A fitting end for Bollinger

QB seizes chance to inspire troops one last time
By JEFF POTRYKUS
Last Updated: Dec. 29, 2002
San Antonio - Brooks Bollinger packed a lifetime of work into his final 3 hours 43 minutes in a University of Wisconsin football uniform.

UW-Colorado

Summary: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28 (OT)


Not only did he cement his legacy as the most successful quarterback in the history of the program by recording his 30th victory and boosting his bowl record to 3-0, perhaps more important he whetted the appetite of his younger teammates to strive for more heady achievements in 2003.

If Wisconsin's 31-28 overtime victory over No. 14 Colorado Saturday night in the Alamo Bowl can't motivate the Badgers to end their Big Ten slide, which has reached three seasons, nothing can.

"I don't know if I've ever been with anyone who has competed as hard and led the way he did," coach Barry Alvarez said after the Badgers rallied to upset the Buffaloes. "It's contagious, his competitiveness, and I thought he really saved his best for last."

Shaking off a first-quarter interception that was returned 91 yards for a touchdown, Bollinger passed (163 yards, two touchdowns), ran (20 carries, 82 yards, one touchdown) and willed the Badgers to their first victory over a ranked team in five tries this season.

"He just wills us to win," freshman wide receiver Brandon Williams said. "We never really panicked, and we just kept it together. We stayed focused and tried to come up with the victory and that's what happened."

Offensive coordinator Brian White, who knows the Badgers will lose Bollinger but will return 16 other starters and welcome back wide receiver Lee Evans, hopes the returning players learned from their outgoing leader.

"This game was a fitting way for him to end his career," White said. "I hope that the way he played today is the image that all the Wisconsin people have burned in their heads for forever.

"That is the caliber of player, person and representative of this university he is. He is as good a quarterback who has ever played here. He certainly showed his resiliency, his toughness, his character, his competitive spirit, his enthusiasm and his love for football."

Bollinger's love for the game never wavered during the last three seasons, when the Badgers went just 9-15 in Big Ten games. And it never wavered Saturday night, when the Badgers trailed by seven points with 2 minutes 25 seconds left and 80 yards of real estate to navigate.

Ten plays later, including two memorable fourth-down conversions, Bollinger had driven the Badgers for a touchdown and to the brink of overtime. A few minutes later, after Wisconsin's defense rose up and stuffed Colorado and forced a missed field-goal attempt, Mike Allen followed Bollinger's lead to kick the winning field goal.

"I think that this game kind of illustrates all of the things that this program is about," Bollinger said. "After the season that we had, and the last couple of years, just never quit.

"He (Alvarez) gives me credit for that, but I think it starts with him. That's what this program has been built on and I've just been fortunate to be a part of it for these last five years.

"You always want to go out on top. To do it in this jersey and with this group of guys makes this the most special football game I've ever played in. I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity."

No one associated with the Wisconsin program could have asked for a better springboard into 2003. Much can happen between a December bowl victory, one that left Wisconsin with an 8-6 record, and a new season. Momentum can fade. Players' memories can fade.

Yet Bollinger did all he could in his final game to stir his teammates and set them on the path that could lead to more success next season.

"He will be sorely missed," White said. "He is a special, special, special football player and person. He is one of the great ones that has walked through this university.

"You couldn't have written a better script for the end of his career."

With Bollinger gone, it will be up to the returning players to write an even more uplifting script in 2003.

"We have a lot of returning players," sophomore defensive lineman Darius Jones said. "Our possibilities are endless next year.

"This is very much a momentum-builder going into next season."