October 10, 1998.
Purdue (3-2, 1-0) was coming to Madison to take on the #12-ranked Badgers (5-0, 2-0) for homecoming. While UW was favored, it was a real “prove-it” game for Wisconsin. The Badgers required a 4th-quarter comeback the week before to defeat a bad Indiana squad. Purdue’s losses were competitive games against bowl-bound USC and Notre Dame teams. [Purdue blew a two-score lead in the last 5 minutes in South Bend. Gave the game away, really.]
And, it seemed an open question whether Wisconsin had an answer for Joe Tiller’s “basketball on grass.” The year before, Billy Dicken had lit up the Wisconsin secondary in a 45-20 Boilermakers victory and Purdue’s new signal-caller, Drew Brees, though just a sophomore, was putting up even better numbers than Dicken had.
However, it was a night game, which was quite rare at the time*, and that meant that I skipped out on going to breakfast at Mickies Dairy Bar.
Mickies is your classic Midwestern diner, but with even more ridiculous portions. Take it away, Wikipedia: “The diner is well known for its breakfast selections, especially the Scrambler, which is a large mound of potatoes, eggs, cheese, gravy, and a patrons’ choice of other toppings.”
*I can’t remember for sure, but I feel like UW had only played single-digit number of night games at Camp Randall at this point...maybe fewer than 5.
Mickies is awesome, and I went there before many home games in the late 90s/early 00s. That day, though, it felt like asking a lot to hammer down a huge breakfast, then wait all day for the game to begin. So, yes, I broke with my tradition. Fortunately, fate offered me a second chance.
The game was fantastic. Brees set an NCAA record by attempting 83 passes (!), completing 55 for 494 yards. [UW QB Mike Samuel: 5-10-44.] However, he did throw 4 picks, the most damaging coming late in the 3rd quarter with the score tied at 17:
That was redshirt freshman Jamar Fletcher. He and Mike Echols—the other starting CB, also a RS frosh, who picked off Brees in the end zone on Purdue’s opening drive—are 95% of why this night turned out differently than 1997 did. UW had seen leads of 14-3 and 17-6 disappear and there was a sense UW was holding on for dear life. Fletcher’s pick-six caused the crowd to erupt.
Then, a few minutes later, a tradition was born (footage not from this game, obviously, because I don’t think there is any):
And thus I ask:
(1) Do you have a game day food tradition, whether a specific restaurant, go-to tailgate, or dine at home?
(2) Tell me about a tradition (obviously inferior to Jump Around, but still) at your school that we all should know about. [Iowa fans, you’re ineligible. That’s a different level entirely.]
(3) Is there a tradition a different school has that you envy? Or, even better, is there a tradition a different school has that you think is stupid and/or overrated? Have at it.
MNW: Are we just not gonna talk about that Scrambler and how badly I would like to eat it right now? Well OK, then.
- Tailgate in West Lot.
- Drink Hamm’s and Malort.
- Just let it happen.
There’s not a tradition in Northwestern football on-par with something like Jump Around, the Kinnick Wave, the Lincoln balloons, anything—what feels like a lifetime ago, there was a dumb-but-in-an-amazing-way fourth quarter “tradition”. Everyone “Put Your Hands Up In the Air” to some weird Belgian technopop remix that was, the first time, introduced by Pat Fitzgerald (I think!) doing a bizarre “BREAKING NEWS!” update (featuring the Anchorman breaking news sounder) thing before the fourth quarter. After we ran out of celebrities to do it—whoever that dumb weather guy is in Chicago who just SHOUTS the weather at you excitedly and poorly was probably the sign it’d run its course—the “tradition” died.
I’d love a song or something that really had the whole crowd going—the Euro 2020 tournament showed us what “Sweet Caroline” does for England, etc.—and while “Go U Northwestern” obviously fills that role, there’s something about a good 80s singalong that gets me going.
Nothing will, of course, ever happen, and Ryan Field will be quiet and/or 50% visitors. Maybe the real tradition was the friends—and revenue—we made along the way...
- Usually the only reason I go to Maryland football games is to have an excuse to tailgate (i.e. drink in places otherwise deemed inappropriate and at times normally considered...troublesome). Usually we have a cooler full of crafty bois and something easy to grill, because it is Maryland football, we aren’t going to expend a great deal of effort.
- I imagine the “Hey, You Suck” tradition has long since fallen off...for reasons. Fuck you Gary Glitter. We have the whole Maryland flag cascading down the stands thing, but it is really only impressive if there are enough students in the stands to hold the thing up, which at football games is pretty rare.
