The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.
BY MIKE LUCAS | UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
As a dual-threat quarterback and four-year starter, Brooks Bollinger exploited defenses with his arm (5,627 passing yards, 38 touchdowns) and his feet (1,767 rushing yards, 26 TDs). He was also a heady decision-maker, a coach’s kid from Grand Forks, where his dad, Rob, coached at the University of North Dakota. Cliché but true, Bollinger was a student of the game: a born leader with the clutch gene.
In his final game, the 2002 Alamo Bowl, he rallied the Badgers from a late deficit by driving the offense 80 yards for the tying touchdown, a one-yard Bollinger run, with 51 seconds left in regulation. He then set up the game-winning field goal in a dramatic overtime victory over 14th-ranked Colorado. It marked his ninth fourth-quarter comeback of his career and 30th win, a school record not to be eclipsed until Joel Stave in 2015.
Bollinger, a sixth-round pick of the New York Jets, bounced around the NFL for five seasons (21 games, 10 starts) with the Jets, Vikings and Cowboys. In 2009, he led the Florida Tuskers to the UFL championship game (Jay Gruden was his offensive coordinator) and was named the MVP of the league. After retiring from football, Bollinger was an assistant on Paul Chryst’s staff at Pittsburgh for two years. Currently, he’s the head coach at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The first time that Brooks Bollinger set foot in Camp Randall Stadium, he was attending a Wisconsin football summer camp. “And they were setting up for the U2 concert,” remembered Bollinger, then a 17-year-old high school quarterback prospect out of North Dakota.
On the night of June 25, 1997, Fun Lovin’ Criminals was the opening act for Bono and the Irish rockers. A crowd of 34,000 was treated to many of U2’s hits, including “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
Bollinger didn’t go to the concert.
But the next day, UW coach Barry Alvarez offered him a scholarship. And it didn’t take long for Bollinger, a three-sport star out of Central High in Grand Forks, to verbally commit to the Badgers since he had found all that he was looking for in a program, a staff, a school, a campus and a community.
Five years later on Senior Day “” November 23, 2002 “” Bollinger ran out of the tunnel in the north end zone for the final time and was greeted on the field by his parents, Lisa and Rob, who pointed out a known truth about their son, “It was not a small thing for him to be a Badger.”
As such, nothing was ever taken for granted, especially the home games, first to last.
“That’s when you really start thinking about what the place and the people have meant to you,” Bollinger said. “That was a special day for me, personally, and it was emotional because it was my last game at Camp Randall and because we had to win to go to a bowl game.”
With the UW offense rolling behind Bollinger and Anthony Davis, who rushed for 301 yards and five touchdowns, the Badgers got bowl eligible by thumping Minnesota, 49-31. “I’ll remember a lot of these experiences for the rest of my life,” Bollinger assured everyone afterwards.
True enough, Bollinger, now 37, still has vivid memories today of Camp Randall.
“That’s the game I always talk about and I think there’s a reason why. I still have never been around an environment like that before or since. There was the electricity in the crowd, the size of the moment and the weather, a warm November day. All those things came together.
“It was a 2:30 game at Camp Randall. It’s the best place on earth.”
– Brooks Bollinger
“It was larger than life for me,” he said of his initial reaction to the gameday environment. “It sounds cliché, but it’s that “˜Sea of Red.’ Every single person has red on. It’s crazy and just a different kind of level of excitement and support. I hadn’t seen anything to that scale before.”
As a prep senior, Bollinger took an unofficial visit to a 1997 game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Camp Randall. Sophomore tailback Ron Dayne played just one series before being sidelined with an ankle injury. Quarterback Mike Samuel didn’t complete a pass in the second half.
And, yet, the Badgers found a way to escape with a 13-10 victory behind an aggressive defense and 119 rushing yards from Dayne’s backup, Eddie Faulkner, who scored the UW’s only touchdown. That snapped an 0-17-1 winless streak against the Hawkeyes dating all the way back to 1976.
“It was a great day,” Bollinger said.
He would witness many more while redshirting as a true freshman in 1998.
“I remember the “˜Jump Around Game’ when (Purdue’s) Drew Brees threw 83 passes,” he said, referring to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarter. “And I remember us beating Penn State and coming out for the Fifth Quarter. Holy cow, what an unbelievable experience.”
Samuel, a rugged, strong-willed senior, was a catalyst on that Rose Bowl team.
Bollinger knew his time would come. And it did the next year.
With 12 minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the first half of the 1999 opener against Murray State, he made his college debut, taking over as planned in the second quarter for senior Scott Kavanagh, who had staked the Badgers to a 28-7 lead.
Bollinger’s first pass fell incomplete. He wound up 3-of-7 for 37 yards. The following week, he split time again with Kavanagh and completed 3-of-6 for 25 yards. In the final nonleague tune-up, he played just one series after his first and only pass was intercepted in a loss at Cincinnati.
“I wasn’t off to a promising start,” he conceded.
Neither were the Badgers, who were hoping to bounce back in the Big Ten opener against Michigan at Camp Randall. Although they trailed 14-9 at halftime, Dayne had gotten them off to a competitive start with 14 carries for 88 yards and a 34-yard touchdown run. That would be his highlight.
In the second half, the Wolverines held Dayne to zero yards on eight rushes. That took most of the suspense out of the game until the fourth quarter when Michigan’s Tom Brady, who had been tag-teaming with Drew Henson, was driven into the turf by linebacker Chris Ghidorzi with 10:56 left.
Brady, who had completed 17-of-27 for 217 yards and two scores, didn’t return. Neither did Kavanagh, who bruised the elbow on his throwing arm. Bollinger entered the huddle in the fourth quarter and sparked a comeback that fell short. The Badgers lost the game but found a quarterback.
Bollinger threw for 61 yards (6-of-9) and rushed for 52 (including a 13-yard TD run).
“I came out of it feeling, “˜That was a big stage and Michigan is going to be as good as anybody as we see this season and I feel like I can play at this level,'” said Bollinger, who carried 210 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame. “It gave me a level of confidence and comfort knowing, “˜I can do this.'”
Bollinger was the perfect complement to Dayne because opposing defenses had to account for him as a running threat. After reviewing Bollinger’s performance against Michigan, Alvarez said, “I thought he opened the game up. He brought a different dimension to our offense.”
Alvarez saw the same things in practice the following week and wanted to see if Bollinger could sustain that momentum, so he started him at Ohio State, where the Badgers had won just twice in the 77-year history of Ohio Stadium and hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes in Columbus since 1985.
After the Badgers fell behind 17-0, Bollinger never lost his poise, never flinched “” in the words of Alvarez “” and directed Wisconsin to 42 unanswered points in a stunning upset of the 12th-ranked Buckeyes. Bollinger completed 15-of-27 for 167 yards and had 17 rushes for 78. Dayne had 161 yards and four touchdowns.
The Badgers didn’t lose again. If the Michigan game was a career springboard, then the Iowa game, a 41-3 thrashing of the Hawkeyes, was the punctuation mark to his ’99 home season and a career highlight from Camp Randall Stadium.
While Bollinger was throwing for 144 yards and three TDs, and running for 113 yards and a score, Dayne was taking over as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher. In addition, the Badgers were going back to the Rose Bowl after collecting their first outright Big Ten championship in 37 years.
“That’s the game I always talk about and I think there’s a reason why,” Bollinger said. “I still have never been around an environment like that before or since. There was the electricity in the crowd, the size of the moment and the weather, a warm November day. All those things came together.”
Plus, he added, “It was a 2:30 game at Camp Randall. It’s the best place on earth.”