Sunday, September 23

On Wisconsin

Odometer: 3976
Location: Madison, WI
States visited: Illinois, Wisconsin

For once this season, I had a weekend where driving was not taking up a full day of my time. Madison is just a few hours from Chicago, and it’s a relatively easy trip. I will get the other extreme over the next two weeks with a drive to Seattle followed by one to Dallas. But this drive was a bit more relaxed. With warm weather scheduled, I was able to pack light and just hop in the car and go. By the end of the weekend, I was kicking myself for not spending any time in the town before. It may not be Disneyland, but you can have a ton of fun there.

After the nondescript Wiscinois countryside, cruising into Madison on the beltway reveals a picturesque downtown perched between two lakes with the capital dome rising above it all. In a weird way, it almost felt like Wisconsin’s version of South Beach. I can’t properly explain this, but I knew I was arriving when I got there.

Writing the tailgate report for SI On Campus has brought some expected challenges. I have overlapping, but somewhat conflicting tasks on Saturday. I have to meet people and interview them for the book. I have to take in the tailgate experience for SI. And I have to enjoy myself at least a little. But the benefit is that it has sent quite a few people to this space. One such person who lives in Madison noticed I was a Michigan grad and sent me a note saying hello. Not only that, he offered me a place to stay. This was an extremely generous offer which I immediately took. Lo and behold, we quickly figured out that we lived in the same dorm our freshman year. However, the only interaction we could (vaguely) remember was watching an episode of Beavis and Butthead in his room back when that show was in fashion. He and his wife not only had me stay with them, but showed me some of Madison’s finest haunts. Friday began at The Avenue for a Door County style fish boil. The appetizer was of course fried cheese curds, and dinner was excellent. From there, we hit Essen Haus, a German restaurant featuring gigantic beersteins, a Polka band, and drunken revelers. The band closed with an Polka version of “On Wisconsin” which got everyone riled up – including the Iowa fans in attendance who started a “Let’s Go Hawkeyes!” chant. Not ready to pack it in, we hit one last place – a small, classy bar with drinks named after famous people. I had a Benny Goodman. I can’t remember exactly what all was in it, though I’m pretty sure bourbon was a main ingredient. Not fifteen minutes after we arrived, a wild brawl broke out between a dozen women. It was complete chaos. There was no way to determine who was fighting whom or why. After standing there gawking for a minute, beer bottles started flying and we realized that it was time to go into duck-and-cover mode. Within minutes, everyone involved in the melee scrambled out of the bar, presumably to go their separate ways or continue the altercation on the street. We lingered and chuckled about the situation a bit, more in disbelief than anything else. On my way towards the stadium Saturday morning, some students were playing cornhole in front of their house. An SUV driven by an older gentleman and flying Hawkeye flags cruised by and they gave it the finger. Welcome to Madison! I got out to Camp Randall way too early. Very few people were set up for tailgating or at the bars by the time the early games kicked off. Perhaps LSU threw off my perspective on this stuff, but I figured that because most Wisconsin games begin at 11:00 people would be set up by then. So I hit the relatively vacant campus, climbing to the top of Bascom Hill. Again, the view over Lake Mendota is sweet. They also have an outdoor deck at the Memorial Union where you can grab a beer or just hang out. I can imagine going to school here would mean spending many hours on this deck before winter really hits.
There’s a certain theme of vulgarity that is embraced in Madison on gameday. Beyond the bird flipping I witnessed to start the day, fans in yellow t-shirts were frequently called out by everyone nearby with an “Assssshole…” chant. A car drove through town with “Fuck Iowa” painted on its windows. I’m not one of these “think of the children” kind of people, but I am one of these “do something creative” kind of people. In the stadium, the student section throws around some profane cheers which are extremely well organized and certainly fun. But all this cursing-for-the-sake-of-cursing stuff just made the fans look boorish. You’re better than that, Bucky. The Iowa fans I spoke to did say that they were being treated well, for the most part, so this loutish behavior is really just surface level. I’m not trying to say that Wisconsin fans are jerks – far from it. Everyone was very generous with food and drink throughout the day. But they could step up the razzing and make it something more unique or worthwhile.On the west side of Camp Randall, there is a neighborhood comprised mostly of students. Everyone wears red shirts, often emblazoned with further profanity. And everyone drinks. A lot. Walking past these homes, you would see flip-cup followed by two story beer bongs followed by beer pong. Everyone is throwing back the suds. With an evening start to the game, by the time kickoff rolled around, the inhabitants of this neighborhood ranged from tipsy to trashed. It was like a convention of college drinkers with each address representing a booth featuring the wonders of hops and barley. All the fun appeared to be extremely harmless, save the guy who tried to pitch a beer bottle from distance only to have it rim out and smash in the street where people were walking. He ran back into the house rather than clean up his mess.My ticket was in the upper deck at the south end. I longed to be in the jammed student section, though the people around me were very nice and into the game. The students are a large, energetic bunch who are there to have fun. Throughout the day, people mentioned the long stretch of dark years for Wisconsin football. From the mid 60s until Alvarez took over in 1990, there was very little to cheer about in Camp Randall stadium. Because of that, people looked to have fun in other ways. Hence the profanity-laced battles between sections. The Jump Around between the third and fourth quarters is a thing of beauty. I had a great vantage point to appreciate it. Fans throughout the stadium sing the fight song and the alma mater – better than I’ve seen at other schools so far. After the game, the marching band and cheerleaders take the field for the fifth quarter. It’s a bit “band campy”, but a ton of fun. Near the end, the students demanded Swing Town, a song the administration reportedly is against being played in the stadium because of the cursing involved from the students. When the band adhered to their request, the elation could be felt across the venue. The game itself was one that I’m sure a lot of people would complain about. But I like a stout defensive struggle, and that’s exactly what this was. Iowa’s defense impressed, but Wisconsin managed to wear them down just enough by the end of the game to get the scores they needed. After playing mistake-free football for the entire game (no turnovers, no penalties), Iowa committed three penalties on the key Wisconsin scoring drive, and that’s why they lost the game. I wasn’t overly impressed with Wisconsin. They’re a good team, but they’re going to have to step things up a bit if they want to win the Big Ten. Cutting down on turnovers and penalties is going to be crucial for them. After three blowouts and one hanging-on game, I was glad to finally get a seesaw battle that came down to the wire.