- I envy the tradition of other Big Ten schools having fans of their own team fill the seats. That must be a real fun experience. I mostly just get heckled by Ohio State fans that grew up in Towson and had an estranged uncle in Columbus that they visited one summer.
RU in VA:
- Well, since no one else in my family went to RU (or MD, my graduate school) - and attended either Wastern Michigan, MSU, or MU, there are no gameday traditions. Usually I get back from either coaching or watching a kids’ soccer game about 8 minutes into the first quarter, tell everyone to shut up, and watch the rest of the half. If it’s a slaughter, I’m out (I HAVE A LOT OF FREE TIME AS A RUTGERS FAN).
- The most noticeable is the cannon... but there are a few others. The school’s chant is usually one you can see on tv - the whole Upstream, Red Team thing. And the one half yelling “R”, the other “U”. There is some dumb okay symbol thing they do on third down to Metallica, that started way after I left. Someone should tell them that stuff looks stupid.
- I’m going to get death threats in the comments... but a Penn State whiteout at night is pretty cool.
Jump Around is overrated.
- I LOVE having Taylor Ham/Pork Roll at early tailgate. The Jerseyest food, it's a breakfast food and works as a perfect soother to make you hate less that we always have those stupid noon games. For post-game dinner, I always try to go to Stuff Yer Face. And you all should too.
- Uhhhhh... we have a horse? And our 3rd down aid guitar to For Whom the Bell Tolls... When we're doing well our fight song chant sounds neat when much of the standium does it. Rutgers is honestly weak on the traditions.
- Penn State's everything is so goddamn cool. I agree with RU in VA. I think we can be that, but we need to start winning.
Indiana has this Jaws theme shark mouth Florida Gators thing that I think is absolute dumbest fkn thing I've ever seen for a team called the Hoosiers that is nowhere near an ocean.
- I don’t know that I ever tailgated for a Wisconsin game. For App State games, pre-my-friends-having-kids, the “tradition” was park far away, cook something that seems way too involved for a tailgate, start with a double IPA and then transition to a bunch of Coors, and play cornhole. Super original, I know.
- Look, as a Wisconsin fan, I kinda suck. I know of basically no traditions other than Jump Around, because I hardly was involved with football as a student. I didn’t get that into football until well after I graduated. Sorry!
- Back in the FCS days, App State fans used to “rush the field” after every home playoff win. That seems like it’d be fun with the upcoming 12-team playoff, no?
HWAHSQB: 1. I go to Deluxe on Green Street and get a fish sandwich. They are damn good. It’s actually called Legend’s now (should’ve called it Leaders if you ask me) but the fish sandwich is the same.
2. Illinois is trying to make Grange Grove a thing and I think it will be really cool if we ever happen to field a good team. Traditions today are to stand angrily in a half empty stadium and watch fans wearing red celebrate and curse quietly to ourselves.
3. I think Northwestern’s choice to have a tarp instead of fans was a bold move and I fucking hate the constant piped in cat roar over the loudspeakers.
Thumpasaurus: 1: It’s not a ritual per se, but the beermosa is always a great way to start the morning drinking that is necessitated by every home game at Illinois kicking off at 11AM. Used to use orange juice and Blue Moon, but it’s better with a pale ale.
2. There’s this one tradition we started over 100 years ago, you might have heard of it, it’s called Homecoming. Outside of that, I mean, I can tell you about some Illini gameday traditions that you all SHOULDN’T know about. The only remaining thing I really love that nobody talks about is the William Tell cheer where everyone locks arms and hops on one foot (starting TO THE LEFT of course, left four counts, right four counts and so on) and usually someone drunk falls down, taking out an entire row. At least, that’s what used to happen when students used to go to games.
3. You know I’m going to talk about Purdue having an actual steam engine here. Jump Around is overrated and the only reason TV likes to cover it is because Wisconsin has been a consistent winner for a couple decades and therefore everything they do must be iconic, right? I always preferred Wisconsin’s other cheer that’s not safe for TV. But on the topic of “because they win everything is legendary,” DOTTING THE GOD DAMN I. Okay, Ohio State’s band is good and all, but shit, people act like they’re the first and ONLY band to spell out a goddamn word on the field. Not only does our Block ILLINI formation date back farther than any of this kind, we actually move the damn thing down the field. If the same could be said of our football team, you’d definitely know about it. Sucks to suck.
Will the Badger defense be able to remain...
Unfortunately there’s no Jamar Fletcher to take away half the field. Still, UW finished in the top 10 in scoring defense last year for the 6th time in the last 8 years, and that may well happen again this year.
