Wisconsin is in the Rose Bowl for the third straight year. This time, the Badgers are bringing a familiar face with them on the sideline.
Athletic director Barry Alvarez, who won three Rose Bowls during his coaching career in Madison, Wis., is handling coaching duties for the 99th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 following the departure of Bret Bielema for Arkansas.
Alvarez joined his team at Disneyland on Wednesday, along with Stanford coach David Shaw and the Cardinal players in the traditional kick off to the week's festivities leading to the historic game in Pasadena.
They were welcomed by Mickey Mouse, who high-fived the head coaches.
"I thought these days are over," Alvarez said. "It's like a Christmas present for me."
The Badgers (8-5) will be looking for a win against No. 8 Stanford (11-2) after losing on their last two trips to Pasadena against TCU and Oregon. Star running back Montee Ball will be playing in his final college game, and is happy to have Alvarez overseeing the team.
"You've heard so much for what he's done for the program," Ball said in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle, decked out in a wreath and garlands made of shiny ornaments with faux snow on its turrets. "You finally see him in action on the sideline. It's surreal. He brings this kind of swagger and confidence, and it's great. That's what you need in this sport."
Alvarez was contacted by senior linebacker Mike Taylor as soon as he and some of the other players got over the surprise of Bielema's swift departure.
"You realize the only option is coach Alvarez," Taylor said. "He's been here a long time and has built this program. The guys will rally around. It's still Wisconsin football no matter who the coach is."
Alvarez has already hired Gary Andersen from Utah State to take over the Badgers. Andersen plans to stay in the background during the Rose Bowl and focus more on evaluating players and preparing for next season.
For the game against Stanford, Alvarez said he will rely on his coordinators to handle the game plan and he will manage the coaches, many of whom will follow Bielema out the door after the New Year's Day game.
"I didn't recruit these guys. I'm not intimate with them, but it's a great group of kids," he said. "This is a resilient group."
The game features a rematch of the 2000 edition, won 17-9 by Wisconsin and Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Ron Dayne. That was Stanford's most recent trip to the game. The Cardinal played in the first Rose Bowl in 1902.
Stanford played the last two years in the Orange and Fiesta bowls.
"Those two don't mean nearly as much as this game," tight end Zach Ertz said. "This is something we all looked forward to growing up."
Ertz was back at Disneyland for the first time since coming to the theme park as a 3-year-old, when he went on the Dumbo the elephant ride "20 times. My mom always brings it up."
A now grown Ertz was more interested in checking out the companion California Adventure park, while Ball was headed to the Tower of Terror.
"I get a little nervous still before the drop," he said, smiling.
In his third trip out West, Ball plans to go easy when Wisconsin visits Lawry's Prime Rib for its turn at the Beef Bowl on Friday night. Stanford will visit the Beverly Hills restaurant on Thursday.
"The first year I had three of them (cuts of beef)," he said. "I felt really sluggish at the game. Last year I had 1 ½, so maybe one this year."
And Ball has a strategy for the Beef Bowl as much as for the big game itself.
"Do not drink any water or juice because it will fill you up," he said. "Attack the meat first and then the sides. The wide receivers and the running backs, enjoy it, but try to eat as light as possible."