Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: Wisconsin

Wisconsin vs Nebraska – Fear and Loathing in Madison…

After a week of work travel in Dallas, I wrangle out of bed scarcely after 5AM on a Saturday morning, groggily drive to DFW airport and catch the red eye flight into Madison. What follows is 16 hours of drinking and depravity by four dudes with some Wisconsin football peppered in. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Dan and Maxwell greet me at the airport smiling. A few quick handshakes and backslaps later, I toss my gear into the back of Dan’s silver Tacoma and we purposefully navigate our way into downtown Madison. The leaves are just starting to show shades of color, and hordes of joggers navigate uprooted concrete sidewalks beneath the hardwood canopy overhead. Crisp and clear, it’s a pristine fall morning in Wisconsin. The spirit of Big 10 football hangs in the air over Lake Mendota like a mist.

We circle the block once near a parking garage, looking for the fourth and final member of our squad; Alex. A strange figure hobbles to the corner of the sidewalk and flags the truck down, it’s Alex, sporting a wispy punters mustache, garbed in some kind of Payne Stewart inspired outfit. He had suggested over email to dress in something red and outlandish, but a red cardigan and flat cap are well beyond my sartorial inventory. Admiring his outfit, we park the truck in the adjacent garage and get the day underway.

Scarcely fifteen feet away from the truck Alex stops us as if we’ve forgotten something important. I pat down my pockets, reassured I have the essentials, and look around perplexed. Alex disappears between two parked cars and emerges moments later with four bottles of Smirnoff Ice and a mustachioed grin. We’ve just been Iced. Well before noon.

“Icing” as it’s known in the parlance of our times, requires those who have been presented with an unexpected Smirnoff Ice, to guzzle the entire offering in a single sip. The three of us are obligated, and though technically not required, Alex joins us for sport. Clanking them together, we hoist the bottles and start choking down the sugary liquid. At 11am the lemony malt liquor swallows like battery acid. I finish mine first, but I’ve got a few years experience on these whippersnappers, and it’s a dubious race to win.

It’s going to be a beautiful mess of a day, I note to myself.

The first stop of the day brings us to a local pub in the shadow of the State Capitol called the Old Fashioned. Featuring some inspired locally sourced foods and an impressive selection of microbrews, I opt for a classic choice instead; Schlitz. Despite a love for beer, microbrews are not conducive to all day drinking, and I know I have a long shift in front of me.

A few others bravely order Bloody Mary’s. In true Wisconsin fashion they are heavily ornamented with a eclectic selection of pickles, eggs, cheese curds, beef jerky and accompanied by a beer chaser. As I’ve learned before, Bloody Mary’s are an art form in Wisconsin, the goal of which seems to be to amass as large and random a pile of crap onto your glass as possible. The taste for which I have yet to acquire. But the Schlitzes are going down smooth and the waitress keeps them fresh.

What follows for the next couple of hours is an increasingly hazy string of bars, pubs and porch parties, each stop taking us on a winding route progressively closer to Camp Randall Stadium. Our crew swells to fifteen or so friends, acquaintances, brothers, cousins and wives. After frequenting the bar upstairs, we tumble into the Church Key Liquor store and grab a few thirty packs to tote along, paired with a flask of Vodka for good measure. Opting for the local brew, Milwaukee’s Best Light proves an economical choice at ten bucks a rack. We’re hauling enough booze down the sidewalk for an entire platoon, but on a football Saturday in Madison this hardly draws a raised eyebrow. A few Nebraska fan hurl insults out the windows of a bus, a couple of polite Badger “cheers” are exchanged back.

Around 5:30 or so, we make our way over to Camp Randall to start hunting for tickets. We’re targeting an area known as Breeze Terrace, a street bordering the western edge of the Stadium lined with three story party houses straight out of Animal House. The ramshackle houses are bursting with throngs of inebriated undegrads, parking lots flooded with a sea of red outfits. These should be the most fertile hunting grounds for cheap student tickets.

We comb the backyards, porches and patios asking around for tickets, targeting the tipsiest scholars we can find like lions pouncing on wounded gazelles. Passing through a few dank basements we continue our search. Black lights illuminate glowing beer pong tables surrounded by teetering coeds, the shadowy caverns and smell of rancid beer reminds me of my wilder days. I’m five years too old to be here. Okay, maybe ten.

An hour and several beers later, we’re approached by a girl offering her student ticket up for $100 bucks. I fork the cash over quickly, it’s the first ticket we’ve found for less than two hundred and I don’t want some Cornhusker to swoop in during a negotiation. A few minutes later, Maxwell snags one from a girl wearing a tiara barely able to stand. He talked her out of it for eighty bucks, evidently those MBA negotiation skills classes paid off. With the clock closing in on kickoff, we press on as dusk settles, scouring every corner of Breeze Terrace for two more tickets.

