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.
“Just about anytime I hear ‘Varsity’ or when the guys come running out of that tunnel. There are just certain things where I really kind of tear up. I know it’s kind of ridiculous.”
— Former Wisconsin quarterback Gregg Bohlig
on memories at Camp Randall Stadium
BY MIKE LUCAS | UWBadgers.com Senior Writer
Jeff Mack was recruited as an “athlete” out of Chicago Farragut High School. The Wisconsin coaching staff felt that he was versatile enough to play flanker, wide receiver, tailback or cornerback, where he lined up during spring practice in 1972. But the 6-foot, 174-pound Mack made his big splash on offense that season.
In the season opener, Mack scored on a 45-yard touchdown run against Northern Illinois. The following week, he caught a couple of touchdowns passes in a 31-7 romp over Syracuse. A week later, he caught a 77-yard TD pass in a 27-7 loss at LSU. Mack simply outran the Tigers secondary.
In the Big Ten opener against Northwestern, Mack set up the tying score and caught the game-winning touchdown pass. Not only did he finish as UW’s leading receiver, he was also the second-leading rusher. In sum, he accounted for 1,059 yards on kick returns, rushes and pass catches.
Gregg Bohlig, the former Eau Claire (Wisconsin) High School all-state quarterback, had an inauspicious college debut by comparison to Mack in ’72. Moving up from the varsity reserves, the 5-11, 173-pound Bohlig was the backup to senior Rudy Steiner and completed just 14 of 40 passes in limited action.
In 1973, Bohlig took over as the starter and threw for 1,211 yards in a ground-oriented attack revolving around tailback Billy Marek, who rushed for 1,207 yards. The Badgers won just one more Big Ten (3-5) game than they did the year before. But they were more competitive and building confidence.
“We all believed in each other,” Bohlig said, “by the time 1974 rolled around.”
Gregg Bohlig and Jeff Mack developed their chemistry through repetitions; a trusted quarterback/receiver bond that paid dividends during their senior year.
“We began to get more into the game and each other during our junior year — that’s when we really got close,” said Mack, adding that they got to the point of anticipating each other’s move.
“When I would run a route and I would open up my arms that was an indicator for him to throw me the ball and it was usually right on the money. We developed that and got better and better at it.”
“I just gave Gregg that open arm … and he threw it and it was all good from there.”
— Jeff Mack on UW quarterback Gregg Bohlig
Bohlig and Mack worked on their timing before and after practice and throughout the offseason. “Jeff was an incredibly skilled athlete who could do it all,” Bohlig said. “He ran great routes.”
Both were inspired to work even harder after a “deceiving” 4-7 season in ’73. Deceiving?
“We had come close,” Bohlig asserted. “Kind of looking back on it, I think we all realized, ‘These guys aren’t any better than us, we should be winning these games.’”
That was especially true of a heartbreaking loss at Nebraska and it would plant the seed for an upset of the Cornhuskers one year later at Camp Randall Stadium.
“We felt we belonged on the field with them in Lincoln,” Bohlig said.
That was confirmed on the scoreboard during the 1973 matchup at Memorial Stadium.
Keep in mind that No. 2-ranked Nebraska was a 21-point favorite and coming off back-to-back national championships. Plus, the Huskers had not lost to a Big Ten opponent in 13 years.
Imagine the crowd reaction then when Wisconsin and Nebraska played to a 7-7 first-half tie. Imagine the shock when the Badgers took a 10-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
After the Cornhuskers countered with a long scoring drive to move ahead 14-10, imagine the stunned silence when UW’s Selvie Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Alas, the Badgers left too much time on the clock and quarterback David Humm orchestrated a seven play, 83-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown. All told, he was 25-of-36 for 297 yards.
Before the 1974 rematch in Madison, the Wisconsin players watched film of the 20-16 loss in Lincoln. Bohlig said the mindset was really positive and “we were feeling good about ourselves.”
So were the No. 4 Huskers, who were touting Humm for the Heisman. In their season opener, he had guided the offense to scores in six of their first seven possessions in a 61-7 rout of Oregon.
