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  • Writer's picturePeter Miller

Sport and the Growing Good studied the Wisconsin football program throughout 2019. An excerpt of the white paper that resulted, "Be the Good You," is included here. We've also included the SGG podcast that covered the team's week in California leading up to the Rose Bowl.

Coach Joe Rudolph, preparing his offensive linemen for the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

Decided Hearts

Coach Rudolph (“Rudy” to the other coaches) embodied Wisconsin football as much as anyone. His football pedigree was straight out of central casting – raised in the football hotbed of Western Pennsylvania, star offensive lineman on Barry Alvarez’s assurgent Badger teams in the early 1990s and, later, an appearance in the NFL.

Twenty years after playing, Coach Rudolph’s stout, physical prowess was still unmistakable. He could regularly be found alongside fellow coaches Haering, Mickey Turner and Taylor Mehlhoff in the team weight room after morning practice. The players in that weight room bulged from their close-fit Under Armour performance apparel, but, at practice and while working out, Coach Rudolph favored baggy, old-school sweats.

During the opening segments of daily practice inside Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium throughout the fall, receivers could be found honing their routes on the west sidelines. Running backs scissored through footwork drills on the east sidelines. Quarterbacks perfected an array of dropbacks in the northwest corner. And on the very northernmost part of the field, beyond the endzone, Coach Rudolph’s guys, the offensive linemen, shuffled in unison through a series of formations, surging forward in precise patterns. Rudy’s commanding cadence, “Chevy, Dodge, Ready Go!” (with the “dodge” part drawn out in his distinctive Monongahela River dialect), was heard across the entire field, rising above the din of whistles and crunching pads.

And on occasions when a center, guard, or tackle was not ready to go, when they were still half asleep as their drills began, Coach Rudolph unfurled colorful “motivational” language that left no doubts about who was in charge of the team’s front seven.

But Coach Rudolph’s physical profile and his commanding presence were balanced on the morning of January 1 with a reflective internal dimension that was present throughout the season. He called the offense’s Bell Cows – Jack the quarterback, JT, Grosh, and Biadasz – close just after 11:00am as the gameday walkthrough commenced. The other fifteen or twenty players on the offense, as well as the rest of offense’s position coaches and Coach Chryst, folded in closely around them.

A 40-foot billboard adorned with massive pictures of smiling new Clippers Paul George and Kawhi Leonard provided some shade as holiday traffic rumbled past on the 110 Highway. And unlike the season’s past gameday walkthroughs, which drew little attention as they unfolded in sleepy college-town hotel parking lots, this huddle was guarded by two UW police officers and six helmeted California Highway Patrolmen, whose iconic motorcycles fanned out, forming a barricade of sorts.

“We’ve heard lots of great speeches this year, guys,” Coach Rudolph began. “We heard so many words of wisdom. But, really, it all comes down to one word: Love. Love wins in the end. The love we share and the love you show to one another. Everything you do today, do it out of love for each other.”

The huddle disbanded and the players took a few short steps into the street area protected by the police. Coach Chryst quietly guided Jack and the offense through the plays that would be used in a few hours against Oregon.

Prior to heading on the road to play South Florida at the end of August, Coach Chryst told the travel squad, “We dress up for important things.” So, the “shirts and tie” rule on gamedays means that the players and coaches look much tidier than normal during pre-game meetings and the hotel to stadium bus ride. Players tend to wear basic navy or khaki pants, a solid white or blue button-down shirt, and one of the two ties that they own. Most of them also wear some shade of blue or gray blazer.

A certain sweet spot had to be found between Coach Chryst’s desire for the players to “be you” and his hope that they would avoid “costumes” – any sort of outlandish gameday attire that unnecessarily set individuals apart from their teammates. Long-bearded offensive lineman Kaden Lyles was always the first to arrive to the pre-departure meetings and, even though he recently endured hip surgery and would not be competing against Oregon, he again walked to his second-row seat twenty minutes before the 11:30am start.

The room gradually filled with dark blazers until 11:25am, when Defensive Tackle Garrett Rand sauntered up the left side of the room in blue jeans, a denim jacket, and a tan, wide-brimmed cowboy hat that would’ve made Southern California native John Wayne proud. Rand received smiles from a couple teammates in the silent room as he removed the hat from his head and found his spot. And finally, at 11:29am, JT opened the door and walked up the center aisle to his seat near the front. His bright red suit and red bow tie shined.

With the room now full of all the players and coaches, along with head athletic trainer Brian Lund, Coach Chryst began. “Good morning, guys, and Happy New Year.” A week ago, he’d wished them Merry Christmas and five weeks ago, Happy Thanksgiving. “I appreciate you all, every one of you in this room. What a great way for us to get to start the year! Playing the game together. With focused minds and decided hearts.”

Father Mike Burke led the Badger teams through a pregame prayer and reflection at these meetings for nearly 30 years, but after suffering a painful fall on the eve of November’s Minnesota game, he remained home from the Rose Bowl trip, recuperating in Madison.

Coach Chryst asked Coach Settle to fill in. Just as he had in the Twin Cities and before the Big Ten Championship Game a few weeks ago, Coach Settle shared a personal story with the room, telling the players to keep the faith throughout the game. Sophomore reserve quarterback Danny Vanden Boom then stood to initiate the “Badger Team Prayer,” a non-denominational plea to “help us play with heart and to never lose heart.”

At “Amen,” the players swiftly filed out the back doors of the ballroom, inserting their AirPods en route to the escalators. Laughs at Disneyland and dinners with proud parents were memorable. Their work on the 3rd floor was productive. Now it was time to let it loose, to have fun and play the game.

Family on 3

It was just 29 hours ago that that Gunnar was stretching out on the Bosco turf and 28 hours since he was carried off. Seven hours ago, Coach Rudolph said it comes down to love. Four hours ago, he ago he expanded, “There’s nothing passive about this love. It’s a love that means you’ll do anything for your teammates.”

Coach Chryst pulled them together, “I wish it had ended differently. But I love you guys and there’s nothing that could make me not love this team.” Now, tears flowed down Gunnar’s face, this season of his life complete.

“I’m grateful for each of you and I couldn’t have done it without you,” Zack consoled the hushed room. JT echoed the same.

“We’ve done everything this year as a family,” Bell Cow Chris Orr finished, “So let’s take it out on that. 1-2-3…”


The hundreds of hours of team work -- completed out of public eye -- led to the most public of moments, the storied Rose Bowl game in California.

Coach Rudolph's voice was one of the most identifiable aspects of a Badger practice throughout the season. Here, he prepares his men prior to the game -- in their regular end zone spot.

The team in the tunnel, heading out for the big game. This was the end of a memorable journey they shared together.

To learn more about the season of Badger coaching, competing, and learning together during the most recent Rose Bowl season, listen to episode #59 of the SGG podcast:


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