I’ve traveled to many college football games, and I’ve never seen tickets this sparse, especially student tickets. Remarkably, the streets are picked clean. Some presumably snatched up by Nebraska fans, but most were simply being used by students wanting to witness one of the biggest games ever hosted in Camp Randall. I couldn’t fault them for that.

A few minutes after kickoff and still empty handed on the street, we decide to part ways with Alex and Dan. Maxwell and I head into the stadium while they continue the search for a few straggling ticket holders, promising to meet up with us once they get inside. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t see them again until after the game, and they would never get in.

Though our tickets issued at the gate read Row 65, I wedge us in somewhere around Row 30 directly behind the endzone. When the student section is this jammed, you need to make your own space, and jostling a few wispy sophomores proves an easy task. On a brisk Saturday night the crucible of Camp Randall boils with excitement, students frenzied and screaming around us, a few Nebraska fans dressed in black quietly scattered about.

Energized by the home crowd, the Badgers make quick work of the Huskers, the game all but decided by the time “Jump Around” blares through the loudspeakers at the start of the 4th quarter. The stands quivering under the weight of 20,000 bodies rhythmically bobbing, the House of Pain classic may be the most exciting two minutes in any College Football stadium. Much has been said about Wisconsin claiming the best student section experience in the country (which I wrote about extensively two years ago HERE) After the chaos of the Nebraska game on this night, I wholeheartedly concur.

Following the game, we meet Alex and Dan and pick right up where we left off, but their lead is visible. Cracking a few fresh cans at Union Terrace, we gradually wander our way back over to State Street wobbling along the sidewalks. Stashing our beer under an unoccupied porch, we duck into Ian’s Pizza, a Madison landmark. Braving the 20 minute line, our group cues up for a couple slices of their signature macaroni and cheese pizza. We chew through the greasy delight hurriedly, heading out back to finish our dwindling beer supply. A handful of fireman show up in a wail of sirens, dousing the remnants of a dumpster fire while we mill around like King of the Hill characters, guzzling the final watery Milwaukee’s Best cans in an alley.

Capping off the night we stumble into the last bar, the name lost to memory, but chosen because it had the shortest line and the strongest cocktails. Gin ends up in my hand, a horrible decision most times, and especially now. My stomach groans with every sip, fortunately the others look just as rough. Eventually, we call it quits and stumble our way out a few minutes before closing to beat the cab lines, the yellow chariots prove hard to wrangle in these parts.

Staggering along the sidewalk, we circle the monolithic State Capitol, the polished Bethel White Vermont granite ghostly bathed in chalky under lighting. Occasionally propping each other up, the night ends there in Madison in the early morning hours. Almost time for for a fresh round of Bloody Mary’s…

Special thanks to Alex W. and Tori for graciously allowing us to crash at your place. It takes some fortitude to let our crew into your house in such a state, but I really appreciate the hospitality.

Thanks to Alex S., Maxwell and Dan for yet another turbulent adventure. I’m already excited for whatever we have on the calendar next, but this one will be tough to top. Alex especially for playing tour guide on the day despite a limp, and arranging such a phenomenal experience in Madison!

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Wisonsin Football – Bucky vs. Sparty

The Wisconsin vs. MichiganState game was one of those elusive perfect days of college football.There are few places more sublime than spending a beautifully sunny fall day in Madison, Wisconsin at the end of September.Madison is a quintessential college town, and arguably one of the preeminent destinations for a complete college football Saturday.We filed into CampRandall stadium to witness a classic Big 10 matchup featuring two perennial hard nosed powerhouses.

The game itself lived up to all the hard hitting action that you would come to expect from a couple of Big Ten squads.The Badgers struck first, but the remainder of the game was a see-saw battle that turned into a bit of an unexpected shootout.Scott Tolzien, the newly anointed Badger QB, threw for four touchdowns amidst an unusual Wisconsin air attack.Of course, stud sophomore running back John Clay still rumbled for 142 yards and a touchdown as the Badgers predictably dominated on the ground and chewed through clock well into the 4th quarter.This bone crushing, smashmouth running game is the hallmark of Wisconsin Football, and it’s a derisive pleasure to watch them break an opponents spirit 5 yards at a time.

Despite two cheap TD’s by MichiganState late in the 4th, the Badgers walked away with a convincing win.

Final Score Wisconsin 38 – Michigan State 30.

As if an exceptional game from the confines of the Badger student section wasn’t enough, Mindy also managed to get us a few minutes on the field during the 3rd quarter as well.This was my first time ever being on the sideline during a game, and it was an incredible experience to be up close and personal with all the action.It’s tough to get a feeling for the sheer speed of a Division 1 football game when watching from the stands or on TV.Standing on the sideline for a handful of plays, allows one to appropriately register what truly remarkable athletes are on field every week.Unforgettable.

Thanks to: Kenny for the on-field experience and post-game festivities.

Special thanks to Jason, Kellie and Kellie’s family for hosting us the entire weekend including a best-in-class tailgate with the 2009 Port-o-Potty World Tour Crew.

