This is the third post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.
This weekend presented an interesting dynamic for a Badgers road weekend as they played Northern Illinois at Soldier Field in Chicago. Instead of having to travel, I got to stay home which proved to be quite convenient and comfortable. On Friday night, a large crew of us assembled for dinner at Pequods, which is located in Lincoln Park and has, in my opinion, the best deep dish pizza in Chicago* I was joined by previously introduced Habib and John (pseudonyms…). My friends Mario and Sleepy made the trip from Madison and Detroit, respectively. Rounding up the crew were one of Sleepy’s friends and two of my good friends from Simsbury–one lives in Chicago while the other was visiting from Denver for the weekend. We ordered cheesy garlic bread, hot wings, and deep fried zucchini appetizers and two large pan pizzas. It was a great meal with great people.
*My power rankings (without explanation, for now…I imagine I will cover this quite extensively at some point):
2. Art of Pizza
3. Lou Malnati’s
5. Gino’s East
After Pequods, we headed to Will’s Northwoods Inn where there was a modest gathering centered around an appearance by Badger legend Ron Dayne. Although the purpose of the appearance was ostensibly for Dayne to go there and be bothered by fawning fans, we opted to give him distance. At the end of the evening, though, Habib, Mario, Sleepy and I did get him to pose for a quick photograph before we all called it a night and headed our separate ways.
Gameday Saturday began at Redmond’s in Wrigleyville at about 9:30 am for Habib, Mario, Sleepy, Sleepy’s friend and our buddy Crest. Redmond’s is inferior to Will’s in both ambiance and clientele but its all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-drink special extended an hour past that of Will’s so the executive decision was made to try it out. The food selection was slightly better than we expected with a passable buffet of cheese quesadillas, waffle fries and buffalo wings. We had a very attentive server and were able to drink at a pretty constant pace until the special ended at 1:00 pm. From there, we headed to Ian’s Pizza for a slice (pro tip: ask them to put pepperoni on your slice of mac and cheese–they’ll do it) before taking cabs to the game. True to his nickname, Sleepy seized the opportunity in the 25-minute cab ride to pass out. He is consistently able to go from awake to SOUND asleep in an abrupt manner that I have never seen anyone else come even close to. This would not be his last nap of the day.
After strategically cutting the will call line, we got into the game just in time for kick-off and made our way to seats that were certainly not ours. Our collective impression of Soldier Field is that it looks like it was built to appeal to design aficionados as opposed to football fans. The lower level does not have enough seats, the jumbotrons are placed at awkward vantage points for a majority of the spectators and it seems like a third of the space in the stadium is devoted to luxury suites. It was almost as if its builders were striving for it to be the complete opposite of Lambeau Field.
For the third straight week, Wisconsin’s game was not particularly interesting. Russell Wilson (who the writer of a hilarious weekly Badger email preview has taken to calling Black Jesus) completed 23 of 32 of his passes for 347 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. At the end of the third quarter, with the Badgers up 42-7, Mario and I badly wanted to leave while Habib steadfastly REFUSED to do so and Sleepy resiliently continued his second nap which I think had started sometime around halftime. Waiting for the game to end was a bit of a chore and I think I might be done going to games where Wisconsin plays cupcakes (for most major teams–ESPECIALLY Wisconsin–the first four weeks of the season comprise a great counter to the “every week matters” BCS superiority argument).
After the Wisconsin band played a three-song fifth quarter (on one hand it was disappointing that it was so short but on the other we finally got to leave) and we made our way to the CTA to catch the el back north, satisfying our ADD by throwing around a foam football. Not on the basis of retrieving a pass but perhaps in anticipation that one might be thrown that way, Sleepy inexplicably dove into the bushes like Ace Ventura during the mental hospital scene. He emerged with scrapes on his arms a facial expression that simultaneously denoted bewilderment and glory as confused onlookers silently tried to guess how much he had had to drink. Unsurprisingly, the foam football later met its fate inside the CTA station after an errant pass.
I headed home for a few hours while the rest of the crew headed to El Burrito Mexicano in Wrigleyville and later a street festival in Evanston. I wasn’t there to personally witness it but I am told that I missed a stunning rendition of “My Girl” that occurred when the band that was playing took a liking to Mario’s vertically striped cardinal and white Game Bib overalls and called him up onto the stage.
