Wisconsin: Regent Street to Camp Randall (continued)
Even as temperatures drop, spirits continue to soar. Skies are gray, the wind biting. High above the west grandstand, multicolored flags representing the 11 Big Ten schools ripple in the bitter breeze while a facade below honors Wisconsin's all-time greats: Ameche, Hirsch, Dayne, Pat Richter, Dave Schreiner, Allan Shafer.
If you're a college football aficionado, those names give you pause: this place isn't just fun, it's also historically significant. For casual fans from outside Wisconsin, however, Badger football and its attendant heroes probably have little resonance, save for Dayne, the 1999 Heisman winner. All of which only serves to make the passion the fans here have for their team all the more impressive. The Badgers will never be America's Team, but for 5.5 million Wisconsinites, they are clearly the only team.
Madison's population of nearly 225,000 soars on a game day, as fans pour in from across the state. Camp Randall's student section is one of the largest in college football, stretching from one corner of the north end zone to the other. The students are bundled in red fleece and down jackets on the outside and are often well lubricated on the inside.
As the Badgers mount a drive before halftime, the students begin a slow-motion wave. Then they taunt Michigan with the two words every member of this Wolverines team will take to the grave: "Appalachian State."
The level of passion in the student section rises to that of a Duke basketball game, even if the IQ level does not. Vulgar T-shirts are to Camp Randall what clever chants are to Cameron Indoor Stadium. So much for being gracious hosts. But the Badgers will bounce back. They certainly have before.
After Wisconsin endured a 23-game winless streak in the late '60s, the Barry Alvarez era provided a resurgence, as the Badgers won 118 games, and three Rose Bowls, during his 16 years on the sidelines. Alvarez is properly honored with a bronze sculpture outside Gate 1. Since Alvarez stepped down after the 2005 season to concentrate on his job as athletic director, his replacement, Bret Bielema, has not missed a beat.
The success has been passed on and so have the traditions.
After each touchdown, Bucky Badger does a pushup for every point the home team has scored while the students count off. The Wisconsin Band turns around and plays directly to the students. That same band plays "Eye of the Tiger" after key third-down defensive stops, enhancing the old-time, '80s rock 'n' roll feel that seems to embody the place.
At the end of the third quarter, House of Pain's "Jump Around" is pumped through the stadium's sound system. The students respond accordingly, and not just because it's a frosty 44 degrees. The band members gather near the end zone and join in the jumping.
The beer-soaked "Sconnie" faithful can smell something brewing, and an upset of the Wolverines is in the air. By the fourth quarter, the entire stadium is on its feet in anticipation of the win, remaining there for the rest of the game. The stadium is shaking and so are the Wolverines.
At 7:31 of the fourth quarter, however, Michigan's 26-yard touchdown strike cuts the lead to 23-21, and the stadium falls deathly silent. The band tries to pick the crowd up, with little luck.
Four minutes and 20 seconds later, Wisconsin seals the deal -- and revives the crowd -- by scoring on a six-yard run, then adds another TD a minute later en route to a 37-21 triumph. Fans sing. "Na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye." The gun sounds, but more than half the crowd stays.
The high-stepping Wisconsin Marching Band takes the field for the Fifth Quarter, a free-wheeling musical celebration that began in 1978 and is almost as much fun as the football game that precedes it.
A rousing rendition of "On Wisconsin" kicks things off. Then comes Michigan's "Hail to the Victors," which, on this day, actually hails the losers. This being Wisconsin, the band breaks into the spirited "Beer Barrel Polka." It's followed by "Tequila," complete with the student section executing the Peewee Herman dance moves. The Budweiser song -- with "Wisconsin" replacing the brewery's name -- proves to be the ultimate crowd pleaser.
By now, Badger players have begun to emerge, one by one, from the locker room -- in full uniform -- to join in the fun. Band members sprawl on the field in a free-for-all. In the corner of the end zone, a tuba player teaches a player how to blow the horn. The band breaks out a game of Twister and begins playing.
Along the sideline, players roll over band members.
UW-Madison is rated 38th in the U.S. World and News Report's 2008 list of best colleges, so you might have received a better education at the college you attended. But you probably didn't have as much fun as they do here.
Back on Regent Street, the bars are filling up once again. The post-game celebration stretches all the way to State Street, a brisk 15-minute walk away.
On State Street, red merchandise flies off the shelves. The football game is history, but there's a Badger hockey game in an hour to gear up for.
It's not homecoming, not officially anyway, but across the way at State Street Brats, a couple celebrate the 30th anniversary of their graduation from UW-Madison by downing red brats, spicy waffle fries and Miller beer. They come back every year.
"When we were going to school here," the middle-aged husband proudly proclaims, "the Fifth Quarter was just getting its start." He says nothing about the earning power of a Wisconsin degree, but, still, you're a little envious.
The couple join with the rest of the rollicking bar, continuing to celebrate the Badgers' win, a game that ended five hours earlier. Everyone else in this quintessential college town seems to be doing the same.
It's now been more than 12 hours since my Wisconsin game day began at Lucky's, but there's no end in sight. At this point I have the routine down pat, so I squeeze my way up to the crowded bar and order a Leinenkugel and a red brat. And keep 'em coming.
This is Wisconsin, after all, and five quarters aren't nearly enough.
Doug Ward is a southern California-based freelance writer.
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