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gameday diaries

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.


Twitter @sportsrapport

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