After recharging my batteries for a few hours, I met back up with the group at Slugger’s in Wrigleyville. At this point in the night, the floors were sticky at every step and the crowd wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Sleepy, his friend and Habib were completely drained of energy and headed back to Evanston after one drink while Mario and I stayed out (Crest had gone back to Madison). Mario and I headed to Houndstooth Saloon because we wanted to belt along to some country music but got there and realized that they were just playing top-40 hits like the rest of the Wrigleyville bars and were dismayed to find out that would not even mix in any country. From here, the night became a little bit more eventful.
At about 1:30 am, we headed to Trace, a 4 am bar, and were able to nab a table before it filled up from the post-bartime crowd. About 20 minutes after we sat down, an interesting duo asked if they could join us. After we politely said, “Ummm….sure,” but had done our best to imply that we weren’t too excited about it, they took a seat at our table. They turned out to be brutally honest and actually quite interesting. “I’m here to get laid,” the taller one with tattoos up and down his arms said confidently and matter of factly, going into further detail than is appropriate to discuss here. After getting fired recently from a decently well-paying position at O’Hare “for absolutely no f—— reason”, he was a little bit bitter at the world and the state of the country. I did a pretty good job reciting Louis CK’s “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” routine but wasn’t able to make headway into his foul mood. Continuing our discussion about the state of our careers, his friend, who talks with similar intonation and expression to Aziz Ansari, boldly informed us that, “I’m a drug dealer. I sell weed. It’s pretty legit,” further noting that he had recently been kicked out of med school. He didn’t go into detail as to why but Mario and I had our guesses.
We left Trace at about 3:00 am, ready to call it a night but were stopped by a bachelorette party because of Mario’s overalls and because one of the girls had “found Waldo” (my Gameday uniform for the day had consisted of a collared red and white shirt that strongly resembles that of Waldo’s and this was about the hundredth time I had heard a variation of this joke that day and night. That shirt might end up getting retired). The bachelorette party was not ready to call it a night and we ended up tagging along with them to McDonald’s and later Nick’s Uptown. Although the night had begun inauspiciously, when it was all said and done we ended up getting back to my place around 5:00, my latest night (earliest morning?) in two years of living in Chicago.
Six hours later, we awakened groggily and headed to Schoolyard Tavern. Mario had originally been planning on going to the Cubs game but he quickly succumbed to the glory that is an NFL Sunday and decided that he would rather watch football inside than a terrible Cubs team on what was an ugly weather day. Schoolyard has an outstanding set-up for watching football; at the optimal table, facing forward there is a wall with four screens conjoined together in a rectangle. From this position, there are also five other screens in your 180-degree vantage point. We were later joined by Sleepy, Habib and my buddy Dingo. After an order of Buffalo Rolls (wanton shells with buffalo chicken and ranch dipping sauce) and more Diet Cokes than I care to count, I finally woke up around halftime of the noon games.
Although there weren’t very many marquee match-ups, it was a great NFL Sunday. As the fourth quarter rolled around, Raiders-Bills, Vikings-Buccaneers and Redskins-Cardinals were see-saw battles while the Packers were only up one score on the Panthers. The Packers ended up winning ugly but it was still satisfying to see them get a road NFC win in a game where they had to play from behind and overcome adversity. I was ecstatic with the Packers’ in-game adjustments and enamored with the stellar play of Charles Woodson, who had two unbelievably athletic interceptions and a fumble recovery. I think this game was ultimately a very good wake-up call for the Packers that they are mortal and cannot expect to coast to victories this season on talent and reputation.
Overall, this was a great Gameday weekend and still a little bit of an appetizer for things to come. It was great to have so many friends visiting Chicago and I am confident that they all left with solid impressions of this great city. I am already pretty excited for my 25th birthday next weekend and trips to Camp Randall to see Wisconsin play Nebraska and Lambeau Field for Packers-Broncos the weekend after. I will now spend the rest of the week trying to shed the weight I gained and attempt to make sense of what has transpired and what will happen next in the NFL.