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.
“It was a trying time from a win-loss standpoint, but when I think of Camp Randall, it was frankly what sold me when I came on my recruiting visit. … It was the affinity and the love of the university, of the Saturday experience.”
— Troy Vincent
BY ANDY BAGGOT | UWBadgers.com Insider
One of the first things you see when you walk into Troy Vincent’s office at NFL Headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City is a framed photo of Camp Randall Stadium.
It serves as a constant reminder to Vincent about the genesis of his marvelous career in football, one that includes a trying, but nonetheless fruitful stop at Wisconsin.
It also represents a valuable reference point for what constitutes a special environment.
Vincent came to Madison from Trenton, New Jersey, in 1988 to play cornerback for then-coach Don Morton.
Two years, four victories and 22 games came and went before Morton was fired, paving the way for the Barry Alvarez era to begin.
Vincent played at such a dynamic level during his last season with the Badgers that he was a first-team All-American and was chosen by Miami in the first round of the NFL draft in 1992.
Looking back, Vincent mentioned no specific highlights from playing at Camp Randall even though eight of his nine career victories and two of his four career touchdowns with the Badgers came at home.
Vincent’s enduring memory of Camp Randall is bigger than anything he did or saw.
“It was a trying time from a win-loss standpoint,” he said of his career at UW, “but when I think of Camp Randall, it was frankly what sold me when I came on my recruiting visit.”
“The tradition of playing at Camp Randall,” he said.
During Troy Vincent’s four years at Wisconsin, he never experienced a winning season (1-10, 2-9, 1-10, 5-6), never saw Camp Randall sold out (75,053 was the high and 29,776 the low) and never beat a ranked opponent (0-10).
Given all that, Vincent believes he was part of something special. It just took him a while to come to that conclusion.
“It took me a long time, years, to wrap my mind around (the fact) these people are still showing up and we’re not a good product,” he said of Badgers fans. “It was the affinity and the love of the university, of the Saturday experience.”
Why did it take so long?
“Typically people follow winners because of on-field results,” Vincent said. “This was about the Saturday tradition of what it’s like in Madison, Wisconsin, on a Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall.
“Frankly, the game was a byproduct of the Saturday experience that so many families, student body and faculty … all came together.
“As a player you’re like, ‘Man, we just got beat and this wasn’t a fun game.’ Or ‘This was a game we could have won.’
“And they’re still here,” Vincent said.
The Morton era was a turbulent time at UW. He was ultimately hired to replace Dave McClain, who died suddenly of a heart attack during the spring of 1986, but proved to be a poor fit.
Vincent turned out to be the most accomplished of the four Morton recruits to earn All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors for the Badgers. The others were guard Chuck Belin, linebacker Gary Casper and kicker Rich Thompson.
Vincent, who owns a degree in urban and regional planning from UW, played for four NFL teams during his 14-year pro career — Miami, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Washington — and was named All-Pro in 2000, ’01 and ’02.
He was tabbed for five Pro Bowls (1999 to 2003) and finished with 47 career interceptions. He’s among those specified for consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Off the field, Vincent was named Walter Payton Man of Year in the NFL in 2002 and carved out time to earn advanced business degree certificates from Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern and Pennsylvania.
Vincent is currently executive vice president for operations for the NFL.
“Because I had the opportunity to play at the next level, it gave people — the other student-athletes behind me — hope that this is a program that produces pros. … I was one of the bricks in the foundation. I can’t take any more credit than that. We laid the foundation. When I left the cement was wet. It was still taking shape. Once it was set, it was just a matter of time.”
— Troy Vincent
A key moment in Vincent’s career came when Alvarez was hired away from Notre Dame, where he was the defensive coordinator, to take over at UW.
“There were two different worlds from my freshman-sophomore years to my junior-senior years, and a totally different dynamic on Saturday,” Vincent said.
Alvarez and his staff immediately raised the bar of expectations even though it took four years for the talent to catch up to it.
The Badgers were 1-10 overall when Vincent was a junior and 5-6 when he was a senior.
UW closed the 1991 season with back-to-back wins over Minnesota, 19-16, and Northwestern, 32-14.
Beating the Gophers meant more than reclaiming Paul Bunyan’s Axe and securing 12 months of bragging rights in the most-played rivalry in major college football. It also meant ending a 21-game road losing streak in Big Ten play dating back to 1986.
Meanwhile, clobbering the Wildcats gave UW its first season-ending victory in eight years and tangible momentum heading into the offseason.
Every week brought the same message from Alvarez and his staff.
“It was a culture shift,” Vincent said. “He’d say, ‘The stands are going to be filled up and they’re expecting us to come out here and play a football game.’
“He’d say, ‘This is how we work. This is what’s expected of you. This is what’s going to happen at Camp Randall every week. This is our brand of football. We’re not taking a back seat to anybody.’
“That was what you heard every single day.”
Vincent, who returned three punts and one interception for TDs in his college career, helped validate the culture change when he was chosen seventh overall by the Dolphins.
“Because I had the opportunity to play at the next level, it gave people — the other student-athletes behind me — hope that this is a program that produces pros,” he said.
Vincent watched with knowing satisfaction as the Badgers won the Big Ten title in 1993 and bumped off UCLA in the 1994 Rose Bowl.
The pride is evident in Vincent’s voice as he speaks now of his alma mater as a consistent national power.
“I was one of the bricks in the foundation,” he said. “I can’t take any more credit than that.
“We laid the foundation. When I left the cement was wet. It was still taking shape. Once it was set, it was just a matter of time.”
The Camp Randall experience has not changed as far as Vincent is concerned.
“I’ve gone to some great venues, great venues every week, but there’s no experience like that,” he said. “Beyond national championships, there’s just no experience like that.”