course, it won't be all work and no play for the team, which heads to Disneyland in the afternoon.

Montee Ball, Rick Wagner, Mike Taylor, Shelton Johnson, Curt Phillips will join Alvarez for a short press conference in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle before getting a chance to ride the new attractions at Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure park. The rest of the team can roam the grounds until they meet for dinner at the ESPNZone to cap their first full day in L.A.

The Voice: 'Barry's back' brings boost for Badgers

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgEarlier this week I was a guest on the University of Wisconsin's student radio station, WSUM, when it hit me -- the last time the Badgers went through a football coaching search, it is unlikely any of show's hosts was born.

Yikes, that makes me feel old.

By New Year's Day 1990, it became apparent that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Barry Alvarez was going to be Wisconsin's next coach. He came to town a tired but very happy man. The previous night his Irish defense stuffed Colorado in the Orange Bowl. During the NBC telecast, Wisconsin was getting some rare national publicity as the announcers talked about Alvarez taking over a program that had won four games in the last three seasons.

It is fair to say that few football fans knew much about Alvarez, but Pat Richter was impressed with the confident young coach, and the rest is history.

To say the last 10 days or so have been a whirlwind would be an understatement, but something fascinating is happening. Fans who might otherwise have had just a casual interest in the Rose Bowl (casual? Rose Bowl? I know that sounds odd, doesn't it?) are now excited, and some have opted to book their airline tickets to Southern California.

No doubt the folks at ESPN are smiling. Rather than harping on a five-loss team in Pasadena, the network has a beautiful storyline of a Hall of Famer returning to a venue he loves so much, and where he has never lost as a head coach.

Better still, the players themselves are thrilled that Alvarez is leading them to Pasadena. When Alvarez stepped down after the 2005 season, many of the current Badgers had yet to reach their teenage years, but they have a pretty good idea of what he means to Wisconsin.

It was impossible not to notice the excitement, from the comments of linebacker Mike Taylor and quarterback Curt Phillips last Wednesday, to the upbeat nature of last Friday night's team awards banquet. What happened was a jolt, but the team has endured more than its share of obstacles this season.

Now, the players view it as an opportunity. An opportunity to play for someone who is a living legend in this state.

It appears the assistants view it much the same way. Tight ends coach Eddie Faulkner and secondary coach Ben Strickland have firsthand experience playing for Alvarez. Running backs boss Thomas Hammock was a graduate assistant for Alvarez. The others know all about him.

Through no fault of their own, many members of the staff face uncertain futures because of Bielema's departure. Yet I am struck by the professionalism of this group, and the determination to make the Rose Bowl a granddaddy of an experience for everyone connected to the team, most importantly the players.

The Badgers will need every bit of that energy to defeat an excellent Stanford team. To be clear, the Badgers never seemed to lack energy, but what has happened in the last week-and-a-half appears to have provided even more of a boost.

It was plenty interesting around here on New Year's Day 1990. I'm thinking New Year's Day 2013 will be anything but boring as well.
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