Penn State Nittany Lions (19) vs Wisconsin Badgers (12), Sat, 9/4/2021, 11:00am
Final Score: Penn State 16 – Wisconsin 10; Attendance: 76,832
Weather: Overcast 66; Ticket: $45 from University (sort of).
Review: “Whisky a go-go” by Tree
University of Wisconsin is in Madison, which is consistently in annual “top 10 best places to live”. The campus sits on a pair of lakes, Mendota and Monona and it is a gorgeous setting. It was so nice that we spent Friday night on the Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, drinking multiple pitchers of Spotted Cow (the Wisconsin Beer) and thoroughly enjoying ourselves with old friends and new. With Milwaukee about hour away and Chicago only one more, it easy to get in and out of Madison either by driving or flying. In fact, due to an insane shortage of rental cars in Minneapolis, I thought I was going to have take a bus to Madison. However, my buddy picked me up in his plane and we had a quick flight over. Sadly, I had to fly commercial out of Madison, but it was stress free. Madison itself is the quintessential college town with all the requisite components. There were plenty of bars and restaurants. Local traffic was a little frustrating as we stayed out by the airport, but it was nothing a Spotted Cow couldn’t fix.
The tailgating at Wisconsin is two tiered. You can either tailgate in the parking lots / street spots or at the bars. Thanks to Fox Sports programming, we had an 11am kickoff. Accordingly, we started our tailgating in earnest at the Sconniebar at ~8am with all intentions of checking out the lots along with the Fox Big Noon Kickoff (a poor man’s Game Day). However, as is often the case, the more I drank (Bloody Mary, beer chaser, then a shot, then a beer, then another beer), my will to see the tailgating in the lots waned. The bar was packed and had visits by both the Wisconsin Marching Band’s drumline first and then a little later, the tuba section. It kind of felt like I got the gist of what the lots were probably like. We did eventually make are way down to across the stadium where I was interviewed on TV. Unfortunately, it was local TV and not the Fox nationwide broadcast. In fact, the talking heads were gone by the time we got there. I am sure getting a parking spot in the stadium lots is similar to most big schools. As a visitor, you’d probably need to buy your parking pass via a third-party site like Stub Hub for somewhere between $100 – $200. I am guessing because my research centered on the local bar scene, which was superb.
The Badgers play at Camp Randall Stadium. It is a big stadium with a capacity of ~80,000. The nosebleed seats are probably decent, but if you are going for the upper deck, I would shoot for the bottom half. We were fortunate to have great lower tier end zone seats. We paid $45 and that was roughly the rate online. The stadium has two video scoreboards and multiple video ribbons. A set up like that means that just about every seat will be a good one. Getting into the stadium was easy enough but the concession line was a bit slow. My souvenir cup was $8 and was a pretty good design. Since the only thing I had eaten that morning were the garnishes on my Bloody Mary, I grabbed a pizza. It was from a regional chain and was about as good as you could expect. My buddy did confirm that some of the other concessions were better, noting that he saw pretzel dough rising at one of the other stands. That kind of fresh food is a rarity, so big points for that. For reasons identified earlier, I did get to test out the bathrooms, the closest of which were port-a-potties inside the stadium. I would have much preferred the traditional trough for a shorter wait.
I found the fans at Wisconsin to be friendly despite warnings from their rivals at Minnesota. The game was a near sell out and when I got to my seat I found it taken. But I easily jumped one row back with no issue. That kind of congeniality makes a stadium a comfortable place. The crowd also had pretty good singing voices, particularly when the student body belted out “Mr. Brightside” and “Buttercup.” Other traditions include doing multiple versions of the wave and yelling “First and Ten, Wisconsin.” Bucky the Badger was running around doing his thing and the Wisconsin faithful sported more than their fair share of red and white striped overalls. The band was outstanding and did their part, both on the field and in the stands. There was even a 5th quarter so they could give a full show. It was worth hanging around for. Of course, the biggest tradition at Wisconsin is the “Jump Around” at the end of the 3rd quarter. It may have been because the stadium wasn’t quite full or because it was the middle of the afternoon, but it was only good, not great. Virginia Tech’s entrance to “Enter Sandman” is better, with no disrespect to the Badgers.
This was the second biggest game of the weekend with both PSU and Wisconsin in the top twenty. It was slugfest with the first half ending in a zero – zero draw after the Badgers had a field goal blocked. For the most part, Wisconsin controlled the ground and PSU the air. The second half went back and forth, with Penn State taking a late lead about halfway thru the fourth quarter. However, they missed the extra point and it really felt like that was going to come back to haunt them. It appeared that way as the Badgers drove all the way down to the PSU eight-yard line. However, an interception ended the drive with 2:16 left. It looked like it was over, but the plucky Badgers weren’t done yet. They held the Nittany Lions to a quick three and out. They then managed to march the ball from their own 18, all the way to the PSU 32. It was a wild ending as PSU intercepted Wisconsin at the goal line. I left thinking that with three turnovers it was more like the Badgers lost the game rather then the Nittany Lions had won it. Nonetheless, it was a great finish to a Big Ten classic.
I travel to a lot of stadiums, and it is not unusual to come across a young man or woman who has been overserved. I recognize this as a rite of passage and part of the maturation process of most students. By and large, with supportive friends looking out for each other, such experiences usually end safely. Sometimes Mom and/or Dad are there to help ease the process as well. On this bright afternoon, the scenario was similar yet very different. As my buddy and I sat in a street side patio enjoying the long overdue appearance of the sun, we noticed the Mom across from us was definitely not doing well. Her head was doing the bob and she could barely keep her eyes open. Her college age daughter appeared to check on her and get her to drink some water. Eventually they disappeared inside the bar where we thought the story ended. The Mom’s chair was then filled by a gentleman of a similar age and condition. To our surprise, the daughter reappeared, and it became clear that this was the Dad, in a stellar example of game day parenting. I’m not sure how and when Dad found his way to the mulch in the sidewalk treeline, but it was there where he ultimately rested. Meanwhile, Mom had managed a tremendous rally with what looked like to be a Red Bull and, one can only assume, vodka. Unfortunately, the Jimmy Johns sub dad got did not seem as nearly effective.
As we left that charming tableau, my friend and I took a second to congratulate the daughter on how calmly and effectively she was handling the situation, noting that we usually see it played out in reverse. She said this was a first and that her sister, who happened to work at the bar where this all went down, had bailed in disgust. Such are the risks when you tailgate in Wisconsin where the beer is strong, and the citizens are generous. Those are but two of the admirable features of attending a Badger game. The program is top tier, campus is beautiful, and the traditions are plentiful. The stellar reputation of attending a game at the University of Wisconsin is well deserved. It needs to be on the must-see list of any true college football fan. And if you are lucky enough, you might also get an old fashioned from Dane Cook, but that’s a story for another day.