When the Wall Came Tumbling
The large wall had stood for decades, holding silent watch over the events of the Vilas neighborhood. Its tons of heavy bricks, stacked more than ten feet high, overlooked the zoo. It had heard elephants trumpet. Lions roar. Peacocks call. But rain, ice and snow had worked inexorably to weaken its base.
No one knew, least of all the two young boys tossing a football in its shadow, that it was desperately holding fast for just a few more minutes until the boys were done with their game.
If it managed to stay upright for a bit longer, history might smile on us all.
As it turns out, the wall was a Badger football fan. Who isn’t?
It has been a great year for Bucky. The team is one of the finest in the land. Perhaps the best Badger football assemblage to ever take the field. They have a stunningly smart and accurate quarterback, a tight end worthy of Pat Richter’s position, a bevy of running backs, each better than the next. And before them, an offensive line that moves like some great glacier; large, mostly white and overwhelming. And finally a defensive end, who plays like there is a Bunyan in the family’s lineage.
Soon they will compete for the Big Bouquet.
But what makes this Badger team great is not just the players. Now they have a head coach as good as they are. As the Badgers slapped Ohio State it was clear that we were watching not just a senior class, but also a head coach, come of age.
Bret Bielema, whose challenging fate was to learn on the job, had finally bested a ranked team, not only asserting himself as the coach Barry Alvarez expected him to be, but the leader the players and community required.
Bielema’s development, after an uneven start, has been satisfying to watch. And cause for new respect motivated by factors beyond the simple winning of college football games.
It is also another victory for Barry, whose swagger now carries wisdom as well.
But for locals there is another man for whom we celebrate. His dad coached us. His mom taught us. His brothers and sisters are our friends. During the final quarter of the Ohio State game, as the Badgers began their game-winning drive deep in their own territory by throwing five passes, IN A ROW!!!, I texted Rick, Paul Chryst’s older brother, the words, “Somewhere George is smiling.”
George Chryst was Paul’s late father. He grew up in Madison. Played for Edgewood and the Badgers, and returned to coach at both schools. He was known to run the occasional audacious play.
Surely the Badger success can be credited to his son, Paul, as well as Bret Bielema. Indeed it would not be unfair to refer to the humble Heimer (his family and neighborhood nickname) by the term Assistant Head Coach.
It is not a stretch to claim that the emotional leadership and energy of Bielema combined with the offensive wizardry and humility of Chryst, with a pinch of Alvarez managing the fates from Olympus, has given the Badgers a coaching combination unmatched in college football.
And homies, who rooted for Paul to get the head job, are happy for Heimer. Once a football vagabond, he has been able to establish a true home for his wife Robin and their kids, who now attend the high school where their grandmother Patty met their grandfather. How many big time coaches can make that claim?
Despite the offer of big checks and jobs by the likes of Jerry Jones, Paul has set roots in home soil. Regardless of what’s next, he is going to Pasadena with a team he helped create. Something he could not say as a player under Don Morton.
As for the old wall, it held on for a few extra moments. Just long enough for eight-year-old Jimmy, the youngest of the Roach clan, and his
childhood buddy Heimer to head inside for a PB&J.
Moments later, with a seismic sound and shake, the wall collapsed in the exact spot where the boys had been playing. Both moms and the entire neighborhood ran outside to gawk at the wreckage, chilled by what could have happened if the boys laid beneath the bricks.
But fate intervened. Both friends are doing well these days. Brother Jim has taken it upon himself to leave voicemails for Paul during games, chiding him for passing so often at Camp Randall that he is going to give Barry agita.
The wall has been replaced. A new one stands there now. Both families have moved away from the neighborhood with only one regret.
We should have planted rose bushes.
Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.