I've never been the kind of person to paint my face the color of my favorite sports team or wear an oversized foam finger on my hand. You'd more likely find me admiring a Monet or Picasso at the art museum or wearing a new cocktail ring on my finger. So, how do you take a fan of arts and culture and turn her into a college football fan?
Send her to Madison.
This past weekend, I flew to Wisconsin to watch the UW Badgers tackle the Michigan Wolverines Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. If I sat here writing for hours, I couldn't hope to describe the amazement I felt as I inched toward the stadium in my rental car.
All around me, for blocks adjacent to the stadium, steams of fans walked single file on sidewalks brimming with the essentials of tailgating -- tables, pizza, brats, coolers of beer. Scores of people held signs begging for tickets to get into the coveted game.
As I walked toward the stadium a few minutes after opening kickoff -- feeling very out of place in my brown winter jacket amidst the red-clad Badger fans -- I could hear it before I could see it. The roar of the 82,000 crowd sounded a lot like the distant roar of an airplane engine as they documented every play with their approval or disdain. But, despite seeing the tailgaters in their crimson Badger gear and hearing the crowd, nothing -- and I mean nothing -- could prepare this graduate of a small, Lutheran, liberal arts college for what I saw as I walked up from the concourse and into the bowl itself.
A sea of red. A city in a stadium. The blue sky above me. My mouth wide open.
I had no idea a Big 10 university drew a fan base larger than my entire metropolitan area in one stadium at one time.
I had no idea there was beauty in a scene painted by red licensed apparel.
I had no idea spontaneous orchestration occurs when tens of thousands of people all wave white, terrycloth towels above their heads.
I simply had no idea.
I sat squished between two men who roared approval on the good plays and screamed derisions on the bad. I sat in amazement as the marching band marched, and twirled, and ran, and bowed. I stood and raised my arms when the slow-moving wave finally reached my section. And, yes, I stood and participated in the famous Jump Around.
This weekend, I saw firsthand the fabled twelfth man on the field, and he took the form of 80,000 screaming Badger fans. It was beautiful in a way I hadn't expected. A college football fan was created this weekend in a stadium in Madison.
So, thank you, to the city of Madison and its Badger fans who bleed red for the love of the sport. The show you put on Saturday was a thing of beauty and, yes, when you talk about fan involvement, spirit and a sense of community, Wisconsin, "you say it all!"