Sunday, September 19, 1999

A victory for the ages in Clifton

[uc fans]
UC fans take down a goalpost after the victory.
(Ernest Coleman photo)

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        Before the final gun had finished echoing, before the field was filled with spectators, before the University of Cincinnati Bearcats could sing their fight song and embrace their loved ones, the crossbar in the south end zone had gotten all crooked.

        In the momentary madness that beset Nippert Stadium Saturday afternoon, UC students grabbed onto the goalpost at the enclosed end and gleefully wrestled it to the ground. Then they raced to the opposite end zone to repeat the ritual vandalism.

        “I almost dropped to my knees when I saw the goalpost go down,” UC center Doug Rosfeld said.

        “I just felt like crying at the time,” UC captain Tinker Keck said.

        One set of goalposts: maybe $3,500.

        One victory over a top-10 team: Priceless.

        After more than a century of frustration and failure, college football came to Clifton Saturday in all its thrilling excess. The Bearcats beat ninth-ranked Wisconsin 17-12 in a game that delivered as much anguish and euphoria as the attendees could absorb.

        Mistakes were made. Turnovers were made at excruciating moments. Keck tried to

        field a punt inside his own 10-yard line and had it hit him in the facemask for a fumble. Both sides spent the better part of the fourth quarter looking for the most wrenching way to lose. But when it was over, and the Bearcats had survived the Badgers' desperate drive against the clock, fans of three and four decades sought out Keck to tell him they had never seen a game so stirring. This one was a watershed, tears notwithstanding.

        “My brother-in-law played football here,” Rosfeld said. “My sister was a trainer. All his good friends are former linemen. They told me the goalposts have never been torn down.”

        Paul Klaczak had tried to plan for it. During an athletic department meeting last week, UC's associate athletics director/operations had said if the students decided to storm the goalposts, he wanted campus security to get out of their way. The campus police laughed at his presumption, convinced the Bearcats were 26-point underdogs for a reason.

        This was the same UC team, after all, that had lost the preceding Saturday to Troy State, a Division I-AA team presumably playing above its station. If the Bearcats couldn't beat a podunk school like that, what business did they have on the same field with a Big Ten power such as the Badgers?.

        Answer: plenty.

        “You know, we did exactly what we had to do to win this game,” UC coach Rick Minter said. “We did it just the way we planned it. That plan included having them milk the running game, and we had to hang on to the ball on offense. ... I told our defense to hang in there, believe, and take your shots.”

        Wisconsin features the relentless running of Ron Dayne but not much in the way of offensive balance. Badgers quarterback Scott Kavanagh completed only eight of his 21 passes and could not have looked much more mechanical had he gulped 10W-40 instead of Gatorade.

        Though Dayne rushed for 231 yards on a tender ankle, he might have had 300 if not for long runs called back by penalties, and his fourth-quarter fumble at the UC 2-yard line proved the decisive play of the day. Compounding these crucial errors was an 81-yard punt return by Wisconsin's Nick Davis that was nullified by a holding penalty.

        A great team might overcome these blunders through superior talent, but the Badgers can ill-afford arrogance. If they were looking past the Bearcats toward Michigan, it was a momentous mistake.

        “Is it an upset?” Minter asked. “We're not the ones who are upset, so you have to ask somebody else.”

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at


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