What kind of defensive plan did the Badgers, a 17-point underdog, have for Humm? They knocked him out of the game. He suffered a hip pointer in the first half and went to the sideline.
Humm’s backup was sophomore Earl Everett, a runner, not a passer. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne conceded afterwards, “I was afraid to have him throw the ball.”
Everett completed just 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards. Besides operating a one-dimensional offense, he admitted that he had trouble calling audibles in Camp Randall. “It was kinda loud,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Badgers had trouble holding on to the ball in the first half (two lost fumbles, two interceptions) and stopping the Huskers’ rushing attack overall (they ran for 258 yards).
Protecting a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, the ground-hugging Cornhuskers were in position to deliver the knockout punch with a first-and-goal on the Wisconsin 2-yard line.
On first down, Mike Vesperman, Ken Simmons and Rick Jakious threw I-back Jeff Moran for a 3-yard loss. Two more Moran runs came up short and Osborne settled for a field goal.
Though the Badgers trailed, 20-14, with 4:21 left, the goal line stand invigorated them. “I looked up at the scoreboard,” said offensive tackle Dennis Lick, “and realized we could still win this game.”
After Nebraska nose guard John Lee sacked Bohlig for a 6-yard loss on a first down pass attempt, the Badgers were in desperate need of a play and playmaker. That was Mack’s cue.
On second down, Bohlig rolled to his right with his two running backs in front of him for protection. Split receiver Art Sanger was running a 10-yard out pattern. Mack was executing a Z-seam.
“I make a read,” said Mack, who was eyeing the Nebraska safety George Kyros, “and either take the route to the outside or I take it up the middle.”
In the first half, Kyros had intercepted Bohlig on a similar roll-out. “And he was thinking that he was going to pick it off again,” Bohlig said. “When he overcommitted, I saw what was happening.”
Diagnosing the coverage, Bohlig looked first at Sanger and then lofted a pass to Mack, who was nudged by Kyros in his anxiety to go for the interception. The result was a 77-yard touchdown.
“I just gave Gregg that open arm,” said Mack, “and he threw it and it was all good from there.”
“I had the right trajectory on the pass,” Bohlig said, “and Jeff made the play.”
“It’s always kind of stunning the mileage that we’ve all gotten out of that win. At the time, it seemed like a big deal and it certainly was for us and the program, too.”
— Gregg Bohlig
Vince Lamia kicked the extra point, and Wisconsin had a 21-20 lead with 3:29 remaining. The victory was sealed when safety Steve Wagner intercepted Everett’s final desperation pass.
“It’s always kind of stunning the mileage that we’ve all gotten out of that win,” said the 65-year-old Bohlig. “At the time, it seemed like a big deal and it certainly was for us and the program, too.”
Bohlig says the game-winning play was just so out of the blue, he still gets chills watching it.
“The stars aligned and it just kind of happened,” he said. “We’re trying to get back in the game and suddenly we were in the lead. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is going to happen.’
“You just wouldn’t have guessed that 40 some years later that it would still be kind of a neat deal. I couldn’t throw that pass again, I’ll tell you that. But people still love to talk about it.”
The Badgers went 7-4 in ’74. If the current bowl system was in place, they would have attracted a solid postseason game. “We scored a lot of points,” Bohlig said, “and we were pretty exciting.”
Bohlig, who has been a State Farm insurance agent for 26 years in Eau Claire, still gets to games at Camp Randall. He has two daughters who graduated from UW and live in the Madison area.
Whenever he’s sitting in the stadium, something will always trigger his passion.
“Just about anytime I hear ‘Varsity,’” Bohlig said. “Or when the guys come running out of that tunnel. There are just certain things where I really kind of tear up. I know it’s kind of ridiculous.
“But it was a big part of my life. And there’s so much to be proud of with that whole school and football program and what they have done since we were there.”
Mack has experienced the same emotions. And they were even more pronounced when his son, Jeff, Jr., was a starting linebacker for the Badgers and the leading tackler of the 2003 defense.
“I loved seeing my son on that gridiron,” he said of Camp Randall. “That was my No. 1 thrill.”