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November 11, 2013

Red Meat and Cheese: A Wonderful Wisconsin Football Weekend With My Dad

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The above picture shows a white brat/ribeye combo sandwich and a basket of cheese curds at State Street Brats, which were on my table with a pitcher of Spotted Cow within 15 minutes of getting off the bus in Madison, WI on Friday. These things happen immediately.

Despite what would happen to the Packers at the end, it was an incredible weekend in God’s country. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Friday

3:00 – The journey begins as all my journeys do: Hastily stuffing my belongings into a suitcase as I’m running out the door, praying that I don’t forget something important. The day where I leave myself ample time, or God forbid pack everything in an organized manner the night before, is the one where I’ll know I’m actually a legitimate adult.

Hustling to get to O’Hare for my 4pm bus, I get on the CTA and realize that my Ventra pass is out of money. I have no cash on me and beg the bus driver to take pity on me. He obliges, motioning for me to take my seat. This is a good omen.

At the blue line stop, the person in front of me is struggling trying to figure out how to use a credit card to add money to her Ventra account. The voice inside my head is cursing her for being so daft when I have a tight schedule to keep. She gives up trying. I fumble my first attempt at the Ventra machine as the people behind me in line give disapproving glares. My second attempt is successful and I make the first el towards O’Hare.

4:00 – I make the bus to Madison with about six minutes to spare. A missed connection in either of my two CTA stops would’ve cost me 90 minutes and untold emotional distress.

7:05 – Arrive in Madison.

7:20 – See up-top.

9:00 – Head to Ivory Room, a dueling piano bar near Madison’s capitol for a couple hours. There were three rotating pianists — two were OK, and one was incredible. The latter was pounding Red Bull, water, and a mystery third beverage inside a coffee mug (coffee, perhaps?) and belting along every song request put in front of him.

Dueling piano bars >>>>> karaoke, especially when the performers are good ones.

Saturday

12:00 - Because of the road trips I do with my friends, it feels a little weird to spend the time before the game doing anything other than outright raging, but I gotta admit it is pretty enjoyable to be taking it slowly. We’re at Jordan’s Big 10 Pub on Regent Street for a little bit before I break off with my friend Max for lunch.

You meet the most interesting people on football trips. I asked a guy where he got his sewn JJ Watt jersey from (from a bootleg Chinese site because of course he did) and he ended up being with a crew of people from Quebec City who came to Madison, and later Green Bay, just for an awesome football trip. This was basically what my Dad and I did last year when we went to Baton Rouge for Alabama-LSU.

1:00 – Found a little tent right behind Camp Randall on Regent Street that was selling grilled brats, ribs, hot dogs, burgers, and BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. Here’s what their grill looked like:

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Had a brat and split a pulled pork sandwich. So exquisite. Wisconsin is the greatest.

2:30 - I am sitting with Max inside the Wisconsin student section, which still feels like home. I think I’ve got at least five more years of preferring that over regular seats. Even though I have my issues with many students’ late arrivals and early exits, it is a substantially more active cheering environment, which is ideal for me.

camp randall

(#ViewFromYourSeats not in chronological order)

4:00 - It’s not fair that the Ohio State band does Michael Jackson moonwalks and incredible Jurassic Park choreographies while Wisconsin’s half-time shows are always 1920′s swing music medleys or show tunes. Today’s offering is a series of songs from the Phantom of the Opera because nothing riles up football fans quite like a somber musical. Half-time feels like a funeral. This is egregious.

4:15 - Overheard in the bathroom: Dude, my friend passed out in the bathroom, but I don’t know which one it was so I have to look through all of them and hope I find him before he gets an underage ticket. College.

4:25 - Third brat in 18 hours. I swear I’ve read a study that says you should only eat two per year if you don’t want to degrade your health, but I can’t find it in 30 seconds and you wouldn’t have bothered clicking through anyway.

5:30 – Wisconsin is completely controlling the tempo of the game. For some reason, BYU decides to punt twice down 17 points in the fourth quarter. You guys know that you need three scores, right? I mean, I’m cool with their surrendering, but it means the last 12 minutes of the game are just a formality.

