47°F
weather icon Clear

Passion, suds portable for Badgers backers

The mission was easy to accept and not impossible to execute. Jim Phelps would have laughed at its simplicity. There wasn’t any Cold War undertone to conceal. Just a lot of cold beers to keep those wearing red cheerful.

Why in the world are Wisconsin football fans so committed to their program?

Thousands invaded Treasure Island on Thursday evening, here to cheer the Badgers against UNLV tonight at Sam Boyd Stadium, to prove again that few, if any, national followings are more zealous than those grilling brats with one hand and lifting a drink with the other.

A few things became evident while pursuing those who go to sleep at night humming “On Wisconsin”:

1. State law requires all in the presence of former coach Barry Alvarez first genuflect before kissing his ring.

2. Estimates indicate more than 30,000 made the journey, and it appears 29,997 didn’t even attend Wisconsin.

3. The band brought 318 members and will have seemingly played more dates in town this week than Jimmy Buffett has in a year.

4. One word for the Sirens of TI wearing Badgers gear: Nice.

A few diehards we met along the way:

THE EX-PLAYER

Joe Panos played his college ball at Wisconsin and the first four seasons of his six-season NFL career in Philadelphia.

Which means the former offensive lineman knows the difference between loyal, passionate, animated fans who will comfort and encourage you after a loss and loyal, passionate, animated fans who will slash your tires and burn your likeness in effigy after one.

Panos, 36, played on Alvarez’s first Wisconsin team. It went 1-10. He also played on the first of three Rose Bowl teams under the former coach and still-athletic director.

“I think a big part of this kind of support is that fans remember just how bad we were before (Alvarez) came,” said Panos, a native of Brookfield, Wis., a Milwaukee suburb. “We’re all very grateful that we now have a great team.

“We appreciate winning. That, and we never need an excuse to party.”

THE DRIVER

Tom Whittaker lives in Fond du Lac, a community of nearly 44,000 located at the foot of Lake Winnebago and an hour’s drive from Madison.

Whittaker chose to keep on going this week. He made it here alone in less than three days.

“I noticed when first coming into (Las Vegas) that there was a lot of desert,” he said.

That tends to happen.

Whittaker began cheering for the Badgers in 1962, when Milt Bruhn was coach and the team was half-decent, which is another way of saying right before that 30-year slide only Alvarez could stop. Whittaker is 62 and has his own view on the extreme devotion of Wisconsin fans.

“I hate to say it, but maybe we have nothing better to do on Saturdays,” he said. “I really do think it’s the entire scene. The game. The band. The tailgate party. It’s a Saturday afternoon in autumn in Wisconsin. The leaves are changing colors. It’s all of that.”

It’s everything that’s not here. You know, where there is a lot of that desert stuff.

TWO INEBRIATED LADIES

Kimmy Miszewski at 7:48 p.m.: “I’ve only missed eight Wisconsin home games since 1982.”

Kimmy Miszewski at 7:50 p.m.: “Did I tell you I’ve only missed seven home games since 1981?”

Patty Letterman is a friend who joined Miszewski here. So, too, has Kimmy’s step-daughter, Danielle. Kimmy and Patty also attended the lights-out game between the Badgers and Rebels in 2002, when a power outage led to the game being called in the fourth quarter and Wisconsin leading 27-7.

Kimmy still holds a grudge.

“I had a three-team parlay, and Wisconsin was my last game, and I couldn’t collect,” Kimmy said. “Sam Boyd still owes me money. You tell him that.”

He’s been dead for 14 years.

“I might have been a drunk blonde that night the lights went out,” Patty said with a straight face, “but I just thought they were going to shoot off fireworks.”

Yeah. They don’t usually do that in the middle of games.

“I’d rather go to a Badgers game than anything,” Patty continued. “Whether you’re a little kid or 80 years old, there is just something about the atmosphere. Win or lose, the passion never dies. You never forget it.

“And the tailgate — we have so much cheese. We have Colby and Jack and Swiss and special Monterey Jack. It’s free Wisconsin cheese in little cubes. And big, huge troughs of beer that you can bob your head into like you’re bobbing for apples. I’m going to do that Saturday.

“Oh, my God, you’re not going to print any of this in the paper, are you?”

Don’t be silly.

Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST