Bohlig was toast of the state when UW upset Nebraska
“I guess I picked a good team to have a good game against,” said Bohlig, 59, of Eau Claire, who threw for 242 yards and a memorable 77-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 left to beat Nebraska, 21-20, in 1974 in Madison.
“I’m fine with all the phone calls and things because some of the things I did down there weren’t so memorable,” Bohlig said Tuesday. “I’m glad those were forgotten and they’ve focused on one good thing.
This has been fun, and Saturday should be fun too.” Bohlig will rejoin teammates for Saturday night’s clash between the unbeaten Badgers and Cornhuskers, ranked 7 and 8, respectively in the country. Bohlig and flanker Jeff Mack, who caught the historic pass, will be introduced during the game’s first timeout.
“It should be pretty nice,” Bohlig said. “It will be nice to get the family down there and see some of the guys again.”
Bohlig, one of many standout athletes from Eau Claire Memorial’s class of 1970, got a full scholarship with the Badgers and started at quarterback during his final two years.
The team lost to Nebraska in 1973 in Lincoln. The Badgers almost pulled off the upset after Selvie Washington’s 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 5 minutes to play gave the Badgers a 16-14 lead. But quarterback David Humm moved Nebraska 83 yards in seven plays for the winning score.
That game gave the Badgers confidence in 1974 before 73,381 raucous fans and a regional television audience.
“We were pretty familiar with each other, and we knew we could play with them,” Bohlig said. “We knew they were good, but we didn’t feel they were any better than the Ohio States and Michigans that we played against in our conference. The ’73 game gave was a confidence-builder for us, and we felt we could play with them the next year in Madison.”
Nebraska, which outrushed the Badgers 258-77 and was a 15-point favorite in 1974, led 17-7 in the fourth quarter before the Badgers rallied.
In his mind, Bohlig can still see Mack running alone down the sideline.
“It was second-and-long and a rollout right,” Bohlig said. “It wasn’t designed for a huge play, but the safety was over-aggressive. I had time to wait as Mack slid past the safety. I made a good throw. It was kind of stunning. All of a sudden we were in the lead.”
The electrifying 77-yard play was followed by Vince Lamia’s extra point kick, and the Badgers had a 21-20 lead over No. 4 Nebraska with 3:29 to play, and it held up.
“It was a huge thrill,” Bohlig said. “Part of the bigness of it all was how it happened. We’d battled them hard all day and been behind and coming back and all of a sudden to instantly have the lead like that—wow.”
The UPI report of the game said the touchdown “sent a crowd of 73,381 into a frenzy. Hundreds milled onto Camp Randall’s Tartan Turf at game’s end and the celebration continued far into the night along the State Street watering holes and their surroundings.”
That’s the way Bohlig remembers it, too.
“There was a big party in Madison that night and throughout the state,” Bohlig said. “It’s amazing how many people come in my office and say I remember where I was and what I was doing when that happened. It was a big deal for the program.”
The play vaulted Bohlig, the all-state quarterback from Eau Claire Memorial, into the national spotlight as he was named both AP and UPI national Offensive Player of the Week.
For the 1974 season, Bohlig completed 79 of 143 passes for 1,212 yards, with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He had 16 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions, and completed 171 of 355 passes over three years.
Bohlig was an assistant executive at the local YMCA before entering the insurance industry 20 years ago. He and his wife Barb, married 35 years, have three daughters, Amanda, Bethany and Carolyn.
“In the ’74 game, I’m certainly not making any big deal out of any plays I made,” he said. “The stars kind of aligned that day. For an old guy like me, to have this happening now has been cool.”
The win over Nebraska vaulted the Badgers to the No. 10 spot in the polls, but they lost the next week at Colorado and later were beaten by Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. But the 7-4 record, including 5-3 in the Big Ten, was the Badgers’ first winning season in 11 years or since 1963.
Bohlig was a team captain and voted the MVP.
“I felt really honored that my teammates bestowed that upon me,” Bohlig said.
Bohlig is thrilled that Nebraska is now in the Big Ten Conference and expects the Huskers to be a daunted adversary for many years.
“I’m excited that Nebraska in the conference and adding another elite team in a conference that is already good,” he added. “It should be fun for a long time.”