5:40 – They keep showing out-of-town scores — there is particular schadenfreude when Michigan goes down to Nebraska — but they miss a major opportunity by not telling everyone that Piggly Wiggly and his Arkansas Razorbacks just lost their 7th in a row #karma

Sunday

10:00 – Meet at friend Kevin’s tailgate behind Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, whose silent partners must be indescribably anticipatory of a reconciliation. Eat fourth brat of the trip. And a cheeseburger. (No pictures because I’ve already shown you enough red meat.) Drink a 10% ABV beer. At some point, someone comes by and hands us all whiskey-infused pudding shots. I’d say is the Sconniest thing ever except for the fact that this tailgate also had a cornhole set that was adorned with old Brewers baseball cards:

cornhole

11:15 – Due to a variety of syndicates and assorted inheritances, our family friend Rob has eight season tickets at Lambeau. This is no small feat for a team with a wait list of over 80,000 people and about 30 years. We are very lucky he is so generous with them, although they are not necessarily an asset for him today. The initial asking price from some scalpers is as low as $50. It would appear as though some people are not profoundly psyched for the Seneca Wallace experience.

Directly related to that, it is pretty agreed upon in our group that we would prefer if Brett Favre were starting today. Like, not even with a week of practice. The sort of situation where some sad soul refreshing FlightAware.com notices a private jet charted from Hattiesburg, MS to Green Bay, Favre hops off, scribbles his name on a 10-day contract, starts 90 minutes later, and Jim Ross goes crazy. Even if he didn’t end up playing well (an overwhelming probability), he Lambeau might break the sound barrier if it happened.

Obviously, this hypothetical scenario is completely implausible. But what if it weren’t?

12:30 - All of a sudden Scott Tolzien is in for Seneca Wallace and nobody can figure out what’s going on. Wallace couldn’t possible be benched already when he didn’t throw any incompletions — when T F did he get hurt? All we’re told by the stadium PA is that Tolzein’s in, nobody’s phone is picking up data to check Twitter, and finally someone behinds us gets a signal and finds out that Wallace injured his groin.

I spoke to the head of stadium technology for the new 49ers stadium about stuff like this a few months ago and it’s pretty necessary for NFL teams to catch up on technology sooner than later. It is not a sustainable business practice for the biggest fans to remain the least informed on game days.

lambeau

1:30 - It must be noted that the discussion inside football stadiums is nothing like the ones I read and write in the media. Throughout the weekend, there are no references to Richie Incognito or concussions. People are just super-stoked to be consuming copious amounts of red meat and beer and not be at work. Until another sport can even come close to engendering this mass jolly community, football’s not going anywhere.

1:45 – Is Lambeau the only stadium in the world where the beer vendors also carry 18-inch beef sticks?

2:15 - A punt that was downed inside the Eagles’ 5 is somehow spotted on the 16-yard line with zero explanation from the refs. LeSean McCoy busts a long run and then Nick Foles underthrows a double-covered Riley Cooper, who adjusts to the ball while both defensive backs lose it in the sun, for a touchdown in a sequence that embodies the entire game.

Green Bay would later come within a bobbled Jordy Nelson reception of being down just a touchdown with nine minutes to play, but the breaks just wouldn’t their way. With Detroit and Carolina now surging, the Packers find themselves with a tremendous uphill battle to make the playoffs with their gutted roster.

It’s difficult to put my finger on the reason why, but I’m less stung by this series of events than I would normally be. It might be because I’m a generally happier person than I’ve been in the past, and that I’ve somehow become conditioned to put the relative unimportance of sporting outcomes into perspective, but I don’t think that’s the primary explanation.

I think the biggest reason that I’m comparatively OK with everything is that it’s hard to pinpoint anything the Packers organization should’ve done differently to avoid the dark place they now find themselves in. The roster was well-assembled at opening day, there haven’t been any glaringly erroneous coaching decisions, and the players are discernibly giving it their all.

You could gripe about the lack of an adequate back-up quarterback, but those don’t exactly grow on trees. Some teams don’t even have adequate starters — there’s not this well of men who are physically capable of this immensely challenging job. Furthermore, we don’t know how Seneca Wallace would’ve done if he finished the game after his full week of practice and Scott Tolzien was pretty serviceable considering his lack of preparation in both practice and the offseason.

And, yeah, I’d certainly prefer if the secondary were better but two of the three big plays they gave up yesterday were a fluky ricochet and a ball that got lost in the sun. I’m not quite sure how you can guard against stuff like that from happening.

