The Badgers squandered a possible fourth consecutive BCS bowl game appearance after laying an egg on senior night against Penn State last Saturday.
Many Wisconsin football fans are trying to find something to smile about as conference championship week unfolds. The Badgers find themselves on the outside looking in at both a BCS game and the Big Ten Conference Championship Game.
At least former coach Bret Bielema’s Arkansas squad ended the year on a nine-game losing streak, including going 0-8 in SEC play. That’s something to smile about but not entirely satisfying.
Aas we inch closer towards Ohio State’s matchup with Michigan State in the conference championship game it is fun to look back. Badgers fans can think back to the first two Big Ten Conference Championship games and find some happiness.
And hey, it sure is nice of the Wisconsin Badgers to allow someone else to play in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game this year isn’t it? This is the first ever conference championship game that the Badgers have not competed in; having won the previous two including the inaugural game over Michigan State.
I was in Indianapolis last December when the Badgers took on the heavily favored Nebraska Cornhuskers with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. It was an epic game, let’s all remember it together.
Dec. 1, 2012 Out on the Street in Downtown Indianapolis for the Pre-Game:
According to the Cornhusker fans buzzing around on Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis before the game the Badgers were just “lucky to be there,” and not a “worthy opponent.” Nebraska fans were citing the fact that the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions had sanctions keeping them from participating in post-season games allowing Wisconsin to play in the game. Wisconsin didn’t care, they were there to compete and their fans were there to support.
As the two fan bases clad in red raced between food trucks and bars on the crisp afternoon the Husker fans seemed to already be in celebratory mode. When the thousands of fans weren’t taking pictures at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at monument circle at the center of the city they were congregating at various watering holes within blocks of the stadium.
Often times a lone Husker fan would yell “Goooo Biiiig Redddd” followed with a chant of “GO BIG RED” by drones of Nebraska faithful, many of which were sporting hats of corn. My parents and I only heard this chant about 12 million times as we walked the packed streets of the Circle City.
To say that Nebraska fans were smelling roses is an understatement. The more Husker fans drank, the more noticeable the rose stems dangling from their noses became. Badger fans seemed to have a collective calm to them; many figured the pressure was on Nebraska anyway. Although, I think a lot of Bucky supporters had an extra beer or two pregame, ya know, just in case the game did get out of hand.
After devouring an Indy-famous pork tenderloin sandwich, which was as large as my head, we walked down Capitol Street toward Lucas Oil Stadium about an hour before kickoff. The game didn’t sell as many tickets as it had hope so our tickets were “upgraded.” As my parents and I sat down in our new seats we noticed that our “upgrade” placed us smack-dab in the middle of the Nebraska fan section. But we didn’t mind we were just “lucky to be there.”
The family beside us was rooting for Nebraska and the mother of that family was sitting next to my mother. They saw the “W” on my hat, my Grandfather’s old hat, and immediately a friendly rivalry existed. As the marching bands gave their respective pregame performances the woman reveals to my mother that she was in Nebraska’s marching band way-back-when. They were Nebraska alum. Her and my mother had a pleasant conversation. All the while I couldn’t ignore the fact that it seemed as though Nebraska’s marching band was the opening act for Wisconsin’s, whose set was longer seemed a bit more exciting. Fan bias? Maybe, maybe not.
As the National Anthem ended, the lady looked at my mother and said, “Just ignore us once the game begins when we start celebrating.” Talk about bulletin board material… for myself that is, and how it inspired my capacity and longing to celebrate in their misery. Did I say friendly rivalry? Well, maybe not but it was justified, right? They were the favorites and they let us know it. We weren’t “worthy” of those seats alongside Husker nation proudly displaying Bucky logos. They were already on their way to Pasadena, we were the final tune-up.
Next was the coin toss and then kickoff.
Wisconsin received. The nerves started to float away as Montee Ball ran for seven yards on the first play. Breathe in, breathe out – “it’s just a game” I tried to tell myself. But I was lying; this was so much more than that. It was for Bucky’s legacy, supremacy and was a chance for underdogs everywhere. The Badgers ran two more plays and then it happened.
All of the sudden Melvin Gordon was running straight towards us – and subsequently the end zone – with no one within ten yards of him. Surprised, we jumped up and down, yelling. Gordon ran around the end for a 56 yard touchdown on a (now famous) jet sweep for only the second touchdown of his career. And it wouldn’t be the last time Wisconsin fans jumped.
On Wisconsin. One hell of a start, but surely Nebraska would respond after Wisconsin kicked off.
First and ten for the Huskers and Taylor Martinez attempted his first pass. Interception! Marcus Cromartie picked off the tipped-pass and returned it down the sideline for a touchdown right in front of us. Up and jumping again we were amidst hundreds of Husker fans sitting on their hands in solidarity.
It was 14-0 just like that, two minutes into the game. It was the first two minutes in the last three hours that no one chanted “Go Big Red!” Weird, huh.
