A Wisconsin grad, I spent this weekend in Green Bay for Wisconsin-LSU, and am still gathering my thoughts from a whirlwind of food, football, and beverages.
Three days later, it is still shocking that Wisconsin won that game. Wisconsin never wins that game. At least not recently, anyways. After a 13-0 lead in the second half turned into a 14-13 deficit following two untimely turnovers, I didn’t think there was any chance it would happen. Wisconsin never wins that game.
For a representative example, just look back to two years ago in Houston. Wisconsin held a 24-7 lead over LSU. Then, for reasons that Gary Andersen never really bothered to explain, Melvin Gordon stopped getting the ball, and everything was bad from there.
You can tell yourself going into a game that you are emotionally hedged, and will not let your team tear out your soul, throw it on the floor, and stomp on it. But once they have a multiple-score lead in the second half, you’ll break that promise every single time.
As I’ve written on many occasions, the whole construct of having a rooting interest in professional or amateur sports is irrational. You have to count on a series of mini victories rather than tabulating titles, or you’re in for a particularly miserable existence.
On this occasion, the mini victory was supposed to be the tailgate. I didn’t harbor any delusions that Wisconsin would defy the odds and win a game in which they were double-digit underdogs, but I love going anywhere in the state of Wisconsin particularly during the summer, and love the pageantry of football there anytime of the year.
I also love LSU fans. I traveled down to Tiger Stadium four years ago to see LSU face Alabama, and met a die hard LSU fan named Dennis on the flight down who invited me to a pig roast at his tailgate in an RV enclave. I’ve since met up with him a second time in Baton Rouge, last year at Alabama, and this past weekend in Green Bay.
Dennis and his friend Doug (and Doug’s family) rented a house literally across the street from Lambeau. When I told Dennis I was getting married this Fall, he relayed a condition that he set before his own marriage. “I told my wife that if things ever get tough financially and one month it comes down to paying the house note or paying for my LSU football tickets it won’t even be a question,” Dennis told me. “You can find another place to live, but if I lost my tickets I’d never be able to get them back.”
The tailgate at the house featured a fully-stocked beer fridge, and grilled sausages, boudin (pork rice sausage), chicken, duck breast, and quail (which I’ve never had before, and is quite tasty). My Wisconsin group contributed jalapeno cheddar and cajun brats from Brat Stop in Kenosha, mozzarella strings (basically longer, thinner string cheese), beer cheese and crackers, and cheese curds. The latter were a real delicacy.
The evening before, my buddy Matt and I had just about but not quite closed the bars in downtown Green Bay. We started off at Stadium View, switched to Anduzzi’s (where a really solid cover band called the Annex had the crowd moving), and then went to a country music dance bar called Stir-Ups, which was great. LSU and Wisconsin fans intermingled seamlessly throughout the evening, and, by my observation, the whole weekend.
When it finally came time for the game, my expectations were tempered. But then Wisconsin really out-schemed and outplayed LSU handily in the first half. I’d seen that script before, though. Three trips to the redzone and six points to show for it is not a recipe to beating the fifth-ranked team in the country.
When Wisconsin came out and added a touchdown in the second half was when I really started to get my hopes up. At this point, Leonard Fournette had looked pedestrian, LSU’s offense had zero rhythm, and Wisconsin was actually moving the ball on a Tiger defense of which 60 or 70% of the players will presumably be seen on Sundays. In particular, fabulous things seemed to happen anytime Bart Houston targeted junior tight end Troy Fumagalli.
When Wisconsin surrendered the lead following a WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING pick-six from Bart Houston (who otherwise from that throw and another pick in the red zone did a fantastic job managing the game) and a fumble, things felt really bleak. Wisconsin never wins that game.
Wisconsin eventually eked out a field goal drive, and from then on the defense — which lost star coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU this past offseason — bent but didn’t break, ultimately picking off LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to close it out. It finally sank in. My friend Ben and I were ecstatic. Wisconsin won that game.
Since the victory, it’s hard to make of what it means. Going into the game, Wisconsin was unranked. They’ve climbed all the way to no. 10 in the AP Poll, which admittedly seems like an overreaction, but is nevertheless indicative of the season now having an upside that didn’t seem plausible four days ago. They won’t face a better defense than LSU the rest of the way; they’ve got a hellacious schedule, but maybe it’s possible they make some noise in the Big Ten?
Whatever happens from here, this weekend was a whole lot of fun. Wisconsin and LSU fans fit well together. The series is now tied 1-1. A rubber match seems necessary. Unfortunately, however, my LSU season-ticketholder colleague Mike Shamburger informs me that this ain’t happening in the next decade unless it’s a bowl game, so I guess we gotta hope for that?