Camp Randall Stadium, like many of the other great venues in college football, desperately missed a key element during the 2020 season: a real crowd.
For the first time in most of the Badger players' lives, they were running out of a tunnel and looking up to see empty bleachers surrounding them, only hearing the voices of their fellow teammates and the pumped-in crowd noise as they took the field.
The sixth-ranked college football atmosphere in the NCAA, according to 247Sports, lacked the luster it typically brought week in and week out in previous years.
"It really messed us up," senior cornerback Faion Hicks said at Big Ten Football Media Days about playing in an empty stadium last season, "[having the fans back] is going to mean a lot. I can't wait."
Whether you're an incoming freshman, a returning sophomore or an upperclassman who just forgot what it's like to be in Area Red as the Badgers beat up on the Big Ten West, here's a guide to what it will (hopefully) be like again on fall Saturdays in sections I-P:
The chances of most of the readers of this article getting to the game before kickoff, or even the second quarter, are minimal at best. However, if you do decide to get to CRS bright and early before the 11 a.m. kickoff, you'll get to see some of my favorite parts of a Badger gameday.
First off, you'll get to watch the best marching band in the country (subjectively) perform their signature run-on performance. Led by Corey Pompey — starting his third season as the UW Marching Band band director — the Badger Band runs out of the tunnel, filling up the first 30 yards of the south side of the field. The band members then march around in their trademark "stop at the top" high step playing "On Wisconsin," a sneak peek of their halftime show, and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
After the band has finished their routine and moved to create a long tunnel for the football team, the pregame hype video plays — a video that admittedly made me tear up just now as I saw it for the first time in two years. Playing U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" in the background, the video displays great triumphs of past Badger teams before turning the music down to hear iconic quotes and play calls. From former head coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez's "You better get season tickets right now because before long, you probably won't be able to," to Matt Lepay's "And this game is underway with a bang!" call, the video shows newer and newer clips before showcasing highlights from the current team as they take the field.
Once the stretches, coin flip, and all the other pregame formalities have finished, get your keys out or your shoes off because it's time for the opening kickoff. If Wisconsin has the ball, get ready for a long, methodical drive with plenty of runs and hopefully an eventual score. The important things to remember during the Badgers' possessions are the iconic "First and teeeeeeeeeeen, Wisconsin" after every first down, the "bullshit" chants during bad calls, and to go ballistic when the team finally gets into the endzone.
Whether you like it or not, this is the time most of you students will be showing up to the game. When you do finally show up, you'll find yourself being "seated" by security in the order you enter the stadium, and you'll take your place atop the bleachers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends and fellow classmates. After entering, you'll likely look over your shoulder to see the score on the jumbotron and smile in joy as Wisconsin has taken a monstrous 7-0 lead (hopefully) after 25 minutes of play. Now that you're here, make up for the missed time by cheering twice as loud for the defense, headed by legendary defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and led on the field by lineman Keeanu Benton, linebacker Jack Sanborn, the aforementioned Faoin Hicks and safeties Collin Wilder and Scott Nelson.
Halftime will be the only time during the game where it's common ground to be sitting. As soon as the whistle blows to end the first 30 minutes of play, the entire student section hops off the bleachers and takes a seat for the first time all game. If you think this break in football action is a good time to get food or use the bathroom, congrats, you've had the exact same idea as about 80,000 other individuals within the stadium. Leave your seat, and you'll be watching the start of the third quarter from the bathroom line. If you needed another reason to stay in your seat during the 15-minute intermission, the Wisconsin Marching Band provides that reason, reentering the field of play for their full halftime performance. Now that you've given your legs a rest from standing, get the hell back up for the third quarter.
The student section should be finally full by this point, so get ready for the complete Area Red experience. The first thing to get ready for now is the chants the students love, and everybody else hates. If you are dumb enough to come into the student section wearing the opposing team colors, you can expect about 14,000 students making you wish you didn't. It starts with a handful of students, but eventually, the entire section will be pointing at you and chanting "asshole" on repeat, spotlighting you as an idiot with no regard for your safety.
The swear words don't end there, though. I know, who would've thought that a bunch of 18 to 22-year-olds who have likely been drinking would have such potty mouths?!
Next up is the infamous "Eat Shit, Fuck You" chant between the two halves of the student section. It is exactly what you think. Instead of teaming up to yell profanities at the opposing team, half of the student section yells "Eat shit" at the other half who, of course, retorts with a nice and solid "Fuck you" back at them. Despite the university's best efforts to fade out this chant, it is too beloved by the students to ever go away and has become one of the staples of the stadium.
Hopefully, you haven't wasted all your energy yet because we're just getting started.
Jumping ahead to the end of the quarter, we have what everybody's been waiting for… THE GREAT STUDENT SECTION RACE. Oh… were you expecting something else? Not yet; we're getting to that.
The Great Student Section Race is possibly the funniest piece of the Wisconsin gameday. Not because the video is overtly hilarious — though I do always love cheering on my animated letter and booing if another section wins — but rather because EVERYBODY is getting ready for Jump Around just to have to wait for eight differently-colored letters with faces, arms, and legs racing each other on the jumbotron. Looking around the stadium, you'll see kids' faces light up, parents reluctantly start standing up, and even opposing players look up at the board for Jump Around and then let out a disappointed sigh when they realize it's not that time yet.
Okay, now that the race is over, it's finally time for the best tradition in college football, Jump Around. House of Pain's one hit (sorry guys, it's the truth) plays over the loudspeaker, and the whole stadium starts rocking. No seriously, the stadium shakes from the jumping. You know a tradition really is something special when even a team that's getting beat joins in.
Hopefully, by this time, the game is already wrapped up, and you can sit back and enjoy a pleasant and stress-free final 15 minutes. But, of course, with a team that is not known for scoring in high amounts, there's a chance the Badgers haven't put the game beyond all doubt just yet. If that's the case, turn the volume up to 11 because the team will need as much support from their students as possible. Especially because, admittedly, there will be a portion that will have left after Jump Around. Usually, my personal favorite Badger football tradition occurs during this quarter: the singing of The Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup." The stadium plays the opening chorus and the first verse before cutting the audio and letting the crowd take over. Then, led by the students, the fans sing in unison the second chorus of the hit song in a wonderfully wholesome bonding experience between the people attending the school and those paying their tuition.
That's right math, you can suck it; we've got five quarters at Camp Randall. Win or lose, the Badger Band takes the field for the final time of the day and just has fun out there. The quarter starts with a formal run-on and rendition of "Varsity," the University of Wisconsin-Madison's alma mater song. Those still left in attendance stand up, wrap their arms around each other, and sway back and forth as they belt the lyrics. From there, the songs become much less formal as the band plays everything from "The Chicken Dance" to "Time Warp" to "Swingtown," as they run freely around the field, singing, dancing and just having a blast celebrating another successful gameday.
So, that's what you need to know before the Week 1 meeting when Wisconsin plays host to Penn State on Sept. 4. Remember, many people are attending a sporting event for the first time in two years, so it may take a while for everybody to get back in the right groove for a gameday. No matter what happens though, remember to have fun, make good choices and cheer loudly for the Badgers as the team attempts to get back to the dominance we've come to expect. Welcome back fans, let's show the world why Madison, Wisconsin is one of the best college towns in the nation.