Proud 1999 Michigan grad said...

Actually, Wisconsin fans ARE assholes. Believe me, as someone who lived in Madison for the last 8 years and attended two Michigan games at Camp Randall, Wisconsin fans are horrible. Not just to Michigan fans, either: a few years ago at an OSU game, they pushed a Buckeye girl down the steps of the stadium, threw beer cans at a 12 year old boy, etc. Completely classless and borderline criminal.

Anonymous said...

"...a few years ago at an OSU game, they pushed a Buckeye girl down the steps of the stadium, threw beer cans at a 12 year old boy, etc."

How do you throw beer cans in a stadium where no alcohol is served? The stories you write about are urban myth. The truth is, Michigan grad, you didn't like the outcome of the games.

Be a man and admit you have no actual knowledge of these situations. I realize that may be asking to much of you (to be a man).

Anonymous said...

anon -

Can beer cans be thrown in a parking lot tailgate?

Anonymous said...

Your "Big" Blue got owned big time on Saturday. I enjoyed doing all the cheers you gave us an "f" for in your report card. I'm sorry, but if profanities don't make our cheers the best in the country, I would love to see what does! Also, the "tailgating" at Wisconsin doesn't even happen where you were (the parking lots by McDonalds)...they happen at the houses around the stadium. You should have gone to one of those (even though I do know what you mean about everyone knowing each other there - i have gone to the same place the two years Ive been here).

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