For those of you who wonder how it is that I would forsake the team of my home state, an anecdote. In 1993, I was on my doomed excursion to America's dairyland in search of a Ph.D. In the decade prior to my arrival, the Badgers had amassed an impressive 32-68 record, including two 1-10 seasons. In my department of assorted linguists, theologians, and communists (the once-vaunted South Asian Studies department), people could easily take the high ground against football. I purchased a season ticket in 1993 for $30 (five games, six bones per) and absorbed jibes from classmates who instantly doubted my bona fides.
This derision wavered, though, as the Badgers went on an improbable run, tearing through teams and building up a Big Ten-leading record. In the middle of the season, the Badgers pulled a classic Badger blunder, losing to the Golden Gophers. Smugness returned. The next game was at home versus Michigan, then a terrific national powerhouse. As always, alums drove from all over the state and converged on Camp Randall stadium. My West Coast mind was blown to see gigantic effigies of Michigan players hoisted for ridicule. (In Wisconsin, losing had become so routine that the fans had developed a sense of ritual that rivaled anything from the Vatican. It included a "fifth quarter," a soused dance party hosted by the band that was the reward for sticking through another loss.)
You know how the story goes: we won. It was such a stunning upset that the fans. (There was an ugly end to the game. Like protesters listening to Hosni Mubarak's resignation, Badger fans had no idea what to do. They started rushing the field, cascading down the steep slope of Camp Randall like a gout of mountain water. In their (our) inexperience, we trampled those in the front who were trapped against the restraining wall. Only the long honed sense of fan communication--Badgers were expert-level call-and-responders--did the crowd managed to get back in time so that no one was killed.) After that win there was one more home game--with the dark lords of Columbus. When I went to classes that next week, all pretense was gone. Tickets couldn't be had for love or money, and people were begging me for mine. Ha! Good luck, suckers!
We ended with a slightly dissipating tie against Ohio State, but it was good enough for a Rose Bowl birth. Off we went to populate Pasadena with a sea of beer-swilling, red-shirted fanatics. (One report said a bar near a hotel full of Badger fans ran out of beer.) In a tight, thrilling game, coach Barry Alvarez got Wisconsin the win over UCLA and the program has never looked back.
So today, as these salts of the earth take on a tarted-up, corporate-backed Oregon team (did I write that out loud?), I will recall the ascent of the program and my tiny role.
I will have found my mind again tomorrow and ended the sports blogging so many of you hate. In the meantime, Go Badgers!