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The Wisconsin Student Section

The student section atmosphere at Wisconsin simply has to be experienced to be understood.I had witnessed the student section here once before from the confines of the “grownup” sections.But this time around I demanded that Mindy find us seats amidst the chaos of 20,000 Sconnie’ undergrads to give me a firsthand glimpse into her four years of undergraduate splendor.

Put simply, the Badger student section has all the choreography of a Chinese opening ceremony minus the impending threat of capital punishment or political imprisonment.Yet unlike the two other premier student sections I have attended (Texas A&M, Notre Dame), students are not formally “taught” the cheers at Wisconsin.Amazingly, this vast sea of red clad undergrads performs all of these chants completely unrehearsed.It may very well be the most precisely executed, truly “normative” behavior I have witnessed.
As far as Wisconsin student traditions go, “Jump Around” has reached almost mythical status.In short, between the 3rd and 4th quarters, House of Pain’s “Jump Around” is piped in over the loudspeaker. Instantly, 20,000 anxious students are transformed into a sea of bodies rhythmically bobbing up and down on thin rails of aluminum benches.For two minutes, the entire structure discernibly trembles, swaying under the frenzied mob for what many pundits consider the most chaotic two minutes in college football.


But “Jump Around” is only one such highlight to be found among the fans in Camp Randall Stadium.In fact there are a multitude of Wisconsin in-game cheers and traditions, each with their own self generated gesturing and dancing.These include several variations of the wave, including the regular wave, slow wave, fast wave, and the infamous “split wave”.Other full stadium sing alongs included: “If you want to be a Badger…”, “Swingtown”, “Buttercup”,

Of course, there are also a handful of cheers that would make a truck driver blush, and since this is a family blog I won’t be repeating them.But suffice to say if you bring the kiddos to CampRandall, be sure to train them on the “earmuffs” command.
Some of the classier numbers were entitled:

“Eat Sh@#$, Fu#@# You”,

“You Fu@#$ed Up”

“As#@hole…..As@#hole….”

“We’re gonna kick the Sh#@ out of you…”

“All 300 Died” (in reference to the opponent of the day, the Spartans of Michigan State)
Here is a delightful example of the above (NSFW).

Finally, as if four quarters of cheering and singing weren’t enough, Wisconsin is known for a unique tradition known as the “5th Quarter”.After the game ends, virtually none of the students head for the exits.Instead, they stick around as the Wisconsin Marching Band generously stays for an additional fifteen minutes to play more brassy pop hits for the animated students.All of these songs are familiar hits, and all of them include their own sing along versions and ‘choreographed” dance moves by the students.It’s one helluva time that makes you almost forget a football game just happened.
Finally, here is a good compilation video that gives a good overview of most of the Wisconsin student section experience, including the 5th Quarter.

The spirit of the Wisconsin student section is truly remarkable, and given the chance it would be worth going out of your way to experience it…..for all five quarters.

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Ian’s Pizza – The State Street Staple…

Like any good college town worth its salt, Madison has no shortage of pizza shops willing to satisfy the hunger of the late night post close crowd.Considering the 40,000+ dedicated scholars attending the Badger Institute of Higher Learning, having a handful of vendors of this timeless college mainstay are a must.And given the fickle nature of your average non committal college coed, having pizza available by the slice is a prerequisite.
But ask any hoodie clad intellectual where to find landmark pies amidst the bustle of legendary State Street, and they will surely point a pudgy finger or two in the direction of Ian’s Pizza.Ian’s is the staple among Madison pizza joints, and if their line at 2am is any indication, it’s a slice worth waiting over a half hour for.

Although I was eager to sample Ian’s, long lines and I have never been on speaking terms.As such, I sauntered into Ian’s for a quick bite to eat before we hit the town for a night of fishbowls and cheap swill.From among the dozens of selections enticingly tucked beneath the display cases, I settled on a familiar buffalo chicken, and a not so familiar “macaroni and cheese” slice.My enthusiasm was slightly tempered after I had to fork over seven bucks to the cashier; evidently dairy prices are suffering inflationary pressures in the CheeseState.
The pizza is straightforward and unpretentious.The buffalo chicken was traditional, and satisfying despite the gobs of bleu cheese (which is a personal distaste of mine).The macaroni and cheese, however, was an especially refreshing departure from the norm.The addition of mac n’ cheese adds another layer of gooey goodness to the slice.With the added texture of mealy noodles and another welcome layer of cheese (can you really ever have too much cheese?) the mac n’ cheese slice was an indulgent spin on regular pizza.It’s famous at Ian’s for a reason, and I highly endorse it.

Ian’s is the place to go in Madison if you are looking for a unique slice or two, and especially when you get that 2am hankering for a satisfying snack after a hard night of studying….
Just be sure to try the mac and cheese….
http://www.ianspizza.com/

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