Turning on the radio on the way into work this morning, the first thing I heard was Gary Sharp and Jason Peter comparing the Wisconsin fans in Madison last year to the Colorado fans in Boulder in years past, talking about fights in the stands at the game. This was the second day in a row I'd heard them dipping from this same well, so I just switched the channel.
Their description of Badger fans does not match at all with my experience in Madison at last year's Wisconsin-Nebraska game. Perhaps I'm a little biased because I have family in Wisconsin, and many of them are as passionate about the Badgers as I am the Huskers, but I had a wonderful experience in Madison, the score notwithstanding.
My brother-in-law, one of the aforementioned Badger faithful, and I started the day with a trip to Baumgartner's, a cheese shop and tavern in Monroe, WI, about forty-five minutes southwest of Madison. Being the only person in the place wearing a Blackshirts sweatshirt amongst a sea of Wisconsin red made me stand out, but everybody was very nice, some good-natured ribbing aside.
After a delicious lunch consisting of a limburger sandwich, a bowl of the "second best chili", and a Huber Bock brewed at the Minhas brewery two blocks down the street, my brother-in-law and I spent a few more minutes discussing football with the locals before heading back towards Madison. Standing between us and Madison, however, was the New Glarus brewery, thus necessitating another stop and several more samples of the local brew. Once again, the Badger fans at the brewery were eager to give me some grief about "coming all the way up here just to see Nebraska lose," but it was still good-natured.
Finally, we made our way to the vicinity of the stadium. One of my sister-in-law's co-workers lives two blocks from Camp Randall, and she and her husband host large gatherings for every Badgers game - they've even customized their house for such gatherings by building a deck over their garage that is connected to the second floor of their home. Being one of the first to arrive at about 3:00, and the first Nebraska fan, my brother-in-law and I were greeted at the door with a beer and a "why the hell did you bring that damn Husker fan with you?" (Before you ask, the beer was unopened.) This was, in all seriousness, the nastiest comment I heard all day from anybody.
We spent the next three hours at the house party, accompanied by about 50 Badger fans, some of them current students and recent graduates, two other Husker fans, and copious amounts of alcohol (shots in the kitchen, fridge full of beer in the garage). If anything, the Badger fans were curious about why the Nebraska fan base was so passionate, so my fellow Huskers and I spent a good amount of time giving the Badger fans a crash course in Nebraska football. Shortly before leaving for the stadium, another round of shots were poured, and just after the Badger fans toasted a Badger victory, I raised my shot and shouted, "And to a Husker victory!"
Walking to the stadium, I ran into plenty of current Badger students since we walked right past some fraternity houses. Short of a few of the frat rats shouting, "You suck, Huskers!", I experienced no ill will on my way to the stadium.
I am going to digress here a little bit to discuss the phenomenon known as the "coastie." In Madison, a "coastie" is a student from the East Coast, coming from an affluent, likely spoiled, background. They're the students driving Daddy's three-year-old used BMW, when the natives are driving a ten-year-old Toyota that they paid for with their high school job; they talk about their summer trip backpacking across Europe when the natives talk about their summer spent working to earn money to live during the school year. In Madison, coasties are tolerated because they bring money and more students to the university. Outside of Madison, they are ridiculed; however, as the coastie rarely, if ever, ventures outside of Madison into Wisconsin proper, the coastie and the Wisconsinite rarely interact.
Wisconsin football games are one of the few places where the coastie and the Wisconsinite interact.
As I understand it from my Badger relatives, most of the problems at Wisconsin football games are caused by coasties thinking that Badger football games are a place to drink themselves into oblivion before the game (and likely during the game also), then heap insults on opposing players and their fans before "jumping around" at the start of the fourth quarter and passing out just after the "fifth quarter" concludes. The Wisconsinites dislike the coastie fans and wish they would have just stayed on State Street for the game.
Back to the point. We arrived at the stadium about forty-five minutes before kickoff, and went to our seats. Our section, one section away from the start of the Wisconsin student sections, had a few other Husker fans, but we were clearly outnumbered by the Wisconsin fans ten to one. No "sea of black" at Camp Randall that night.
Once again, the Wisconsin fans were pleasant, and I spent a good portion of the game talking to the Wisconsin fans about Nebraska football. As an example, at one point, Brett Maher was lining up for a fifty-something yard field goal.
One of the Wisconsin fans asked me, "Can he make that?"
"Sure," I said. "He makes it all the time."
Maher missed the field goal.
I did not see any fights breaking out in the stands. The only thing that I observed that could have been remotely construed as rude was the "Big Ten football" chant during the fourth quarter - but for God's sakes, the Huskers were down by thirty points after being hyped as entering the conference and winning the title in the first season. That's not ill will from the Wisconsin fan base, that's just them getting some good-natured revenge.
After the game, we walked back to our car, past the Wisconsin students, many of whom wished Nebraska well the rest of the season, and drove to my brother-in-law's house.
I never got to experience a game at Colorado, but if that's "as bad as Colorado fans," I think the problem wasn't with Colorado (and Wisconsin) fans...it was with us, as Husker fans.
I didn't go into Madison that day expecting to be treated as a liberating hero. We Husker fans were the new kids on the block. When you're the new kid on a block, with a reputation of being a tough kid proceeding you, and that block's already full of plenty of tough kids, you gotta be ready to stand up for yourself. Perhaps it's us that need to have the thicker skin. As opposing fans, we shouldn't have urine bombs thrown on us, or beer spilled on us, but we should be able to withstand a few drunken, obnoxious "fans" that are despised by their fellow fans hurling some verbal insults.
I had a great time at the game and in Madison, and I look forward to going again in 2015 as long as I don't have to pay through the nose again for tickets. I'm eager to hear about other experiences from the game - why is everybody talking about how bad Wisconsin fans were? I could not have been the only Nebraska fan with a positive experience.