(Spoilers abound in this story, so if you didn’t see Sunday’s episode of “Breaking Bad,” you may want to hold off reading this until you have.)
Wisconsin fans watching the second-to-last episode of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” on Sunday night might have noticed a brief cameo by the UW Badgers hockey team.
Late in the episode, the show’s high school science teacher turned drug kingpin, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), is sitting in a bar, about to give himself up to the cops. As he orders a drink, a television is playing a hockey game behind the bar.
Quick-witted sportswriters immediately wondered which game it was. Listening to the play-by-play, Sports Illustrated writer Sam Page heard the announcers say the name of Tim Rothering, who played for Wisconsin from 1995 to 1999.
Further mentions of Kevin Granato and Graham Melanson narrowed it down to the 1997-1998 season, and references to Denver and the Dane County Coliseum cinched it. It was the Feb. 13, 1998 game between the UW and Denver University at the Dane County Coliseum. (It's not the first film or TV credit for the hockey team — a UW/Minnesota game is shown in the Coen brothers' movie "Fargo" and another UW game is shown in the Clint Eastwood baseball movie "Trouble With the Curve.")
In an interview with Vulture, the episode's writer-director, Peter Gould, didn't mention the significance of that particular game, but said he is a hockey fan.
"I'll be honest with you, we were excited to get hockey," Gould said. "I'm from New York. Some of the other writers are from Massachusetts. What's on the TV in New Hampshire? It's going to be hockey. Having said that, being able to show a hockey clip is not a straightforward thing. We were very fortunate that our postproduction co-producer Andrew Ortner was able to get in touch with somebody willing to let us use a clip for a very reasonable price because they were fans of the show."
Footage from UW games used in movies or TV shows has to be more than five years old to make sure no current players are involved, said Cindy van Matre, UW-Madison's trademark licensing director.
A large archive of old Badgers hockey games aired on Wisconsin Public Television exists for licensing through XOS Digital.
"Probably Wisconsin is the best source of any type of hockey footage because of that," van Matre said.
Before approving use in the production, UW officials get to see the part of the script for which that clip will be used to make sure there's nothing offensive, van Matre said.
There's no guarantee the clip will end up in the final product at that point, she said, but if it does, UW gets a check. In the case of the "Breaking Bad" clip, she estimated it as perhaps a $2,000 value.
Now, the question remains for alert "Breaking Bad" fans — why would that particular 15-year-old hockey game be featured so conspicuously in the episode? I tweeted Gould about that, but he hasn't responded yet.
Page had a theory, and it has to do with the bizarre nature of the game. Wisconsin was trailing Denver 3-1 at the 6:44 mark in the third period, but came back to score an amazing six goals and win the game 7-4, one of the great comebacks in UW sports history.
'Is (show creator) Vince Gilligan giving us a clue?" Page asked. "Is Walter White about to score 6 goals in the 3rd period (so to speak)?"
We’ll find out when the series finale of "Breaking Bad" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on AMC.
Todd D. Milewski contributed to this story.