Wisconsin Football: More Than a Game

Under Leckrone, the now-legendy Fifth Quarter was born, in which the band plays traditional school songs like "Varsity," "On, Wisconsin" and the "Bud Song" for up to an hour after the game. The performance is hardly limited to playing music, however. One of the band's trademarks is its interaction with the crowd. And during the Fifth Quarter, both the band and the fans dance their hearts out.

The Fifth Quarter was officially named in 1978, and its traditions have been passed down through the last three decades. About 10 years ago, according to Leckrone, any freshman who didn't know the rituals before they entered the university, were indoctrinated with them at a special orientation run by Leckrone before the first game.

"It's getting so a lot of the freshman know the songs before they get here," Leckrone said. "This year I was amazed. We just started the tunes and I didn't have to prompt them at all."

Wisconsin football mania has expanded beyond the confines of the university. The team is a matter of pride for all state residents, part of a tradition born of the same stuff that has inspired the fanaticism surrounding the Green Bay Packers.

Granted, while the Badgers have not reached that frenzied point of the Green Bay Packers, who sold out of season tickets in 1960, they are well on their way. This year, the Badgers sold out of season tickets before the first game of the season. Wisconsin has drawn a crowd of more than 70,000 fans to 78 consecutive home games, 68 of which have been sellouts, according to Doherty.

Badger fever reached such a frenzy among the student body last year that the university had to modify its ticket distribution policy.

"Last year you could get your ticket on Wednesday before the game," said Brian Leitzke, one of several students who dress up as the school's mascot, Bucky Badger. "People would sleep outside for a week in line in order to get front row tickets to the big game. Now they can't get tickets until 90 minutes before the game."

"Wisconsin fans have been through good and bad times," Leckrone said. "Right now we're going through some good times, but I hope they never take it for granted. I hope people don't get too used to winning and lose enthusiasm if we go through some hard times in the future."

Wisconsin was named as having the best football game-day atmosphere in the Big Ten Conference in this week's issue of "Sports Illustrated on Campus," and from my seat in Camp Randall, I couldn't imagine it dropping in the rankings any time soon.

My boyfriend, Gust, a 1991 alum, actually worried I had been robbed of the Wisconsin football experience because we attended such a thrilling game where Wisconsin defeated Michigan for the first time since 1994 in a down-to-the-wire 23-20 victory. The students were "too into the game," he said. They weren't "as rowdy" as usual.

Gust lost most of his Midwestern loyalties when he moved to New York right after college, trading in his Cubs T-shirts for the Mets and cheering for the Jets rather than the Bears. But last Saturday I witnessed how deep the Wisconsin blood runs in the veins during the Fifth Quarter when the band started playing "If You Want to Be a Badger," and Gust, tattoos and all, busted out the state dance -- the polka.

Next time we go back, I will know better and jump on the dance floor with him.

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