I watched an interesting football battle in September 1980. It pitted the once-proud Wisconsin Badger program against the upstart program from the Western Athletic Conference, the Jim McMahon-led BYU Cougars.
Those were days when watching BYU football on TV was the exception and not the rule. This was also before the era when BYU games were fed by satellite to church buildings.
Bruce Merrill of American Cable in the Phoenix area had just begun to telecast BYU games on a delayed basis to subscribers in the region. I was invited to go to the American Cable receiving station on the top of a hill overlooking Fountain Hills, Ariz., to see the BYU-Wisconsin game live as the feed from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison was received. What a treat for an avid BYU fan.
It was an even bigger treat to see McMahon and the Cougars thoroughly dominate the Badgers. McMahon was sitting on the cusp of greatness, and his breakout season was on display early as he threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 28-3 victory.
The win was tempered by the fact that Wisconsin would end the season with a 4-7 record. On the other hand, it was still a Big Ten program, BYU was on the road, and the nation was beginning to hear about a cutting-edge brand of football with some spectacular results. McMahon threw 47 touchdown passes that year and punctuated the season with a dramatic last-second pass to down SMU and the Pony Express backfield in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.
Legendary Badger coach Barry Alvarez took over the program in 1990 and began to see positive results early with a strong running game. An LDS returned missionary quarterback came to Wisconsin from Scottsdale, Ariz., in the early ’90s. His name was Darrell Bevell, and I was fortunate to have served as his LDS bishop in his youth. His dad, Jim, was the coach at Chapparal High School, but an injury cut short the young Bevell's senior year and he did not get a lot of scholarship offers.
He redshirted his first year at Northern Arizona and then went on his mission. One of the NAU assistant coaches was hired by Alvarez, and when Bevell came home from his mission, he jumped at the chance to play in a big-time program.
Bevell led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl win over UCLA, which capped an outstanding 1993 Wisconsin season. Ultimately, Bevell has had a highly successful college and pro football coaching career. He was the quarterback coach for the Green Bay Packers when Brett Favre was in his prime, and he is now the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks and their outstanding quarterback Russell Wilson.
By the time BYU meets the current Wisconsin Badger program this Saturday — again at Camp Randall — the once proud program has turned into a juggernaut and a perennial Top 25 program. The Badgers have not seemed to miss a beat with new coach Gary Andersen, a well-respected and successful coach while at Utah State.
The Cougars are on a resurgent streak and should give the Badgers all they can handle at Randall. Let's hope the Jim McMahon mantle descends upon Taysom Hill and the Cougars win a big one.
Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate who served as Cosmo in the ’60s. Contact him at [email protected].