Nebraska got the ball back but the section we were sitting in was still dead quiet. I wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t dreaming but we were having so much fun I didn’t care.
But then Nebraska got their first reason to cheer. Martinez manufactured a ridiculous highlight reel touchdown score of 76 yards, and the “Go Big Red” chants were back. Wisconsin got the ball back and then promptly punted. My nerves came back; you could feel the momentum shifting. Was it midnight for the Cinderella Badgers? The Badgers who were starting their third quarterback of the year because of injury and ineffectiveness and had lost 3 of their previous 4 games.
Nebraska then added a field goal to cut the scored to 14-10 and that is the closest they would get. As they say, the rout was on.
The Badgers then reeled off three consecutive rushing touchdowns, two by James White and then one by the eventual Doak Walker Award winner Montee Ball. All of that scoring came without a single point from Nebraska. Cue the classic angry Bo Pelini face. Ball’s touchdown came on an end around from a handoff from White. The play ended with a dive for the pylon and the score gave Ball the most rushing touchdowns in NCAA history.
Badger fans were having nothing but fun as the game rolled on. A joke by my father that was well appreciated by the Husker faithful was,
“Man, the fan support for Nebraska is pretty amazing though isn’t it? It’s got to be at least a five day tractor ride from Lincoln to Indianapolis.” I think I laughed hard until we scored another touchdown, which in retrospect wasn’t really that long.
By this time the lady that was sitting by my mother had switched seats with her husband for a makeshift buffer zone between her sunken-head sadness and our outward exuberance. It seemed as though Husker fans got smaller and smaller with every big play that the Badgers executed to perfection.
The only time you heard “Go Big Red” was when a sarcastic Wisconsin fan would stand and yell it and then cup his ears awaiting a reply that would never come. After the silence he would usually then slap hands with his buddy who was wearing either a full-body cow suit or at the least a cheese head.
With a 35-10 lead and 20 seconds left in the first half the Badgers called a timeout on their own 37 yard line. My Dad asked, “Why would we take a timeout here?” I said, “Because we wanna score again!” Half joking, half serious. Remember then-freshman Melvin Gordon? On the next play he ran for 60 yards to the Nebraska three yard line, impressively breaking numerous tackles. With three seconds left in the half White threw a touchdown to Sam Arneson.
Halftime. (Check the highlights here)
The Badgers were up 42-10 over the favored and once cocky Cornhuskers. Cue an angrier Bo Pelini face, ah, it never gets old.
The second half didn’t get any better for the hapless and shell-shocked Huskers. The Badgers rolled on intercepting Martinez’s first pass of the second half. Ball and White would both run for two more touchdowns in the game. The once-filled Nebraska section was empty except for a few Badger fans having the time of their lives, including us. Chris Borland delivered one of the most violent hits of his remarkable career and the screaming for a flag (that never came) was the loudest Nebraska fans would get for the rest of the game.
There was no “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarter as it would have been an unfair advantage for Bucky but the Badgers’ student section sang songs impressively loud for the entire fourth quarter.
The game was winding down, legendary Barry Alvarez was seen walking the sidelines and then the clock hit zero. The Badgers won 70-31, and it wasn’t even that close. Roses were handed out, a stage was built and Wisconsin fans sang and the Badgers flashed W’s while holding their roses high.
And then, it happened.
“Dun, dun dun, dunnn,” Lucas Oil became Camp Randall east as the intro to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” blasted over the speakers. What happened next? You guessed it, everyone jumped around. The party was on. As the song ended, Badgers players addressed the enthusiastic crowd, held up the trophy and then it was time to head back out into the city.
As the exuberant Badger faithful exited the mammoth stadium into the brisk night they chanted “Let’s Get Wasted – Let’s Get Wasted!” Indianapolis’ plentiful downtown bar scene had already been filled with Cornhusker fans since the third quarter, drinking their sorrow away in what was sure to be a somber scene. We had no doubt that Wisconsin fans would liven up the many bars full football fans all within walking distance of the stadium.
And they did.
We walked for blocks trying to find a bar with an empty table. Every bar down the main strip downtown on Meridian Street was packed to capacity. We tried Georgia Street, not a single table could be found. After walking for about twenty minutes flashing the Wisconsin “W” with my fingers at every drunk twenty-something stumbling around the city we saw an empty table in a window of a local pub. We rushed in and sat down and ordered a couple beers.
The bar was hopping, every bar was hopping and by the time we left many Husker and Badger fans were drinking, talking and singing together. It was an amicable ending to a game of dramatic disparity for the two schools and their respective fans.
Thank goodness for beer, right? And thank goodness for Wisconsin Badgers football. This year the Badgers thought they’d let someone else have fun in Indianapolis at the championship game, but next year? I think we should go back do it all over again and come December 2014 we can party like its 2012.
At least on this weekend we can reflect on our recent success and not be bitter about letting this season slip through our hands.