Ask any Badger fan about the Gary Andersen years (mercifully only two of them) and the one positive they can all agree on is bringing in Dave Aranda as DC (2013-2015) and the switch to a 3-4. You’d think, given the OL tradition and recruiting dynamics of the state (lots of Scrambler-type breakfasts getting housed all over the state) that the Badgers might want to maximize the amount of beef on the DL, too. But the 3-4 has been a tremendous success and it’s been fun as hell seeing a succession of LBs flying around like guided missiles.
The not-so-secret key to making the 3-4 work is getting effective play from the DL, especially the NT and the Badgers have a keeper in Keeanu Benton. DEs Isaiah Mullens and Matt Henningsen are very good, but, NT Bryson Williams aside, the depth is untested (though Isaac Townsend, a transfer from Oregon, is very intriguing). The health of this unit might be the biggest factor in the success of Badger football in 2021. [It’s no coincidence that the 8-5 downturn in 2018 came in a year when the DL was ravaged by injuries.]
What Jim Leonhard added to the defensive setup was some NFL exoticism, which he picked up in his time with the Ravens and Jets under Rex Ryan (while fortunately avoiding any of Ryan’s eccentricities). You never know if a blitz is coming or from where. Sometimes this leads to a bad LB coverage matchup, but Jack Sanborn, Leo Chenal, Noah Burks, and Nick Herbig are going to give you more big plays than they let up.
The pressure is also useful in limiting the amount of time the DBs are in coverage. The unit is not a weakness—there’s plenty of talent, as evidence by the defensive numbers last year even when sacks plummeted—but it’s not built to win a track meet. The tape of recent UW B1G title game appearances features plenty of long TDs given up. Caesar Williams is a very good corner, and there is depth at the safety spots. But if Dean Engram, Donte Burton, or Semar Melvin wanted to make a leap, it would really increase the comfort level when the Badgers are in a nickel package.
(1) Why does the 3-4 work so well for UW? Does it better match their personnel? Is it simply because most other teams don’t run it? Or do you actually think UW would be just as successful running some sort of base 4?
(2) I do think there are few things more fun in football than watching a well-organized defense wreak havoc. Tell me about the salad days for your team on the defensive side of the ball. Who do you remember fondly?
(3) Who’s your school’s Jim Leonhard? The in-state kid who overachieved and everybody is proud of. [Bonus points if he started off as a walk-on. More bonus points if he returned home to coach.]
MNW: Let’s see...in-state kid...overachieved...no stars...returned home to coach...
Nah, none come to mind.
Here’s a working theory* on the wisconsin defense that I made up this morning: When your run offense is THAT good, your defense necessarily improves to match it. With the wisconsin 3-4, particularly compared to the other 3-4 Big Ten defenses we think of—hiya, Huskers!—you obviously start with coaching. You mention how well the front 3 covers those gaps, though, and I think that’s where the wisconsin offense plays a role. When you’ve got some already-heady players (and they’ve recruiting/coached well!) seeing the best of the best in the gaps of the 3-4 from a rushing offense that knows how to give you a good matchup, maybe that’s part of the secret sauce in madison.
*Be honest: You could have read that scorching take in a Potrykus column and you wouldn’t have batted an eye.
Outside of the 1995 Wildcats defense, which I didn’t watch because (1) I was 5, and (2) Minnesota, we honestly might have just lived through the salad days of the Northwestern defense. And the fondness that I feel—while I loved Anthony Walker flying around the middle of the field and high-motor Joe Gaziano murderdeathkilling Brian Lewerke
—part of the beauty of those Hankwitz-era Northwestern defenses was just that they played stout, disciplined defense. Last year’s secondary that made things a living hell for opposing offenses was a blast, too: Brandon Joseph’s All-American frosh campaign with 6 picks, inveterate shittalker Greg Newsome II, who went in the first round of the NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns. In the last few years some of those DBs have been just great, from Godwin Igwebuike to Matthew Harris, who last made sure this happened:
I’ve lost track of what I was doing, because Paul Chryst’s little angry spike of his headphones and the bemused/angry suburban dad look brings me so much joy.
- I don’t know? Big Midwestern boys run good, tackle hard, stop ball.
- The early aughts had a bunch Maryland teams with great defenses. EJ Henderson, D’qwell Jackson, Madieu Williams, Josh Wilson, and everyone’s favorite commentator Dominique Foxworth are names that come to mind. We were also playing those vastly inferior ACC offenses, sooooo...
- I would have to think a lot of Maryland fans would answer this question with Steve Suter. Perhaps the best punt returner in Maryland history (no offense to Will Likely). I doubt he was a walk-on though, I was like 10, give me a break.
