MADISON - Though he was relatively young at the time, Gabe Carimi remembers watching the Wisconsin Badgers win back-to-back Rose Bowl's in the late 1990's.
"It was a lot of joy," Carimi said following the official announcement that his 11-1 Badger squad was headed to Pasadena. "As a little kid the team you're always rooting for finally went to the Rose Bowl again. I remember '99 the best, but every year you thought you'd go back to the Rose Bowl. To finally get back brings just a lot of joy."
Lance Kendricks, a fellow senior, remembers watching the Badgers claim back-to-back Rose Bowl titles, too.
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"I told another guy a story about being in the kitchen for the 1999 Rose Bowl back in Milwaukee," Kendricks said. "I just remember watching and saying 'One day, that could be me.'
"It's finally here."
It's been 11 long years for both fans and members of the UW football team and athletic department, but the time has finally come for a return trip to Pasadena. Even better in the eyes of head coach Bret Bielema, the Badgers get a shot at one of only three remaining undefeated teams in No. 3 TCU.
"TCU has handled its business all year and so has Oregon and Auburn. Only two get to play in that game so I'm very excited because we get to play the only other undefeated team in the country. I know a lot of people are going to say TCU should maybe be in that championship game, but the way it all works they're not.
"Now that we get to play them, it's our own little championship game."
Scott Tolzien, a rather unassuming afterthought just a mere 18 months ago, has always held the Rose Bowl in high regards. But the fact that he's an All-Big Ten performer leading his team into that prestigious ball game still hasn't necessarily caught up with the fifth-year senior.
"It's something you dream about as a kid," Tolzien said. "You're always setting those high dreams and you're always watching it every year and saying, 'Gosh, that really is the granddaddy of them all.' I think as I've gotten older I've learned to just focus on the journey and the preparation and not try to focus on an end result.
"I think I've learned that when you have that approach those end results come. It's not something you have to look at. You just work to get to that end result."
Wisconsin opens as an early three-point underdog to undefeated TCU. But looking back at the earlier experiences in this particular bowl game, particularly during the Barry Alvarez regime, that's a spot UW should be rather comfortable with.
"I've never really used the underdog," Bielema said. "I think this is a way for our program to get a lot of respect. I think to go out and win a BCS game…as much as I love the seniors we have a lot of good players coming back. Hopefully it's a great way to send momentum into 2011."
But that's neither here nor there. UW has four weeks to prepare for a high octane TCU offense that scores exactly the same number of points (43.3) per game as Wisconsin. It's going to be a difficult challenge on both sides of the ball for the Badgers, but an opportunity that they can relish.
"It's the Rose Bowl game and you'll have a Rose Bowl champion," Bielema said. "That's the bottom line of what it is. I have a Rose Bowl ring at my house in my little jewelry case, but it's nothing I would wear around because that Rose Bowl thing on the side wasn't a winning performance. You want to carry that with you and you want to know it's a championship. That's what's very important.
Bielema on the role the Rose Bowl plays in recruiting:
"I think as the season went along we were after certain kids. We didn't change who we were recruiting because we started having success. I think it might help us close a couple things out, but we're pretty secure with where we're at. Last weekend was a big recruiting weekend, as it is always, because of the banquet. Our kids do such a good job in front of the mic so we try to get all of the kids that we can in for that weekend that are committed to us just so the parents get a good feeling for what we are."
Culmer St. Jean on playing in Pasadena:
"Well, we wanted a little bit more. We were a little bit more ambitious, but that one-loss kind of set us back. But it also kind of helped us move forward with the other two big games we were able to win and to close out our season. But the Rose Bowl is a great place to play in and I'm excited to get there and play."
Jay Valai on the best part of being Big Ten champions:
"Everybody is treating us like kings….I'm playing. But no, what the fans don't really realize is that they mean as much to us as we mean to them. Without them this wouldn't have been as successful a season as it has been. With that Ohio State atmosphere or Northwestern, and those atmospheres going crazy it's just been a great feeling. But all this is good and if we go out there and lay an egg against TCU it will all just turn right back around. People are quick to forget. You only remember a champion so we're going to go out there and do our job. It's as simple as that."
John Moffitt on receiving the berth to the Rose Bowl:
"I've enjoyed the week like we're going to the Rose Bowl. This is more of an 'Oh, good.' Because I would have looked really dumb last week. So, we kind of just saw it going that way and kind of expected it."
-The Big Ten had three teams finish in the top 10 of the final BCS Standings. Wisconsin led the group at No. 5. Ohio State (11-1) finished No. 6 and Michigan State (11-1) rounded out the group at No. 9. Ohio State will play No. 8 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl while Michigan State will play No. 16 Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.
-The 6,000 ticket allotment for students went on sale at 9:00 p.m. central time. They were sold out within eight minutes.
-TCU will play in it's first-ever Rose Bowl game. For UW, the game marks the first time in Pasadena since the 2000 Rose Bowl, a game Wisconsin won 17-9 over Stanford
The following are audio files from Sunday's Rose Bowl press conference: