PASADENA — Andrew Luck, Toby Gerhart and coach Jim Harbaugh started Stanford's improbable football renaissance, yet they never stood in the center of the Rose Bowl with the West Coast's most coveted trophy raised above their heads.
In fact, the last Stanford team to do what the Cardinal did Tuesday night had a defense known as the Thunderchickens.
Forty years after Stanford's last Rose Bowl victory, the favored Cardinal lived up to the legacy created by Luck, Harbaugh and every Thunderchicken that came before them by winning the bowl game that matters most to any Pac-12 team.
Stepfan Taylor rushed for an early touchdown, Kevin Hogan passed for 123 yards and No. 8 Stanford's defense shut out the Badgers in the second half of a 20-14 victory in the 99th Rose Bowl.
"I had heard that 1972 was our last win," said Hogan, the freshman quarterback who won Stanford's last five games. "It's been too long since we've had one at The Farm. It's a great feeling."
Instead of slipping back off the college football map when their biggest names graduate to NFL glory, the Cardinal (12-2) have just kept getting better under coach David Shaw. After winning the Orange Bowl two years ago and losing the Fiesta Bowl in overtime last season, Stanford followed up with its first conference title and its first trip to the Granddaddy of Them All in 13 years.
Stanford's unique combination of brains and brawn was too much for its opponents during eight straight wins to close the season.
"We've been in BCS games the past two years, but neither of those mean as much as this one did," said Zach Ertz, the tight end who had three catches for 61 yards. "This is the one we play for every year. It shows Stanford is here to stay."
Usua Amanam capped the defensive performance with an interception that stopped Wisconsin's final drive at midfield with 2:30 to play in a grind-it-out game. Stanford allowed the Badgers just 82 yards and four first downs after halftime.
"There's a sense of accomplishment, because we got somewhere we hadn't been yet," said linebacker Shayne Skov, who made eight tackles while leading Stanford's second-half shutout. "If you looked at our goals at the beginning of the season, this was on top of the list, and we got it done. We're extremely satisfied."
The Cardinal finished with 12 victories for just the second time in school history — and the second time in the last three years.
Stanford clamped down on the Big Ten champion Badgers (8-6), who lost the Rose Bowl in heartbreaking fashion for the third consecutive season. Montee Ball rushed for 100 yards and his FBS-record 83rd touchdown, but Wisconsin couldn't score after the final seconds of the first half.
With an impressive defense of its own, Wisconsin stayed in position for an upset in the one-game return of Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez, who was back on the Badgers' sideline in his red sweater-vest seven years after hanging up his whistle.
"This group of kids has been through a lot, and they competed extremely hard against a very high-quality team," said Alvarez, who nearly pulled off a stunner while bridging the gap between coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. "We've played three very good football games (at the Rose Bowl). These guys played hard. In fact, most people would like to get here once. But we just didn't get it done."