- I assume it's a little bit of both, but there is always an advantage in running something unique compared to the teams you're playing. I think Wisconsin could absolutely run 4 if they wanted, but why would they? 3-4 clearly works. Why does it work? Because they want it to and train to. Same thing for like Triple Option teams.
- Well not that I remember, but at the height of Greg Schiano's first tenure we had a legitimately intimidating defense. Some readers remember that. I guess last year our forced turnovers were something to enjoy.
- I know there's someone...
- I don’t know. Lots of things work if the players and coaching are good.
- The mid 1993 and 1995 Illinois defenses were good, but 1994 was a juggernaut (and a 3-4). Against the 7th toughest schedule in the nation, they only allowed 13.0 ppg, fourth in the country. They finished the season ranked 10th in SRS and went to a NY6 Bowl......
Ok, they didn’t, but they should have. The tenth best team in the country finished 7-5 by winning 7 games by an average margin of 25 points (incl. @ osu by 14, iowa by 40, and Mizzou 42-0) and losing five games by an average margin of 4 points. They came up 8 inches short of winning one game on the last play. 7 of the defense starters would play in the NFL. All four LBs were drafted and combined for 30 years, 1800 tackles, 170 sacks. Back-to-back Butkus award winners. A strong safety nicknamed the Human Hand Grenade because he was always blowing stuff up (Tyrone Washington would’ve been ejected from every game he played had targeting been a thing in 1994)
The 1994 team would’ve destroyed the 2001 and 2007 teams that accomplished more, but Lou Tepper is gonna Lou Tepper and Illinois is gonna Illinois.
3. I love walkons. Clayton Fejedelem played two years of NAIA football, then decided to walkon at Illinois. Despite the coaching of Tim Beckman, he developed into a starting safety that led the B1G in tackles his senior year. Once again, overlooked and not drafted until the 7th round, he went on to become a starter for the Bengals and then signed a $8.55M contract with Miami. Not bad for a kid from Lemont who played NAIA out of high school.
- The 3-4 is amazing. I have said on many occasions that the 3-4 is as close to a defensive silver bullet as you’ll find in college football. Since Wisconsin switched to it, they’ve been a top 10 defense nationally more than they haven’t, probably. App State runs a 3-4 as well, and it’s likewise been very, very good on defense. The 3-4 just plain works.
- Those days are now, and you can really just pick a random linebacker and expect that he’s been tearing stuff up recently, or still is currently. I really liked Andrew Van Ginkel because of his hair, is that a good enough reason?
- My school’s Jim Leonhard is Jim Leonhard. Backup would be the O Lineman who started his career in D3, came to Wisconsin, and was later drafted in the 1st (2nd? 3rd?) round. I don’t remember his name, but I’m sure someone else does.
RU in VA:
- The 3-4 is a lie. When you run with three down lineman and put a linebacker over the end, you know what that creates? A 4-3. I think they just can scheme a ton easier against B1G West opponents. 6 other vanilla-ass offenses that are easy to overmatch and don’t require the type of pseudo-coverage in the mid range space (5-15 yard box) that an Indiana or Ohio State will require you to. Wisco can hire big farm boys that run 4.7s to play LB. Done.
3. Whoooo... man. I guess I’d have to go with Gary Nova. Hometown talent, most successful QB of the past 10 years, sweet and unsweet nicknames, now coaches high level high school ball in North Jersey. No one really thought he’d be any decent - just another 6 foot tall kid from a random Catholic high school powerhouse - who would’ve thought he’d give the old Jersey hello ,.|.. ,.|.. to Frank Clark to get Rutgers’ first B1G win.
Thumpasaurus: The base 3-4 is particularly effective against the 3 yard and a cloud of dust ethos that was pervasive in the Big Ten until the last ten or so years. That helped Wisconsin to establish itself as a consistently above average defensive team, which of course bolstered their reputation as a developer of talent and so forth. There’s a lot to be said about finding a basic concept that works and sticking with it. Obviously, you have to be successful to keep doing this, but everyone who wants to go play college football knows what Wisconsin’s defense does now. They’ve been able to consistently put beefy men who can hold their own in the middle of that 3-4 which has allowed linebackers to star.
However, when you’re a team from the state of Wisconsin and you run the 3-4, but you don’t have inside linebackers that can stuff ballcarriers behind the line or cover tight ends, and your D linemen aren’t quite big or skilled enough to eat up all of the blockers, well, then you’d better hope you have an incredible defensive backfield because the second you don’t, not even the greatest quarterback to ever play the game will be able to win you a conference championship.
Dom Capers was washed up by 2013, AJ Hawk only stayed as healthy as he did because he was a master at finding the lead blocker and getting pushed away from where heavy contact was and I barely even remember who they had at defensive end from 2011 through 2019.