Wisconsin sporting culture is spreading, infecting the Midwest and threatening to ravage the state of Nebraska more ferociously than a corn blight epidemic, all thanks to Lincoln Journal Star Online columnist Jeff Korbelik, who witnessed the magical awesomeness that is Wisconsin Gameday and could not expunge it from his consciousness. It wriggles around in his brain, eating away like tiny red-and-white termites. Restless in sleep, uneasy in waking, ever tormented by the pulsating beat of that demonic tune.
Er, something like that.
Point is, Korbelik thinks something is missing from Nebraska home games. Despite enjoying a perennially successful team–Nebraska football history is undeniably more storied than Wisconsin’s–Korbelik wonders why Nebraska fans just don’t have as much fun as their new Badger conference-mates. He’s sick of Hell’s Bells and Back in Black (legit) and wants something more contemporary and exciting…like Green Day! Or that remix of Cotton-Eye Joe!
You can’t blame Korbelik for being jealous. While the Wisconsin student section has taken occasional flak for being more interested in The Wave than the game on the field, it commands respect the vast majority of the time. The students (and the rest of the fans) are the biggest reason Camp Randall is widely regarded as one of the most difficult road environments in college football.
It really doesn’t surprise me that even a successful college football program could lack excitement in its gameday experience. My cousin, an Ohioan (Ohioon? Ohion?), attended an Ohio State game a few years ago when they were at the peak of their power, and while the team undoubtedly steamrolled its opponent, he came back with one word to describe the atmosphere–boring. Obviously Ohio State fans will protest, and as my cousin was enrolled at Wisconsin at the time he visited OSU, he probably isn’t the most objective source of analysis. At the same time, though, I highly doubt even an opposing fan would ever walk out of Camp Randall Stadium feeling bored.
It speaks to a trend that, while not consistent enough to apply as a blanket theory, shows up all over the country and sporting world. It’s a balance between passion and professionalism, between fun and fundamentals. Jim Tressel was as straight-laced as they come, but he was also damn effective. It wouldn’t be surprising if that “mutual exclusivity” attitude rubbed off on the fans. In a way, it’s surprising that Wisconsin fans are so wild and raucous when they take such pride in the “unsexiness” of their football program.
I’m also reminded of a certain major league baseball team that prides itself on doing things “the right way”. With the St. Louis Cardinals set to take on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship Series, we’re sure to hear plenty of buzz about “respect for the game” and “class”. The Brewers have become synonymous with flash, brashness, and confidence, and somehow that’s a bad thing in the eyes of those who hold baseball up as a sacred rite. More than a few are willing to call foul on that dated thinking.
The only thing that really matters is the end result. The team “doing things the right way” doesn’t always win, which would seem to suggest our definitions are out of date. Teams that do things the right way on the field win games. Fans are going to do whatever makes them happy. I could claim football Saturdays in Madison are the best Saturdays in college football, but fans in Oklahoma and California and Louisiana are going to disagree. They have their traditions, we have ours. What Jeff Korbelik points out is simply that the time has come to do away with some of Nebraska’s tired old traditions.
The minute you think things are as good as they can be, you fall behind. Eventually the same stagnancy will strike in Camp Randall. Until then, though, we can relish our position as the envy of our newest rivals.