To a pretty reasonable extent, therefore, the Packers have controlled the things they’re able to. They’ve had some enormously bad luck, and getting devastated about those sorts of things doesn’t seem like a very smart way to go through life.

All in all, it was an outstanding weekend with my Dad and our friends Rob, Max, Kevin, Kevin, Blake, Ryan, Patrick, and Ryan. To the extent that it was in our control, it was perfect.


November 4, 2013

Win, Win, Win No Matter What: A Badger Road Trip to Iowa City

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What a fantastic weekend in Iowa City. We literally could not have asked for a single thing to go differently. These will be the good old days. There’s a lot to unpack so I’ll try to tackle it in mostly-chronological order:

The First Victory

Initially, the five of us planned on taking two separate cars from Chicago for the purposes of space and comfort. 10 minutes into the trip, it just felt a bit off. Noticing the same thing, my friend Matt texted us that we should leave one of the cars somewhere and pile into his old Toyota Camry and leave the other car somewhere along the way. Road trips aren’t as special when you’re not belting along the lyrics to “MMMBop” or “The Bad Touch”.

I suggested the Hollywood Casino in Joliet, purportedly because this would be a safe place to leave a car for two days, but my ulterior motive was that team blackjack would be a good bonding experience. When we got to the garage, I proposed that we pool $20 each together and see if we could pay for our drinks that night. After a bit of a slow start, we went on a heater, were collectively up $55, and miraculously had the willpower to get up from the table before we lost it all back.

The dealer and the one other guy at our table were dumbfounded. The first rule of gambling is that you never leave during a heater. It doesn’t sound like that much money, but we had acquired the funds to re-invest in a case of Bud Lights, four cans of Monster, two bags of beef jerky, and three losing pull-tab tickets. (These would be our only loss of the weekend.)

Continue reading Win, Win, Win No Matter What:…


December 3, 2012

WIN-dianapolis – A Badger Trip to the Big Ten Championship Game

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.

The Pregame

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:

Continue reading WIN-dianapolis – A Badger Trip to…


November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving is an underrated holiday.

While it’s not like there are people out there hating on Thanksgiving, I just don’t think it gets its proper due. (Yes, I’m sure I could find any number of gripes about American colonialism if I looked hard enough.)

Family, Food, and Football. What, exactly, is missing that could make it any better?

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on how good we have it.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week or two (and year–or 26) sulking. Dumb little things haven’t been going my way and I haven’t done a good enough job preventing a domino effect. I’ve been in one of those dreaded creative troughs and my focus hasn’t been where I’d like it to be. Even on posts that I thought were well-done and interesting, traffic has been down. Writer’s block is terrifying and I haven’t yet learned how to properly compartmentalize it – or other perceived injustices – so it’s not all-consuming.

While these issues are very real to me, they’ve distracted me from realizing how lucky I am. When the biggest problem in my life is the struggle to create and promote sports blog posts, my life is unfathomably comfortable compared to almost everyone who has ever lived.

***

Alkaline Trio’s Maybe I’ll Catch Fire starts, “This house is full of ears, but I can’t talk to anyone, they’ve heard this one a thousand times.”

I’m thankful to have an abundance of friends and family in my life who will hear me out for the 1,001st time and beyond.

I’m thankful for my health, which I take for granted far too often. I should wake up every day ECSTATIC to see, hear, and walk when others’ lives are consumed by chronic pain. Why not me? This is a privilege, not a birthright.

I’m thankful to live in the United States of America in 2012. We are exposed to a lot of negativity about our leadership and current state of affairs, but there is not a time or place in world history that I would rather live. We have flat screen televisions with 700 channels. Our iPhones, which exist in the palms of our hands, can access all of the information in the universe and communicate instantly with everybody know. Our supermarket aisles are filled with thousands of varieties of of chips, cookies, and peanut butter. The Israelites once had to bake bread on their backs; we can cook a Tombstone pizza in 14 minutes. Jimmy Johns delivers sandwiches even faster. We were born into this era due to the sacrifice of our ancestors.

I’m thankful that the Green Bay Packers are led by Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, and Charles Woodson. While Browns, Chiefs, Raiders, and Jaguars fans have had to suffer through an endless cycle of failure, my favorite team seamlessly replaced a Hall of Fame quarterback with one whose ceiling is to go down in history as the greatest quarterback of all-time. From top to bottom, this Green Bay organization is special. There is a chance that they will be written about and revered on par with the Lombardi-era teams. I already got to see them win a Super Bowl with my dad and brother. Sports shouldn’t really matter, but they really matter a lot to me. I’m lucky to root for this team.

