Updated Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 01:01 AM
PASADENA, Calif. — Some people probably think quarterback Jim Plunkett led Stanford to its last Rose Bowl victory. It's understandable if memories are foggy, because it's been that long.
It was actually Don Bunce, backed by the "Thunder Chickens" defense, back in 1972. The losing team was Michigan, and Stanford was still nicknamed "Indians."
No wonder, then, Stanford so thunderously celebrated its 20-14 win over Wisconsin on Tuesday before a crowd of 93,359 on a chilly day.
You forget how hard it is to do this. Northwestern, Stanford's academic rival, won a bowl game Tuesday for the first time since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Casual observers to the 99th Rose Bowl might have wondered how Granddaddy stayed awake during Stanford's dirge march to delirium.
The second half produced one chip-shot, 22-yard field goal. In the third quarter, the teams combined for seven punts and three first downs. The game produced more than twice as many running plays as passing plays, 80-37.
If only Wisconsin could have scraped together 17 more passing yards, it would have reached an even 100 for the game.
Sometimes, though, destiny happens when you least expect it. Tennessee had Peyton Manning for three years but won the national title the year after he left. Stanford had Andrew Luck at quarterback for three years, but it took freshman Kevin Hogan to finally win the Rose Bowl.
Tuesday's game was all-out, grind-it-out. The coaches, David Shaw and Barry Alvarez, were determined to squeeze all the life out of a game and live with the consequences.
"We're not going to score 40 points a game," Shaw said afterward. "That's just not how we're built right now."
Both teams game-planned to a close finish — the difference being Stanford is much better at closing out.
"You're at midfield, or close to midfield, with a chance to win the Rose Bowl," Alvarez said afterward. "I just felt like maybe we were a team of destiny. ... I just felt like somehow we were going to find a way to score."
Wisconsin got its chance — and flubbed it.
After Jordan Williamson's field goal put Stanford up by six, Wisconsin's sputtering offensive brigade got one last chance, from its 25, with 4:23 left.
Melvin Gordon's 11-yard dash on first down got Wisconsin closer to Alvarez's midfield, striking-distance goal. The plan fizzled, though, when quarterback Curtis Phillips' tipped pass was intercepted by Usua Amanam at the Stanford 42.
Stanford ran out the final 2:03 and then ran off the field.
Wisconsin was left with a slower burn as the loser of three straight Rose Bowls. The hat trick has been matched only two other times: California (1949-51) and Michigan (1977-79).
It wasn't that Wisconsin was totally inept. The Badgers gained 218 yards rushing on Stanford's vaunted defensive front.
Montee Ball, the only player to score a touchdown in three different Rose Bowls, finished with an even 100 yards on 24 carries.
Wisconsin's problem is it has been built to play close games it can't seem to win. The Badgers, who finished 8-6, lost three games this season by a total of 12 points in regulation, and three in overtime.
Spotting Stanford the first 14 points was a terrible idea and seemingly destined to fail. The Cardinal scored on its first two drives and threatened to turn the game into a rout.
After a Wisconsin touchdown, Stanford extended its lead to 17-7 on Williamson's 47-yard field goal. Wisconsin cut the lead to three when Phillips hit Jordan Fredrick on a 4-yard scoring pass 19 seconds before halftime. Wisconsin had momentum and history on its side. In the 2000 Rose Bowl, the Badgers rallied to win after trailing Stanford, 9-3, at the half.
But there was no second-half magic this time. Stanford pounded out a hard-fought win and finished 12-2.
"It was about us being us," said Shaw, Stanford's winning coach.
It was also about Wisconsin being Wisconsin.
|Tuesday's bowl results|
|Rose||Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14|
|Outback||South Carolina 33, Michigan 28|
|Capital One||Georgia 45, Nebraska 31|
|Orange||Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 10|
|Heart of Dallas||Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14|
|Gator||Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20|
ROBERT LABERGE / GETTY IMAGES
Stanford's Usua Amanam (15) celebrates after making the game-clinching interception with 2:03 to play.