Playing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. would be a momentous event for any football fan. For the Wisconsin Badgers, having the opportunity to open their season at one of the most well-known venues in professional football and represent the state of Wisconsin against a tough competitor in LSU is something most players growing up had only dreamed of.
This Saturday’s season opener is only the fourth time that two college teams have competed at Lambeau Field. The game also marks the first time a Big Ten team will play at Lambeau. Previously, the only team to play at the stadium was St. Norbert College, the D3 Catholic college in the nearby city of De Pere.
This past spring, the Badgers had the opportunity to travel to Green Bay to practice at the Don Hutson Center and tour Lambeau Field and the Packers Hall of Fame. Several players talked to the media after practice, and for many, it wasn’t their first time at Lambeau Field. 55 players on the current Badgers roster are from the state of Wisconsin.
Fullback Alec Ingold grew up in Green Bay and attended Bay Port High School in nearby Suamico.
“It’s special being back home in Green Bay,” Ingold said back at the spring practice in Green Bay. “The community of Green Bay is just so special to me. You grew up wanting to be a Packer and wanting to be a Badger.”
Ingold was a media favorite at that spring practice, talking about his first game at Lambeau Field as a sixth grade student where he lost his shoe on a defensive play, proceeded to throw it off and go play on offense. Ingold also became the unofficial tour guide for his teammates, having been to Lambeau Field many times as a child and teenager striving to play in the NFL.
Known leader of the Wisconsin defense, senior Vince Biegel grew up in central Wisconsin and attended Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids.
“To be able to go out there and practice where Clay Matthews, Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers practice is a very surreal moment, and it’s something that a lot of guys were looking forward to,” Biegel said at the spring practice in Green Bay.
Biegel talked in detail about what it means to represent the state of Wisconsin in this season opener.
“You take that 2 hour and 45-minute ride going through the heart of Wisconsin and realize who you are playing for,” Biegel said.
According to Wisconsin captain and senior Dare Ogunbowale, this season opener and the overall challenges of the Badgers’ schedule this year are what aspiring football players dream of when they think about playing collegiate and professional football.
“We come to Wisconsin because we want to play other big teams, other storied programs, so we get a chance to do that with our schedule this year,” Ogunbowale said. “Being a Wisconsin guy, I’ve grown up loving the Packers this I was a little kid, so it’s going to be special. I’ll probably have a lot of jitters come kickoff.”
Starting left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who transferred to UW-Madison from UW-Stevens Point last year, said at the Badgers media day that he remains grateful for every opportunity he has received to be able to play with the Badgers.
“It’s been a dream of mine,” Ramcyzyk said of playing at Lambeau. “It’s an honor to be able to play there, and it’s an honor to come here and play for the Badgers.”
Starting linebacker Jack Cichy, a Somerset, Wis. native, said, “It’s going to be neat when you’re used to seeing yellow and green there when you walk in and see a bunch of red. That will be a real treat.”
Players from outside the state of Wisconsin and even away from Midwest also have expressed both excitement at this weekend’s opening season game and pride and respect for the history of the venue and the history of the Green Bay Packers.
“It’s going to feel great,” inside linebacker Chris Orr said. “I’d never thought that in a million years I’d be playing at Lambeau Field, even in college.”
Backup quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Pa. said, “I’m excited. I think we all are. Big stages we just see as a big opportunity. I respect the tradition they have there [in Green Bay].”
And then there is of course starting quarterback Bart Houston, who was named after Packers legendary quarterback Bart Starr.
“I’m named after Bart Starr,” Houston said. “I never thought it’d [playing at Lambeau would] happen.”
The Wisconsin Badgers begin their season on Sat. Sept. 3 at 2:30 p.m. at Lambeau Field against the LSU Tigers. The game will be broadcasted by ESPN/ABC as the Carmex Lambeau Field College Classic. College GameDay will begin at 8:00 a.m. on ESPN.