There is so much more to be thankful for. I must do a better job at recognizing this when I go through stretches where I feel as though the universe is conspiring against me.

 


November 6, 2012

I Went There: Eagles-Saints in New Orleans

I went to Eagles-Saints at the Superdome last night. Here’s what went down:

On the way to the game:

This convenience store has a pretty interesting selection:

The Tailgate

My friend Hank was getting very little logistical and organizational help from his friends, but made the tailgate happen anyway. From about 2:00 PM until he finished cooking food around 6:00, he was in “hustle and get shit done” mode. The rain held off for us (as I had said it would all day), and his jambalaya and BBQ pulled pork were worth it:

Continue reading I Went There: Eagles-Saints in New…


November 5, 2012

I Went There: Alabama @ LSU in Baton Rouge

This past June, I read Dixeland Delight, a book by Clay Travis in which he traveled to every SEC stadium in one season. As I turned the pages, I realized three things:

1) I had to go to travel to my first SEC game this season. (I’ve been to three bowl games where Wisconsin played SEC teams – Auburn, Arkansas, and Tennessee, but I wanted to see an intra SEC matchup in its natural habitat.)

2) I had to go to a night game at LSU.

3) That game had to be against Alabama.

Everything about the experience surpassed my very lofty expectations.

The Tailgate

As I was boarding my Friday flight from Chicago to New Orleans, the airport television showed clips of diametrically opposite Obama and Romney responses to the exact same data set in that day’s jobs report. I laughed about it and made some joke with the two people in front of me in line. We started talking, I told them that I was headed down South to see Bama-LSU, and my new friend Dennis said that he was also going to the game and invited me to his tailgate where they would be roasting a pig and cooking a full cauldron of jambalaya. Yes please.

On Saturday, my dad and I got to Baton Rouge at about 2:00, found free parking about two miles away from Tiger Stadium, and made the hike. About a half-mile away from the stadium, parking lots full of tents started popping up. The volume and breadth of these tailgates was staggering. There must have been 5,000 tents. Everybody went all out. Full spread. The works, really. Everywhere you looked, somebody was grilling or smoking something. For the next five hours, the smell of bold flavors wafted through the air.

At about 3:00 pm, we found Dennis’ tailgate in Touchdown Village, one of several parking lots FULL of RVs. (Dennis had spot #161 and the lot extended much further.) “How do this many people even own RVs?” I asked.

“They give them to us when we graduate.”

The first thing we saw?

Continue reading I Went There: Alabama @ LSU…


October 17, 2012

A Badger Business Trip to Purdue

This is a few days late but I feel the need to preserve these trips for posterity. With my buddies Raffi and Matt, I headed out to Wast Lafayette on Saturday to see Wisconsin play Purdue. Here’s what went down:

5:30 AM – Raffi, who naturally wakes up every day at this ungodly hour, comes and wakes up Matt and me. In the 60 seconds after waking up, I would probably rather commit suicide than seize the day.

6:00 - Dunkin. Donuts.

(Hour time shift)

9:00 - After a painless two-hour drive (Matt takes great pride in seeing how badly he can beat Google Maps projections), we find free parking about a mile away from the stadium.

Because it’s homecoming, there’s about a half-hour line to get in every bar in West Lafayette. Purdue’s big homecoming tradition, apparently, is treating the day like Halloween. Everybody is in costumes and has been at the bars since 7 AM.

We get in line at Jake’s, the first college bar I’ve ever been to that is located in the middle of a strip mall. It’s a pretty good bar, but has an AWFUL sound system. Conversation drowns out the music.

It’s not particularly clear that there will be a football game. Most people we see at the bars have no intention of making it to the game. “IU SUCKS” chants break out all the time – they REALLY hate IU – but we don’t get that much positive or negative attention as Badger fans.

10:00 - Three screwdrivers and three Jameson-based “pancake and syrup” shots – that, despite being half-whiskey, actually taste like they sound – add up to $16.25. Why does anybody ever leave college?

10:30 – Three double Jim Beam on the rocks? $14.25. Feels like stealing.

