For most of the 2009 football season, the specter of 2008 has been looming.
During a two-game losing streak, Wisconsin seniors spoke about not accepting the feelings from last year. Head coach Bret Bielema aimed to put it out of mind, but there was still something lingering from that trying 7-6 campaign.
At least there was, until the second half Saturday.
With 45 points, the most a Badger team has ever scored against Michigan, Wisconsin finally laid last season to rest, earning what amounted to vengeance against the team that pushed them into the downward spiral that made 2008 so difficult.
""Last year I remember, I was like, ‘We are killing these guys, these guys are terrible,' but then they came back,"" senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield said. ""They made me eat my words, and it hurt so bad that we [were] beating them so bad and we were ranked and all that stuff that went on.""
Wisconsin led 19-0 at halftime in Ann Arbor last season, but the offense sputtered badly in the third quarter and the Wolverines rallied for a 27-25 win. Wisconsin was ranked in the top-10 that day but lost its next three games and struggled to finish sixth in the conference.
Saturday, however, saw the Badgers play one of their best second halves of the season, with the defense clamping down on Michigan's star freshman quarterback Tate Forcier.
But even when the lead ballooned late in the game, many Badgers were not quite ready to relax because of the memory of last year.
""I was even worried when we were up before we got the ball in the fourth quarter. It was 42-24 and I was still worried,"" junior guard John Moffitt said. ""You never know, they can score fast and they have a quick offense, so I wanted to put them away.""
But Saturday the emotional charge came not only from facing Michigan, but also from bidding farewell to the small senior class that has been incredibly vital to this year's success.
Schofield, safety Chris Maragos and linebacker Jaevery McFadden led the defense all year, but they got a surprise contribution from senior tackle Jeff Stehle, who sacked Forcier in the first quarter. Only one offensive starter was playing his final game in Camp Randall Saturday, but Garrett Graham made the most of it with 62 yards and the game's opening touchdown.
Both Schofield and Maragos, the team's defensive captains, had their own bittersweet moments, reflecting on their times as Badgers.
""I was thinking back from when I was transferring [from Western Michigan] and when I went [to] coach [Bill] Cubit and told him I was leaving and the process to get here. And I thought about when I brought my tape to Luke [Swan] and the first time I met with coach B. All these things come through your head as you're kind of coming off the tunnel,"" Maragos said in a voice just a bit hoarse from crying. ""Man, I couldn't be any more happier with the way it's gone.""
Maragos even joked about sleeping in his jersey and pads, saying he just did not want the day to end.
For Schofield, that moment came after he hugged Bielema on the field and, as the last player to head to the locker room, turned to run into the tunnel. When he looked to the stands, the fans began chanting his name, and it was apparent how happily poignant the moment was.
""Oh man, you know what, it brought a big smile to my face, because I remember the first time I ran out on Camp Randall's field, freshman year, and just being a freshman, just happy to be on the team,"" Schofield said. ""It really meant a lot that the fans appreciate what I did and all the hard work I put in for this program.""