Green Bay, Wis. — After Saturday’s morning practice in Green Bay, Dare Ogunbowale switched out his No. 23 jersey for one with the No. 12 embroidered on it. He wasn’t taking after fellow running back Corey Clement, who has been fluctuating between No. 6 and No. 24 throughout the spring, but rather was expressing his deep and profound love for the Green Bay Packers. His cardinal and white uniform replaced with a white, green and gold one, Ogunbowale proudly displayed his affinity for Aaron Rodgers during the Badgers’ tour of the Packers Hall of Fame at Lambeau Field following their morning session at The Don Hutson Center.
A Milwaukee native, Ogunbowale has been a Packer fan his entire life, so the opportunity to practice in Green Bay’s facilities, test out his Lambeau Leap ability and check out the newly renovated Packers Hall of Fame left the redshirt senior’s eyes sparkling Saturday afternoon.
“It’s awesome, man, growing up a Packer fan and always having—I had a Dorsey Levens jersey, a Charles Woodson jersey,” Ogunbowale said. “Been a Packer fan my whole life and having a chance to take the tour and practice at the stadium, it was a real, real nice experience.”
Ogunbowale, who also brought along his Jared Abbrederis Packers jersey for wide receiver Rob Wheelwright to wear, took his time perusing the Hall of Fame, walking alongside and chatting with offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph.
“Luckily I got to walk through with coach Rudolph, so he knew a little bit more about the history than I do, so he’s telling me about [Hall of Fame tackle Cub] Buck from 1920, obviously I don’t know much about him,” Ogunbowale said. “Seeing all the names from the past and seeing all the jerseys and how the cleats used to look and stuff like that, just seeing the evolution of the sport, that was probably the biggest thing that stood out to me.”
Head coach Paul Chryst informed the team about three weeks ago that they would possibly have the chance to move spring camp to the Packers’ facilities for a day, and then confirmed shortly thereafter they would be able to spend a weekend in Green Bay. The trip served as a bit of a getaway from the doldrums of spring practice, a chance for the team to familiarize itself with the setting ahead of its Sept. 3 season opener against LSU at Lambeau Field and an opportunity to establish concrete goals for the season ahead.
“I think it’s really important and I appreciate [Athletic Director Barry Alvarez] letting us do this,” Chryst said. “Last night was good to just get everyone together, have a good team meeting and cover some things we normally wouldn’t maybe in the routine of spring ball. I think guys just coming together a little bit, that’s real valuable.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Vince Biegel and Ogunbowale seized the opportunity to address the team Friday night once it arrived in Green Bay. Biegel stressed the importance of starting preparations for LSU immediately, saying it is vital to “lay that foundation to get ready for LSU and kind of set the tone for the rest of the 2016 Wisconsin Badgers season.” Getting away from Madison for a few days afforded Biegel a wider perspective on what his final season at Wisconsin means and why the opener at Lambeau Field is something that truly is special.
“It’s a about a two-hour and 45-minute bus ride to kind of go through the heart of Wisconsin [from Madison to Green Bay], and that’s the biggest thing is a lot of these guys, you play for a state,” Biegel said. “Even though you’re from out of state, to be able to take that ride, that two-hour and 45-minute ride and go through the heart of Wisconsin and kind of realize who you’re playing for, I think is special for some of those guys.”
The connection between the Badgers, Packers and the state as a whole was evident throughout UW’s visit. The Badgers toured the Packers Hall of Fame during normal businesses hours, with the two-story shrine still open to the public. Many fans clad in green and gold stopped to take photos with players, ask for autographs and watch the team meander through the Lambeau Field Atrium.
Offensive lineman Jon Dietzen, a native of Black Creek, Wis., a small community about 30 minutes from Green Bay, is very familiar with the family atmosphere that defines football fandom in Wisconsin.
“Just the atmosphere of this place is just unmatched,” Dietzen, who took his high school prom photos at Lambeau Field and even called then-head coach Gary Andersen from the stadium to commit to Wisconsin, said. “It’s truly a community here versus kind of being separated from everything. Anybody can come here and check all this stuff out, come get some food. So it’s just more of a community atmosphere and everybody kind of has a mutual agreement that this is a great place to be.”
While spending a day at Lambeau Field was surreal for many Badgers, the visit allowed UW to familiarize itself with the setting so it can focus squarely on LSU when the season rolls around.
“For me, it’s kind of becoming comfortable with the surrounding and then when it comes to September, it’s ‘Hey, I’ve been there, I’ve been there, I’ve done that,’ and you just go out there and play ball,” Biegel said.
“It’s so different,” Chryst added. “We’re not playing a game today. This is a historic place, and so I want our guys to be able to see it, and we don’t have a chance when we come back up to see the Hall of Fame, we don’t have a chance to pull our phones out and take pictures.”
The next time the Badgers visit Green Bay, the vibe will be tangibly different. It will be difficult for Wisconsin to appreciate the magnitude of Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day” being replaced by Michael Leckrone-directed renditions of “On, Wisconsin.” It won’t be able to stop and think about the notion that Lambeau’s green steel and brick infrastructure will be overridden by cardinal red and white. But for now, UW can bask in its memories from this past weekend and look forward to what will be a historic day at Lambeau Field Sept. 3.
“We have a lot of Wisconsin born, bred guys,” Biegel said. “I know a lot of them rooted for and cheered for the Green Bay Packers growing up. To be able to practice in some the facilities we had today, to be able to go through the Hall of Fame stuff, to kind of be around that presence, it’s something you’ve always dreamed about I guess one day. It’s something special and it’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”