COOLEST PART OF JAKE’S: Three posters, side by side, with words on top of frogs: Bud. Weis. Er.

10:45 - Facetiously, I ask a guy dressed as a ketchup bottle if he is supposed to be the Wicked Witch of the West. Puzzled, he looks at me for about three seconds. “Ketchup, retard.”

11:00 - We head next door to Von’s Dough Shack. People keep coming in to use the restroom. They are ANGRY when they find out that it’s locked. They have to order something. Instead of buying a bag of chips or a soda for $1, most leave hastily. People don’t make rational decisions.

We order a “Doublewide” calzone stuffed with ground beef and mac and cheese:

11:15  – We start the mile walk to the stadium. We see a bunch of Badger fans hopping on a school bus, and figure that it’s a tailgate tour. We are pumped when they say we can hop on. It’s not a tailgate tour. It’s a public bus that gets passed by people walking as we are stuck in traffic. HIGHLIGHT: the old Purdue fan in front of me is emailing at a pace of about three letters per minute on his iPhone. “O….u….r…  c…o…u…n…t…r…y… h…a…s… s…u…n…k… W…e… h…a…v…e… t…e…r…r…i…b…l…e… l…e…a…d…e…r…s… G…o…d… h…e…l…p… u…s…”

Continue reading A Badger Business Trip to Purdue


September 17, 2012

Football and Me Part II

For my thoughts on Bears-Packers from Thursday night, please see my Week 2 Picks intro.

I watched Utah State-Wisconsin at home. Between traveling to games and going to sports bars, I don’t get to watch too many Packers or Badgers games on my couch. It might happen 2-4 times a year, total, but there’s definitely something to be said for getting a premium six-pack, popping in an oven pizza, and watching a game in your pajamas.

Wisconsin was flat out awful, especially on offense.

In the first half, Montee Ball got stuffed on four 3rd-and-1′s — including one on the goal line — and a 2nd-and-1. Shocking how firing the offensive line coach two weeks into the season didn’t prove to be some kind of magic panacea. My eyes tell me James White and Melvin Gordon are better runners than Ball right now–has anybody else noticed this?

The offense wasn’t moving the ball but little of that was Danny O’Brien’s fault–his receivers were rarely open open and were dropping passes while the offensive line was a sieve. Putting in freshman Joel Stave was a complete panic move.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. I don’t know if I’ve ever rooted for a team that played worse and still won. The Badgers needed a punt return TD and Utah State to miss a 37-yard field goal as time expired to escape with a win. At Camp Randall. Against Utah State. This is deeply concerning.

I would have liked to see an angrier Bret Bielema in the postgame. He should have been irate, demanding a better performance from his team. It wasn’t even that he was relieved, he was happy. He needs higher expectations; it’s gotten to the point where we should not be complacent just to appear in the Rose Bowl. I almost want Tennessee or Auburn to overpay him.

The last three weeks do not bode well for Wisconsin’s season. We may still make the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis but the path to getting there is not going to be fun. This is just not a good football team.

 


September 10, 2012

Football and Me Part I

Man.

What a tough weekend for the Badgers and Packers. When games like these happen, I always wonder why this is what I do for fun.

On a qualitative level, it’s completely irrational. I get myself psyched up for months, wanting a football weekend as badly as I want anything, envisioning glorious victories and copious food consumption. And then it’s finally here but instead of bearing gifts, I feel like a ton of bricks was dropped on my head.

Considering that there’s 30 teams and only one of them can win the Super Bowl, there are overwhelming odds that this is how I’ll feel for days, weeks, and months following the end of the season. Losses bring more acute pain than than the worst hangovers.

Again: why is this what I do for fun?

For it to make any sense, the process must be more important than the outcome.

Continue reading Football and Me Part I


April 17, 2012

Weekend Diary: St. Louis

I headed out to St. Louis this weekend for a charity event that my friend Andy and I organized to benefit Camperships for Nebagamon and the Camp Nebagamon Scholarship Fund. Both of these charities support the ability for children to have tremendous summer camp experiences that they would otherwise be unable to afford. To read more about the respective charities, click here. If you would like to donate, click here. Donations are tax deductible and every little bit counts!!

A review of my food, friends, family, and sports-filled weekend after the jump…

Continue reading Weekend Diary: St. Louis


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