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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Badgers and Brett Favre — all part of the charmed Wisconsin life of Lions’ Darrell Bevell

Detroit Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell and Brett Favre go back a long way. At one point, there was a photo taken of them together when they were the two most prominent quarterbacks in Wisconsin, and the two went on to work together twice — Bevell as coach, Favre as quarterback — in Green Bay and Minnesota.

Somewhere along the way, Bevell threw out an invite to Favre: Come to Utah. We’ll go to the mountains to hunt cougar.

And this is how the Hall of Fame quarterback and Bevell ended up on a daylong quest to chase down the speedy animal.

They met up with one of Bevell’s cousins to try to track one down.

“We rode horses for like 18 miles first and then jumped off the horses, jumped in the car and then started cutting roads and looking for tracks. Found tracks and the dogs were able to go out,” Bevell said. “We were able to just find a beautiful cougar to take a look at, and, I mean, I don’t know if I want to give all the story away, maybe Brett should be able to tell a little bit better, but he had a bow that he was trying to use.

“I think he only had four arrows, and at the end there was no arrows left but the cougar was still running.”

Bevell didn’t tell the whole tale, but it’s just one of the many yarns about his time in Wisconsin, where he became an icon and received one of his first big breaks in coaching. The memories run deep of Favre, of his alma mater Wisconsin Badgers and of the current Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who was drafted when Bevell was the team’s quarterbacks coach.

Bevell said he had Rodgers as his top-rated quarterback that season, but Green Bay never thought he’d be available at No. 24 in the first round of the 2005 draft. But there Rodgers was, so Green Bay took him.

Rodgers and Bevell developed a good relationship quickly — and he’s not surprised at any of Rodgers’ success after their one season together.

“Aaron and I were a little bit close that way because we were kind of the, I don’t know if it’s ‘newer guys’ or whatever, but I remember bringing him in the day that we drafted him. We flew him in, kind of giving him a little tour,” Bevell said. “I thought our relationship was good. I have to be honest, I think somewhere there in the middle, you know when I left and then went to Minnesota, I don’t think the relationship was very good anymore. Understandably why, right?”

In 2006, Bevell became the Vikings’ offensive coordinator. So the one-time teammates became division rivals. In 2009, Favre and Bevell reunited when Favre joined the Vikings for the final two years of his career. Rodgers was still with the Packers.

But Bevell’s ties to the state go back further than Green Bay. They go to college. It’s why he’s a folk hero in the state.

Bevell was the quarterback who did the previously unheard of — taking the University of Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl after the 1993 season and winning it. He converted one of the game’s most memorable plays in the process.

As described by the legendary announcer Keith Jackson: “Bevell runs away from pressure … got loose … a lot of green in front of him … It’s touchdown. Bevell makes the big play for the Badgers.”

Bevell dropped back to pass on the play. Seeing nothing, he rolled to the left side, evaded UCLA defenders and ran into the end zone while raising his arms in the air — his right hand holding on to the ball. He then jumped into the arms of an offensive lineman — future sports agent Joe Panos — to celebrate.

That play, that game, that season turned Bevell into a Wisconsin legend.

“It’s kind of a little ironic the play I’m known for in Wisconsin history is a run since I was not the fastest guy,” Bevell said. “I have great memories. I see the W. I see the red. I just have great memories. Walking down the street somebody’s wearing a Wisconsin hat, ‘On Wisconsin.’ Because I had such a great experience there, great coaches. I had a bunch of great teammates I was able to play with.

“To be able to go into a place, turn it around with a bunch of great people and then to be able to, we hadn’t been to a Rose Bowl in 31 years. The school had never won. To be able to go there, to win the game, obviously make an impact play in that game. Close to my heart. I love it. I love to see it. I love being joked about. I love everything that goes along with that play.”

Wisconsin went 10-1-1 that season, beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl and knocking off Michigan while tying with Ohio State.

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