If you live in Madison or have been there for a fall “gameday” in the past, you know how electric the feeling of college football is for the whole city come most fall Saturdays. It seems as if the whole pace of the metropolitan area alters for one day out of the week, and there’s an internal understanding that as soon as the clock hits 8 a.m., it’s time to start tailgating. If you don’t live in Madison, you may have begun to figure that out.
Recently, Bleacher Report named Madison the “#1 College Football Town in the Country,” a title that’s begun to feel familiar to all Madisonians. Bleacher Report gave the same ranking to Madison last year, and numerous other sites (Yahoo, NCAA.com, USA Today, and the list goes on) have recently recognized Madison’s prowess in simply doing gameday right. But what is it about the city that makes college football so special?
If there’s anything Wisconsin is known for first and foremost, the two things that most likely come to mind are 1) cheese and 2) beer. This bodes pretty well with the environment surrounding tailgating, as you won’t have to walk more than a block or so to find a new group of people drinking Spotted Cow and eating fried cheese curds. Thanks to Camp Randall’s close proximity to campus and student housing, driving isn’t a concern, and many fans are thankful for that. While Camp Randall itself doesn’t have the infamous “parking lot” that many football stadiums have to tailgate in, neighborhoods in the surrounding areas (Regent St., Orchard St., the Langdon neighborhood) all make due. And with some of the best brews in the country (New Glarus, Miller), beverages certainly aren’t an issue. Despite the regular 11 a.m. game times, Madisonians frequently find no problem hanging out and playing cornhole beginning as early as 8 (and sometimes, 7) a.m. Also, Madison’s bar scene is famously good, so places like State Street Brats, the Kollege Klub (“KK”) and Chasers play host to a number of fans starting early in the morning.
Badger Football would be nothing without one of the best homes to college sports in the country, and Camp Randall certainly fills that role. Located literally adjacent to many campus buildings, the behemoth of a stadium (it can hold upwards of 80,000 fans) is perhaps one of the most well-known landmarks in Wisconsin’s state capitol. Camp Randall draws its name from its well-documented history: the land served as a Union Army training camp during the Civil War. Commemorative statues and signage mark the path below the famous arch leading into the stadium from Dayton and Monroe, and it’s hard not to feel a sense of pride and tradition by just being in the stadium itself – an era-accurate cannon even sits overlooking the stadium and training facility next to it. Beyond the history, Camp Randall’s environment is extremely conducive to a positive football experience – students are seated in sections J through P, which line the North end zone, while the rest of the stadium is opened up to Madison’s devoted fan base.
College football is nothing without tradition, and perhaps no team in the nation has as many rich ones as the Badgers. Beyond simple ones like the wave, Camp Randall houses the most rowdy ceremony to take place in any college football stadium – the nearly-20 year old practice of Jumping Around. Between the third and fourth quarter of each game, a former Badger athlete will demand that Badger fans “get on their feet” to practice this ritual that has even been rumored to register on the Richter scale and caused potential safety concerns. Even the athletes usually participate, and the shaking of the stadium can be felt from the well-protected press box. Beyond Jump Around, many Camp Randall traditions exist – the singing of the time-honored “Varsity,” songs like “By The Bright Shining Light of the Moon” and “Build Me Up Buttercup,” and many profane chants. Then, after the game is over, the “5th Quarter” takes place, in which the band storms the field to play another 15 minutes of classic tunes (“Tequila” by The Champs perhaps being the most popular).
Thankfully, the fun in Madison doesn’t have to stop after football is over. Just a short 10 minute walk from Camp Randall is the beginning of State Street, Madison’s pedestrian alleyway that connects campus to the State Capitol. Lines at restaurants are typically out the door, and the city seems to fall into one collective post-game nap afterwards. Badger fans are treated to a number of regular options for lunch in chains such as Chipotle, Qdoba, Wendy’s, and Five Guys, but also many local options, like Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, Madison Sweets, Kilwin’s, Greenbush Donuts, and the Memorial Union Rathskeller. By 4 p.m., everyone in Madison has the chance to be happily fed and happily asleep.
But if Madison’s the best college football town in the country, it has its teams to thank first. Since the insertion of Barry Alvarez as the head coach in 1990 (and later UW-Madison’s Athletic Director), the team has experienced immense success, winning 12 Bowl Games, 6 Conference Titles, and 22 (out of a possible 26) winning seasons. The Badgers have missed the postseason just once in the last 20 years (2001), and have won their last two bowl games. Since Alvarez finished coaching in 2005, the Badgers have finished the season ranked in the AP and Coaches’ Polls eight out of ten seasons. In 2010, the Badgers upset #1 Ohio State in Madison. Additionally, the team has been associated with a lot of individual success, as Ron Dayne won the Heisman Trophy in 1999, and since then, Montee Ball, Russell Wilson, and Melvin Gordon have all finished top-10 in voting. Other names on defense, like J.J. Watt, Chris Borland, and Joe Schobert, have also contributed to the rich team traditions.
Once anyone experiences a fall Saturday in Madison, they’ll understand why so many outlets have named that experience the best in the country. Truly, nothing can compare to a long day filled with food, friends, football and fun in the heart of the Midwest.