Who is the ultimate Wisconsin Badger?
Who is the ultimate Badger? It is Ron Dayne, Mark Johnson, Jessie Vetter McConnell, or Ultimate Badger the horse? Let's examine the case for each.
Dayne ran roughshod over the competition
The first name that comes to many minds as the ultimate Badger is Ron Dayne. The rugged Lynchburg native was Wisconsin's starting running back from 1996 through 1999, and is the second-leading rusher among NCAA Division 1 FBS schools.
Dayne is one of only eight players in NCAA history to rush for over 1,000 yards all four years of his career. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1999 with a decisive 73.83% of possible points, and was also the Rose Bowl MVP in both 1999 and 2000. Dayne would go on to play seven seasons in the NFL for the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, and Houston Texans.
Hockey player and coach Mark Johnson helped pull off a miracle
Johnson played three seasons for Wisconsin under his father, longtime Badgers coach Bob Johnson. His 125 career goals, after playing just three years, made him Wisconsin's leading goal scorer, and his 256 points put him second.
In Johnson's first year on the team in 1977, he helped the Badgers win a national championship. In 1978 and 1979, he was an All-American. Johnson played for the United States hockey team in the 1980 Olympics, scoring two goals during the Miracle on Ice.
Johnson is still a Badger today, and has been the head coach of the Wisconsin women's ice hockey team since 2002. He has coached the program to six national championships, most recently in 2021.
Goalie Jessie Vetter McConnell could be the ultimate Badger
Jessie Vetter McConnell minded the net for three of Wisconsin's NCAA champion teams in 2006, 2007, and 2009. She was the Most Outstanding Player in the Frozen Four in both 2006 and 2009. In 2006, she was the first goalie to record a shutout in the women's Frozen Four, and achieved two that year.
McConnell was the first goalie in NCAA history to have a season goals-against average of below 1.00, and during the 2006-07 season she posted a shutout streak of 448 minutes and 32 seconds. It was, at the time, the longest in NCAA history for either men or women. She went on to play for the United States national team, and won six gold medals at the World Championships, and two silver medals at the Olympics (2010 and 2014).
Ultimate Badger turned heads at Churchill Downs
Owner Jim Bakke — a University of Wisconsin alumnus himself — hopes the real ultimate Badger is a Kentucky-bred three-year-old colt by Commissioner out of the El Corredor mare El Rebecca.
Ultimate Badger turned a few heads when he won easily on debut at Ellis Park on July 31, stalking the pace and cruising clear to win by four and a quarter lengths. The Dale Romans trainee turned far more heads on Oct. 25, when he won an allowance at Churchill Downs. He was hung four wide on the clubhouse turn, then three wide on the far turn. Odds-on Stayin' Out Late looked like he was going right on by in upper stretch, but Ultimate Badger was downright tenacious. He stuck with the favorite, and edged ahead late to win by a neck.
Ultimate Badger shortened up for some stakes at Gulfstream, finishing third in the Swale (G3) and second in the Hutcheson (G2).
If he continues to improve, he'll be well on his way to proving that he is the Ultimate Badger, after all.