I’m not gonna lie. I was having serious doubts about making this trip last week. From the moment that news came out that Montee Ball had been beaten and mugged on University Ave., the Badger football season has felt like a long dentist appointment. The team lost five games — by a combined 19 points, including three gutwrenching overtime defeats – and would have lost a sixth if not for Utah State’s missing a 32-yard field goal at Camp Randall as time expired.
If not for Terrelle Pryor’s free tattoos in Columbus and all the willful negligence of Jerry Sandusky’s abhorrent behavior in State College, Wisconsin would be gearing up for some bowl game in Wyoming that’s sponsored by a local strip mall.
After Saturday’s game, you have to wonder if the Badgers grossly underachieved this season or if they consciously played possum, valuing outcome over process with a long-term strategy geared towards reaching and winning the Rose Bowl. More on that later.
Last year, we saw an enticing billboard for Flapjacks Pancake House, a local breakfast spot about a half-hour out of Indy and abruptly pulled off the highway to try it. I’m a firm believer that you just know from the outside whether or not a restaurant will have great food. Flapjacks was the rule, not the exception.
It left an impression on us, and we planned all season to make it a destination stop on Saturday’s roadtrip. Seven of us split these dishes family style: strawberry cheesecake waffles, strawberry pancakes, chocolate chip pecan pancakes, spinach-feta omelet with hash browns, hungry man skillet (peppers, onions, bacon, ham, sausage, and gravy) with scrambled eggs, corned beef hash skillet with eggs over easy, and country fried steak and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. As good as it sounds:
After breakfast, we checked into America’s Best Inn. Opening the door and peering into our room felt like the beginning of a horror movie–$52 after-tax just doesn’t buy what it used to. SEVEN WISCONSIN FANS CRAM INTO A HOTEL ROOM FOR WHAT THEY WILL THINK WILL BE A FUN FOOTBALL WEEKEND BEFORE GETTING BRUTALLY RAVAGED BY TRUCKER ZOMBIES ON AN INSATIABLE QUEST FOR HUMAN FLESH. WHO WILL SURVIVE?
There was a distinct, stale aroma of cigarette smoke combined with that of purchased sex. You could spend 30 seconds on Free Craigslist and find a better TV. The bathroom needed an Extreme Home Makeover. Good thing we’d only be spending about six hours there.
We took a cab to the downtown area and went on a fun, but generally uneventful bar crawl until it was time to get tickets.
We had to wait until after kickoff for prices to come down, which was sort of farcical because almost the entire upper deck of Lucas Oil ended up being empty. In hindsight, we should have bought tickets for $20+ fees on Stubhub. Our mistake was not realizing that Stubhub shuts down after events start–we had incorrectly thought we’d be able to use that as leverage with the scalpers. Oh well. We missed the first eight minutes of the game, but got in for $30 per person.
If you’re wondering how we got these seats for $30 and think that it’s too good to be true, you’re absolutely right. We used a proprietary methodology for sneaking down. If you ask nicely enough, I may disclose it in private. Can’t have the whole world knowing our secrets, though.
Getting into the lower suite area felt like we were part of the Stonecutters:
What can possibly be said about the game besides pointing out how utterly Wisconsin dominated from open till close? This was like a Labor Day weekend matchup against Cupcake U, not a game against a historically proud program like Nebraska who had beaten us earlier in the season.
The offensive line got its mojo back. Montee Ball, James White, and Melvin Gordon ran wild, combining for 527 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns (the trio ran for eight and White threw for one).
It was clear that this team was on a mission to get out ahead of all the stories about not deserving a Rose Bowl appearance. That any disrespect would have been justified based on the team’s performance this season before Saturday night was besides the point.
So where was this team all year? Wisconsin played five legitimate opponents in the regular season – Oregon State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State – and did not put together anywhere near as complete a performance in any of them. (All were losses.)
Were the Badgers saving chapters of the playbook? Were they keeping injured players like Chris Borland out who would have appeared in games that had more significant implications on overall standings? Did a singular goal of making and winning the Rose Bowl supersede the pride of ruining Ohio State’s undefeated season and Penn State’s senior day?
In other words: Did the Badgers consciously eschew giving themselves the best chance to win individual games in favor of a long-term plan?
We will of course never get candid answers to these questions. If this was what Bret Bielema and his coaching staff did, I do not honestly know how I’d feel about it. I know that I wanted to beat Urban Meyer. I wanted to make recovery more difficult for Bill O’Brien. It’s a pretty close call but I think I’d sign up for the scenario of beating Ohio State and Penn State, but losing in the Rose Bowl–and not vice versa.
Please leave your opinion on this matter in the comments.
The scene was not nearly as vibrant as last year when about three times as many Wisconsin fans made the trip and Michigan State fans stayed out after their loss. We had fun with the people in our group, but there was not really a collective sense of Badgers reveling in a victory. Perhaps the questions addressed in the previous section contributed to the overall mood–they definitely contributed towards people’s willingness to make the trip. It’s obviously a good thing that we beat Nebraska and won the conference, but this win does not erase all of the bitterness from the last three months.
Around 1 AM, we split into two groups–one stayed out, while mine went to Steak N Shake. Melvin Gordon was one table over, dining with his family. He was nice enough to pose for a picture with my friend Matt (who, along with Gordon, grew up in Kenosha, WI) and me:
“I’m not just saying this because you’re standing right in front of me,” I told him. “But we have been CLAMORING for you to get more touches all season.” His entire family could not have agreed more. Gordon averaged over 10 yards per carry this season. My impression as an avid football fan – and someone with a pair of eyes – has been that he’s the best running back on the team despite being buried at third on the depth chart.
I would buy stock in the idea that football fans on Saturday’s — and, in a few years, Sunday’s — will become quite familiar with his name.