Welcome back, everybody. It felt great to get back on the winning track last Sunday against Detroit, even if we made it a little more interesting than initially planned. Either way, we’re 3-1 at the quarter pole and know that our best football is still in front of us.
We are less than 24 hours from kickoff of the UW-Madison’s homecoming game, which this year happens to be against our western border-rival, the University of Minnesota. Obviously, the most important thing to come out of Madison this weekend will be a Badger victory, but there are so many other traditions and customs I can recall that make homecoming so memorable for me.
I can honestly say that the five years I spent wearing cardinal and white were the best years of my life and the stories and memories I could share from that period would fill blog entries for the next year. However, in the interest of time and space, I will narrow my homecoming traditions down to the student section and their “Jump Around” ritual and also a competitive clam chowder eating tradition.
Having lived in Wisconsin for most of my life, I know firsthand how strong of an appreciation there is in this state for the game of football. Whether that’s at the pee wee, junior high, high school, college or professional level, the people in this state are so intensely passionate about the game and those who play it. I don’t think any group of people could possibly embody that passion better than the students at Wisconsin who occupy Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoons.
The stadium seats more than 80,000 people and when the song “Jump Around” by House of Pain is pumped through the speakers before the start of the fourth quarter, I don’t think there is anything else in college football that compares. To look up and see that volume of people cohesively jumping is unbelievable, and as a player, it gives you an added adrenaline rush that carries you through the end of the game. To really grasp the weight of the tradition though, you have to understand where and when it all started, and fortunately for you, yours truly was there.
The origin of the tradition dates back to Oct. 10, 1998 (my junior season) and our homecoming game that season against Big 10 Conference foe Purdue. Some guy named Drew Brees was having a record passing day for Purdue against our defense. He had thrown for close to 500 yards on an unheard of 83 pass attempts (still an NCAA record) and we were doing everything we could to keep up offensively. But back to the song…The story goes that an employee in the athletic department’s marketing office decided to play the song between the third and fourth quarters after no points had been scored in the third and the crowd had begun to grow restless. The energy of the song united the crowd (who had collectively begun jumping up and down at their seats) and sparked the players, and we surged forward for a 31-24 win over the Boilermakers, pushing our record to 6-0 in a season that would see us finish 11-1 as Rose Bowl Champions.
Before we got to Pasadena, however, there is another vivid memory I have of “Jump Around” from that first season. Later on in the year, we were playing a game against Penn State and were locked in a tight race with both Ohio State and Michigan for top-standing in the Big 10 despite having just lost to Michigan the week before. We were playing well against Penn State, but needed Ohio State to beat Michigan to create a three-way tie where we would win the conference on a tiebreaker and earn an invitation to the Rose Bowl. Between the third and fourth quarter, while the students were fully engaged in their usual frenzied rendition of “Jump Around,” Ohio State 31, Michigan 16 flashed on the scoreboard indicating that the Buckeyes had done their part and won the game. When the fans noticed it, I seriously thought the stadium was going to crumble around me; chaos ensued, and it was absolutely crazy. Those are the kinds of experiences I will never forget.
Off the field, I was a part of another tradition that didn’t have as much excitement as an 80,000-seat stadium might offer at its peak volume, but it was equally memorable. Before every home game, the team would stay at the Best Western InnTowner a few blocks from the stadium and if you ever want a delicious bowl of clam chowder, this is the place to go. Just ask any of the offensive linemen I played with, and even some of the guys who are still there today.
I don’t remember exactly how the ritual got started, but every Friday before a home game we would all get together and see who could eat the most clam chowder. It was the dumbest thing we could have done the night before a game, but they had the best tasting chowder and being competitive football players, we had to find a way to make it interesting. Of all the traditions that schools, teams, and players have, this has to be one of the most ridiculous, but that’s part of what made it so entertaining. As I’ve noted previously in the blog, it’s the little things and the relationships you always cherish and these are no different. I’ll always remember being at the hotel, putting away bowl after bowl of clam chowder with the guys.
Overall, I would strongly recommend you guys attending a football game in Madison if you’ve never been, particularly tomorrow’s homecoming game against Minnesota. Oh, and don’t forget that we have held Paul Bunyan’s Axe for six straight years and will be looking to keep it in Madison after we beat the Golden Gophers tomorrow afternoon.
There are always a lot of activities during Homecoming weekend and this year will be no different. The theme this year is “Legends of Bucky Badger” and you will be sure to spot Bucky at the parade Friday night on State Street. Another tradition that I have enjoyed witnessing on the rare occasion I am able to get back for a game is the pre-game activities celebrated by thousands of fans around the stadium.
Next week I am going to talk about the best restaurants, bars, and places to visit while in Madison. It is almost like you could live two lives with the amount of things to do in our state capitol. Until next week, GO Badgers!