As we get ready for our upcoming matchup against our queso-huffing, Levi-wearing, Lambeau-leaping neighbors to the northeast, I’d like to share a story with you all. I just want you to know that Wisconsin fans—they aren’t so different than you and I.
I was a Badger fan last weekend.
Let me preface with the following: I hate Wisconsin. Growing up in Minnesota, that line of thinking was infused into my brainstream around the same time the versatility of Spam and the musical genius of Prince was taught in public schools.
My only trip to Madison was for a college visit in high school. It was fine. I visited Iowa the following day and didn’t even end up applying to Wisconsin. I knew Iowa was for me then, and I know I made the right choice now.
When I was given the opportunity to go to the Wisconsin-Ohio State game this past weekend— and watch from the field no less—I jumped. Iowa was playing Purdue in a snoozer, and Madison is a short drive from where I live in Chicago. It was a no-brainer. I didn’t have anything else going on, I like beer and football, and I never turn down the opportunity to cheer against Ohio State.
We got in late Friday night. The first thing we had to do was get some cheese curds and a Spotted Cow. We found some bar seats at the Tipsy Cow and crushed curds, the best damn grilled cheese I’ve ever had and like five Spotted Cows (it was going to be a gassy weekend anyway, and when it rains it pours.) It was a solid bar. Not shoulder-to-shoulder chaos, and with the Indians on TV you could tell who was in from Ohio. In the air you could feel it was the calm before the storm. We all know the mood.
We got back to our hotel where he had a night cap with a lovely couple from Manitowoc. Yes, I was assured, that Manitowoc. You can imagine the conversation at the hotel bar was civil and level-headed following a couple hours of consuming adult beverages. I woke up the next morning with a half-filled pint glass of Spotted Cow on my nightstand. What a waste.
I made sure to get to a bar early the next morning so I could secure a seat and watch the Iowa game in about as much peace as I could before the real madness began. I was suggested a bar called the Great Dane. It was incredible. Great beer and bar food. More curds.
There was an older couple next to me at the bar watching Iowa-Purdue intently. I smugly asked if they were nervous for Iowa next week. “We play Iowa next week? Ah hell,” the wife proclaimed as she slapped the oak bar. I admitted to them I was an Iowa fan; simply in Madison for the good times. She scolded me for giving them Bret Bielema, and I told her she should be thanking us.
There was another gaggle of people at the bar focused on the Iowa game. I turned around and asked what they thought about the HAWKS. In unison they lowered the sleeves of their Wisconsin shirts to reveal matching Iowa wristbands. I lifted my pant leg to show I was wearing Iowa socks. No words were exchanged, just a nod of validation. It was the perfect expression of Hawkeye fandom in enemy territory.
With a belly full of beer and fried cheese I waddled to meet a college friend who was at his brother’s fraternity tailgate. It was drinking outdoors in the name of football, what’s not to like? Guzzling $9 vodka from the bottle is a right of passage in the midwest, and the occasion featured some of the better tailgate attire I have ever seen.
There were students and adults together, acting like children with Van Halen in the air. There were girls crying and boys peeing in the corner with reckless abandon. I felt like I was back home in Iowa City, and I imagine you all would have too.
Wanting to get the full Madison experience, we left the tailgate early and went to State Street Brats. That’s a bar’s bar. Drinking from the pitcher was encouraged, and watching the Ohio State fans fawn over their Indians was worth the price of admission. It would have been a great place to watch the Badgers, but we had other plans.
We left State Street towards Camp Randall. The walk was long—downtown Iowa City to Kinnick in an elevated state, long. It was gritty, and made you appreciate the splendor of the final destination even more. We got to the gates and brandished our field passes.
I haven’t had many “holy shit” moments in my life, but man. Getting onto the field, seeing all the red and the Wisconsin marching band from point-blank range was something I will never, ever forget. Barry Alvarez and Sam Ponder up close and personal was just too surreal. It was truly a cathedral.
Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you much about the first half of the game. It never really settled in how lucky we were to be there. The fans were raucous, and listening to 70,000 people belt out “Sweet Caroline” was a bucket list moment.
P.S. I’m sorry I didn’t take these in landscape mode like an adult.
The passes we had weren’t exactly supposed to let us on the field during the game, and by halftime I had to use the bathroom and wasn’t allowed back on afterwards. We had regular seats in the stands anyway, and I wanted to take in the game around some Badgers.
Obviously being on the field was magic, but those cramped, uncomfortable benches at Camp Randall are what being a football fan is all about. It was just like Kinnick, where you really get to know your neighbor. Being in the stands also gave me the opportunity to bask in some (brief) schadenfreude from Ohio State fans.
I found myself yawping and high-fiving everyone I could when things were going Wisconsin’s way. The folks were friendly and knowledgeable; one of the more seasoned Badger fans behind me was able to recall every time Camp Randall saw an overtime game dating back to like 1955.
Give credit to Wisconsin. They play the same style of football as Iowa, and did a lot of things I wish the Hawkeyes could pull off—like execute a jet sweep and stop a running quarterback on third down, for example. It truly was Big Ten football at its finest.
I was there with a girl who isn’t all too familiar with the sport; in the middle of the game she asked me why I was smiling. I didn’t really have an answer for her. I can count on one hand how many times in my life I’ve been at a loss for words. I’m afraid of what it says about my character that one of those times was at a football game I had no rooting interest in.
Things didn’t bounce Wisconsin’s way. Ohio State is a team with National Championship implications, and the Badgers might have given them the toughest fight they’ll see all year. My only regret was the Fifth Quarter being cancelled for weather. I will say I was underwhelmed by Jump Around, however.
Afterwards we bee-lined it to downtown where she had some college mates posted up at some bar. Like Kinnick, Camp Randall doesn’t serve booze, and our flasks had run dry by halftime. There are few things on earth worse than a hangover in the middle of a football game, as I’m sure you all know.
It was your typical bustling and sweaty college drinking establishment. I was drinking from the pitcher again. I heard “win or lose, we still booze” more than once. It’s a phrase we have love-hate relationship with in Iowa City.
The morning was rough, and the afternoon was a battle. The only positive thing I can say about Sunday was that my face was sore from smiling so much over the past day. When I got back I ate a bunch of deep dish and went to bed at 8:15. I’m writing this with the help of a Pipeworks, and all parts of me wish I had the foresight to bring home some Fat Squirrel or Moon Man.
I hope this has let you get to know your enemy a little better, friends of The Pants. They are a hairy, surly bunch and they welcomed me with open arms to their home. I hope you can afford them the same respect. Let’s just hope we beat the cheddar out of them at Kinnick.