Chris McIntosh's playing career at the University of Wisconsin ended with a second straight Rose Bowl victory on the first day of the 2000s.
The 1998 and 1999 seasons when McIntosh was a vital part of an offensive line that opened running room for Ron Dayne are part of Badgers lore. UW was 11-1 in the first and 10-2 in the second, the program's best two-year stretch by record since 1911-12.
What often gets forgotten, McIntosh said, was that the seasons that preceded those didn't reach expectations. UW missed a bowl game in 1995 and McIntosh was part of a team that lost four straight games in 1996.
The 1997 season had bookends that McIntosh said he's still trying to forget — a 34-0 opening loss to Syracuse and a 33-6 defeat to Georgia in the Outback Bowl that sent UW into the offseason with a three-game losing streak.
The historical reminiscing came up this week with McIntosh in the context of the 2021 Badgers, who are 1-3 after consecutive losses to Notre Dame and Michigan by a combined 49 points.
McIntosh, who is in his first year as UW's athletic director, was reflective on his college playing career when asked what he's looking for out of the Badgers going forward.
"What I'm excited to see out of our current team is what I experienced during that period of time myself," he said. "This isn't limited to sport, but most growth takes place from challenge, from adversity. And it's how you respond to it. And I'm excited to see how our current players respond to the challenge that they face today.
"I think it tells a lot about the makeup of our program. When you're in the middle of it, it's really difficult to see opportunity. When you're in the middle of any kind of challenge, really. But it's only with perspective that you can see how you grew from it. And I can tell you that's certainly what happened for me personally and for my teammates, for our program. And I'm excited to see how our program responds to it."
Badgers players said in the wake of last Saturday's 38-17 loss to Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium that they're working on preventing the team from pulling apart during the rough period. That loss came on Barry Alvarez Day, when UW honored the career of the football coach who won the back-to-back Rose Bowls and preceded McIntosh as athletic director.
There were more than 200 of Alvarez's former players in town to celebrate him, McIntosh said, but the discussions he heard weren't about victories and championships. Years after playing careers ended, the talk was about how the experience of tough times taught life lessons.
"That period of time and what we fought through and what it led to really changed who we became and how we approach the world," McIntosh said. "It's a testament to being resilient. And that's not lost on our coaching staff. Hell, there are coaches on that staff that were part of that period of time (1995-97) or other periods of time like that.
"This is what we're working through right now. This is what they as a staff are working through with their players. And we'll get through it and we'll be better for it."
It should be said that the worldview is different for a 44-year-old administrator who's nearly two decades removed from the end of his playing career than it is for a 20-year-old player.
Today's players might not understand that there's something to be taken from a period of struggle without the coaching staff leading that exploration.
McIntosh was asked whether UW coach Paul Chryst and his assistants have done a good job of guiding that process.
"I have seen that from our staff," McIntosh said.
Badgers fans flock to Twitter to vent about Wisconsin's poor play in loss to Michigan
First things first
Blame should be directed equally at coaching staff, QB, and O-line. QB development falls on Chryst’s shoulders. Mertz talking about winning a natty and launching NIL website before accomplishing anything at UW set him up for criticism.— Matt Baker (@bakermm23) October 2, 2021
Promote Leonhard before he leaves.
Not up to the challenge
Yes,we played 3 very good teams but we should be a good team too if we're ever going to be a playoff contender. Is it talent, coaching, fan support? Talent, I thought we were solid, coaching has to come into question, fan support been high. If 7-5 or 6-6 is the aim, then yes.— Paul Rosowski Sr. (@Pantablo) October 2, 2021
Ready to wait out the storm
After the Rose Bowl win in 1993, Wisconsin went through a tough 1994 season, were blown out by Colorado both home and away, and Donovan McNabb ran wild in a 38-0 opener in 1997 at the Kickoff Classic in the Meadowlands. Calling for Paul Chryst’s firing is ridiculous.— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) October 2, 2021
Numbers speak volumes
Next weeks loss at IL will be a nice cap to in already dead season again. 9-10 since middle of 2019. Chryst 10-17 against ranked teams. Losing record against teams above .500. His offense has been brutal. Hard not to give a players coach like Jim a chance. NFL player, walk on.— ChazB (@chazb33) October 2, 2021
Failing to hold the line
I think after today, the 100% Mertz fault can go away. He needs to improve things but clearly there are many, many other issues— Matt Uhlmann (@UhlmannMatt) October 2, 2021
Cooking up a hot mess
Defense is solid, but can’t be on the field 3/4 of the game. Offense showed glimpses, but not consistent enough. Protecting the ball, OL and special teams have been horrendous, not a good recipe if you want to win games.— Joel Schneider (@joelschneider25) October 2, 2021
I'm done blaming Mertz. This kid has all the arm talent in the world and I have zero reason to believe he shouldn't be at least a very serviceable Wisconsin QB.— TJ Ninneman (@tjninneman) October 2, 2021
This is 1000% now on the offensive coaching staff.
Time's running out
The schedule gets more forgiving from here. If they're still lost in the woods a month from a now, it's time to consider significant changes.— Kyle Cooper (@SportsCoop66) October 2, 2021
Way out of whack
300 less yds rushing vs the same team, on the road, with basically the same personnel a year ago. Explanation? If one team got that much better, then something in the offseason preparation needs to change— Matt Uhlmann (@UhlmannMatt) October 2, 2021
Looking for new leadership
I think it’s time we hand the keys to Jimmy. Bring in an offensive staff that’s creative, like Chryst used to be. How is our OL the weakest link on this whole team?— Josh Showers (@JoshShowers4) October 2, 2021
What better way to celebrate Barry Alvarez Day than replicate the 1-3 start in his first year at UW?!— Corey Otis (@CoreyWOtis) October 2, 2021
Headed for the exit
Defense deserves so much better. I think Leohnard leaves after this season— Eᴠᴀɴ DeLong (@delong_ed) October 2, 2021
Imitation is the sincerest flattery
Chryst needs to do with his offensive coaching staff what harbaugh did to his defensive staff last year— Fred Ehle (@FredEhle) October 2, 2021
It's not wrong
Same old story
OL is arguably worst part of the team, and they say they know how to fix it after every debacle yet continue to no show. UW can’t function with a bad OL. Something major needs to change.— Pat Richards (@pgrichards0407) October 2, 2021
Finding a bright side
Bad luck. Would have been close without Mertz injury. We ll finish strong!— Bill Prue (@BadgerBill89) October 2, 2021
So apparently last year was not an anomaly. How has this team regressed so badly?— Eric Eichelt (@EricEichelt) October 2, 2021
Spinning their wheels
Offense is trash and has been for years, JT covered up a lot. Oline, QB play not good nor showing improvement over time, vanilla offense on top isn’t helping nor going to attract talent. All points to poor coaching.— Michael Wilson (@wilsonmj73) October 2, 2021
That's one idea
If Mertz can’t go next start, turn the reins over to Deacon Hill.— Philip Bladen (@philipbladen1) October 2, 2021
Hard to argue
Worst Wisconsin O-line since 1989.— Jeff Kivett (@jeffkivett) October 2, 2021
That's putting it nicely
The offense just isn’t good— David Damgaard (@david_damgaard) October 2, 2021