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B1G Historical Perspective: 12,000 Mile Trip to the Rose Bowl

Football was discovered in Madison in 1993, including a little side trip to Tokyo to earn a Big Ten title.

Wisconsin tailback Terrell Fletcher versus Michigan State at the 1993 Coca-Cola Bowl
AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

According to the Great Circle Mapper, it’s a 12,332 round-trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Tokyo, Japan. From 1963 – 1992, the Wisconsin Badgers football team was mired in the doldrums of a 122-202-9 record. After winning the 1962 Big Ten title and playing in the 1963 Rose Bowl, the Badgers began a 30 year era that included two winless seasons (under head coach John Coatta), two 1-win seasons (under Don Morton and Barry Alvarez), and just 7 winning seasons (five of which occurred under head coach Dave McClain). It didn’t look like there would be much improvement heading into the 1993 season; however, the Badgers would claim a share of their first Big Ten title in 30 years: on the field of the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

Wisconsin began 1993 with non-conference victories over Nevada, at Southern Methodist, and Iowa State; getting the Badgers into the Associated Press Top 25. Conference play began with a 27-15 win at Indiana. The Badgers had a bye week before their next conference game, the October 9 homecoming game versus Northwestern. This bye week was brought about by Wisconsin and Michigan State agreeing to play in the Coca-Cola Bowl in Tokyo. The Tokyo Dome hosted one college football game a season and for 1993 the match-up was Michigan State versus Wisconsin in a Big Ten game.

There were several reasons why Michigan State and Wisconsin agreed to play the game in Tokyo (which was to be a Badgers home game in Madison). First, the game’s sponsors ponied up $400,000 to each team and sprung for the travel expenses. Second, Michigan State head coach George Perles would only agree to play the game in Tokyo as long as it was originally to be a Michigan State road game. Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez, Athletic Director (and former Badgers tight end) Pat Richter, and Chancellor Dr. Donna Shalala agreed to move their October 2 home game with Michigan State to Tokyo. Part of Pat Richter’s reasoning was that he thought it was doubtful the Badgers would play in a bowl game, and wanted the players to experience a bowl game-like experience.

Following the October 2 bye week, the Badgers defeated Northwestern and Purdue, clinching a winning season and potential bowl game eligibility. However, Wisconsin traveled up Interstate 94 to the Metrodome on October 23 and lost to Minnesota (a Gophers team that would go 4-7). Following this loss, Wisconsin had back-to-back home games against #24 Michigan and #3 Ohio State.

Behind the 1-2 punch of tailbacks Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher, Wisconsin earned a hard-fought 13-10 victory over Michigan; their first in a dozen years. This game will be remembered more for The Camp Randall Stampede; when 69 people were injured (several seriously) when fans stormed the field at the end of the game. The Badgers followed up the Michigan win - with increased security at Camp Randall Stadium following the prior week’s events - by playing Ohio State to a 14-14 tie.

Aftermath of The Camp Randall Stampede, following Wisconsin’s 13-10 victory against Michigan
Joe Koshollek / Associated Press

Wisconsin had a bye week following the Ohio State tie, and it appeared as though their dream of a Big Ten title would be unfulfilled as the Buckeyes went into the Michigan game on November 20 with a 6-0-1 conference record. However, one has to remember that these were John Cooper’s Buckeyes making the trek to Ann Arbor on November 20, 1993. Michigan shut out the #5 Buckeyes 28-0 and after Wisconsin beat Illinois at Memorial Stadium 35-10 a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the 1994 Rose Bowl were very much in play. It would all come down to the Michigan State game in Tokyo.

With Wisconsin sitting at 8-1-1 overall, 5-1-1 in conference play, and a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the 1994 Rose Bowl on the line, the decision to play the Michigan State game in Tokyo was facing criticism. At the time the game was agreed to (May 1992) the decision made sense. The Wisconsin Athletic Department was facing a $2 million deficit (which prompted among other things Camp Randall hosting Genesis and U2 concerts, plus a Green Bay Packers preseason game each season). Just 2 years prior, the 1991 Michigan game at Camp Randall only drew about 40,000 fans: not the sell-out that occurred in 1993. Barry Alvarez justified the decision to play Michigan State in Tokyo by saying, “We had had only two eight-win seasons since 1900 and we hadn’t gone to a bowl since 1984. I wanted some kind of bowl for the players.”

As the two teams boarded the same chartered Boeing 747-400 to travel to Tokyo, Wisconsin had a bit of an advantage over Michigan State. The Badgers had the prior week (Thanksgiving weekend) off, while Michigan State hosted Penn State and lost 38-37. As for the game itself, the Badgers dominated jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead. Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher combined for 260 yards rushing against George Perles’ defense, with Moss setting the Wisconsin school record for rushing. By the time the game was over, Wisconsin had routed the Spartans 41-20; earning a share of the Big Ten title and a spot in the 1994 Rose Bowl versus UCLA. The thing is, since this game was played in Tokyo a lot of people (including this ‘writer’) only saw game highlights on ESPN.

In a bit of irony, the last time Wisconsin had been to the Rose Bowl - following the 1962 season - Pat Richter had set a Rose Bowl record with 11 receptions for 163 yards in the Badgers’ loss to Southern Cal. That’s the same Pat Richter who helped orchestrate the Badgers second 1993 ‘bowl game’ more than 12,000 miles round-trip from Madison to Tokyo.

Wisconsin fans on State Street celebrating the 1993 Big Ten title
Joseph W. Jackson III

Historical Perspectives

Northwestern - The Upset

Purdue - The Forward Pass Comes to the Midwest

Indiana - The Real Game of the Century

Nebraska - Surrender Whites

Michigan State - Earning a Rematch

Rutgers - A Program-Changing Season

Illinois - Running the Table

Maryland - Frank Reich’s First Comeback

Minnesota - The Field Goal

Iowa - Another Field Goal (Actually Four of Them)

Penn State - $20,000 a Point

Michigan - Strike a Pose

Ohio State - EARLE