Growing up as a sports fan in New York, I pretty much had it all—historic franchises, arenas, rivalries and most importantly, fans sincerely obsessed with every part of it. Really the only thing the area lacked was a classic college sports experience. And now, after three and a half years in Madison, I feel fortunate to have been a part of this unique environment.
Making the transition from small high school to giant public university wasn't easy; it can be an overwhelming time with so many new responsibilities. But regardless, I felt a sense of ease walking into the Cardinal office my freshman year in Madison. It was because I felt confident the work could provide me with special opportunities I would have never been granted otherwise.
Some of my fondest memories working for the Cardinal will be with all the athletes I had the pleasure of meeting during my time here. People often underestimate the demands on student athletes and their ability to balance athletic, academic and social lives while showing patience with the media.
I hope UW is extremely proud of its athletes not only for their obvious on-field accomplishments but for their upstanding behavior as well. Former Badger forward Marcus Landry of the New York Knicks and offensive lineman Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns are true professionals in every sense of the word. They're competing at the professional level and when you speak with them you can tell that they're both respectful guys with genuine personalities.
Another special time was my trip to East Lansing, Mich., last year to cover the men's basketball team in their matchup against the Michigan State Spartans. We did the trip in 24 hours—I spent nearly 13 of those in a moving vehicle—but I also saw the Badgers play their tails off against an eventual runner-up national champion, witness a sweet basketball environment and saw Magic Johnson and his legendary 1979 squad honored at halftime, making it well worth the travel.
The memories go way beyond my work at the Cardinal. Just watching the Badgers compete with friends and family was great. There was the basketball team's first No. 1 ranking in school history and Kammron Taylor's last-second shot to beat the Spartans. The football team's 10-1 season with an impressive bowl win over Arkansas. Brian Butch's bank three-pointer against Indiana during Wisconsin's run to win the Big Ten Conference and Tournament championships. And even my most painful memory, a loss to Michigan: I watched from several rows behind the end zone at the Big House—an amazing experience and something I will never forget.
Then of course there's this column that I started almost a year ago. The freedom to write about any topic related to sports has been a real pleasure. There are many issues I didn't have time to address, but hopefully readers have enjoyed the material and getting real feedback from them was a huge thrill for me.
I'd like to thank everyone I've worked with at the Cardinal, it's been a pleasure working with you and I wish only the best for the future of the paper. Also, all of my friends who have been great supporters and valuable critics of my writing—you guys have always pushed me to give UW students a voice in the campus community. And lastly, my family, who are the biggest supporters of all. Especially my dad, who wholeheartedly passed on his love of sports to me—catching up with you on our favorite teams is always one of the best parts of my day.
In a couple of months from now it will be time for me to move on, graduating in an uncertain time for our country. But part of what keeps me going is excitement about the Badgers' future, particularly the UW football team, who started the season with low expectations and now has a potentially bright future. I envy all of you who get to watch them the next few years and hope to see many of you in Las Vegas and Madison in 2011.
As usual, this week went by alarmingly fast and sports were a big part of the mix—I rushed the court after a win over Duke and made my first trip to Lambeau Field. This quick passage of time is the reason why I've decided to give up my column, granting myself more time to cherish every moment I have left in my college career. So that's my final word of advice—take advantage of every opportunity you possibly can here, because we are all truly fortunate to live in one of the best college towns in America.
What memories will you take with you when you leave UW-Madison? E-mail Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.