It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and so many students on the University of Wisconsin campus have departed in the direction of their respective hometowns or hunting grounds. But as the students travel to their family members awaiting with fat turkeys and begin to give thanks for everything they’re blessed with, try not to forget the many things to be thankful for as a Badger fan.
First and foremost, Badger fans can be thankful for their connection to one of the most diverse, yet extremely successful collegiate athletic programs in the nation. Whether it’s as a student, alumni or some other affiliation, you’ve done something right in your life by becoming a Badger fan.
And life has been good, hasn’t it? Anytime Wisconsinites can strip free for a week of that desolate Wisconsin winter weather, well that’s a thing of beauty. And if they can do it while watching their favorite college football team at the same time, well Heaven isn’t too far away. Hello, Pasedena, Calif.
Badger fans can be thankful for consecutive trips to lovely California and the Big Ten championships that have come along with them. Few things rival attending a Rose Bowl game and watching the sun set over the mountains and palm trees that line the stadium. Unfortunately, winning the Rose Bowl has escaped Wisconsin, but a victory is simply icing on the cake after a four-day long party fans have anticipated for nearly a month.
The national television scene, the all-day affair and the Parade of Roses are all a few sights that — this year — sit just one victory away from being graced with cardinal and white for a third-straight season. And all of this because Wisconsin has had an extremely successful football squad.
It’s because of those teams that Badger fans should be thankful for the expectations they rightfully can afford.
It has been awhile since there was little excitement to begin any season here in Madison. Preseason top 25 rankings used to represent a small victory for any Badgers program — football, basketball, hockey included. Nowadays, it’s a forgone conclusion that Wisconsin sports teams are ranked and an utter surprise when they aren’t.
Past successes and high expectations make seasons like this one for the football team — at 7-4 — feel like a grave disappointment.
Current students go crazy when they see the team every game day, and veteran fans have cherished Bucky long enough to remember Barry Alvarez telling them to pony up and buy season tickets when they could, “because before long they won’t be able to.” Expectations sure have changed since 1990.
The same goes for the women’s hockey team, which started this season ranked No. 2 in the nation. Most college hockey programs would be ecstatic with a record of 8-4-2, but here in Madison, near perfection is the measuring stick.
Badger fans should be thankful for these great sports teams that take the field under the Wisconsin name each season, but they can also be thankful for the makeup of those teams.
Montee Ball, Sam Dekker, Brianna Decker, etc.
It was during those Alvarez days Wisconsin saw its rise as a rushing powerhouse with Ron Dayne taking carries, breaking records and winning the Heisman Trophy. None of the many great Badger running backs to come since have rivaled Dayne closer than Ball has during his career.
Russell Wilson was great, but I must ask where Wisconsin would be without the 78 (and counting) touchdowns Ball has rushed for over his career? Certainly a step or two below where they currently stand.
Brianna Decker presents a similar case. Where would Wisconsin women’s hockey be without arguably the best player in the nation?
Or where can Wisconsin basketball go at the hand of Sam Dekker? I am certainly not unique in thinking Badger fans will be plenty thankful for having Dekker as this season — and his career — unfold at the Kohl Center.
But above all, where would Wisconsin athletics be without the coaches who recruit and bring together the teams that seem ever so dominant? There is plenty to be thankful for manning the sidelines for each Badger team.
You may not like how Bret Bielema manages his timeouts or his quarterbacks, but arguing with the success of the football program under his control is an unfair proclamation. Sure, Bielema isn’t the only reason Wisconsin has won back-to-back conference championships, but he is the first person who gets to hold the trophy when they do.
You may not like the boredom you experience when Bo Ryan’s team battles Penn State to a 49-40 basketball win. Sure, teams from the ACC top those totals by halftime, but arguing with an NCAA Tournament appearance in each season under Ryan as head coach makes that argument look like its made by, well, an idiot. They’ll be there again this year, and next year, and the year after that — like clockwork, or the mechanical “swing” offense.
Success as a coach at Wisconsin is personified by men’s cross country coach Mick Byrne, who recently won — count ‘em — his 22nd consecutive coach of the year award. Sure, he has only won five of those 22 at Wisconsin, but the only time he ever seems to lose, if at all, is at national tournaments. He even wins those, too, as he helped bring home a national championship in 2011.
Clearly, there is plenty to be thankful for this holiday, both at home and in Madison (for some lucky people that’s the same place). But the long line of holidays has just begun.
As we approach the holidays best known for receiving gifts and celebration, maybe all these things Badger fans are thankful for will help bring them a few presents come Christmas time. I’m looking at you, football team.