The 12th man cannot run a cross pattern, cannot blitz, cannot make the option look like it was drawn up for them and them alone — heck the 12th man can’t even take to the field.
Even though the fans will not account for any of the X’s and O’s on a chalkboard, their participation is depended on for so much that, at times, they are one of the team’s best defenders. So far this season, opponents have only completed 32 percent of their third down conversions (14 of 44) on Camp Randall turf — thanks, in part, to the loudness of the Wisconsin fans.
While Camp Randall can cram over 76,000 fans in on game day, it is the student section that draws the most attention. There, actions range from yelling obscenities at each other or at opposing teams, attempting to send the wave around the stadium five consecutive times or jumping like mad between the third and forth quarters, which actually causes a rocking motion in the press box; and the students are by far the most decorated fans in attendance.
Of those thousands of students packing sections K-P, it is the ones in the front row that tend to be noticed first. The front row seats are not easy spots to come by. Yet, for the past two seasons, the same students can be seen gracing Row 6 of Section O and P. How, you wonder? Very simple — they work at it.
About eight years ago, while attending a game at Penn State, the UW athletic department took note of the exchange system used by the Nittany Lions for their student fans. PSU had issued coupons that could be grouped together and turned in for tickets before game day. Wisconsin liked the idea and decided to implement it here.
While extremely similar, there are two distinct differences between the systems. Penn State, trying to deter students from camping out overnight to get the best seats, has a lottery system in place that randomly assigns seats when the coupons are turned in. This system doesn’t allow the first people in line to necessarily get the best seats.
Wisconsin, however, does. If you were to walk past the Kohl Center sometime Wednesday before 1 p.m., you would notice a line of students from the window of Gate B running past the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion. In the front of the line will be the students that dub themselves the “Hardcore Football Fans,” or HCFF for short.
For the past two seasons these ten or so students have gone from trying to beat each other for the best seats to becoming close friends. While many things in the system have changed over the past couple of seasons, they remain a cornerstone in a setup arranged to best fit the fans. They have braved the cold, the rain, the odd looks and the losing. It didn’t matter last season that we gave up 63 points to Indiana in a humiliating loss; they were still there in the front of the line pumped for the next game.
While the ultimate purpose of waiting in line is to get the seats they desire, these fans do it just as much for the experience and friendships formed. They also take pride in the knowledge that they voluntarily show their support week in and week out, on and off the field. They expect more out of each other and the fans around them.
“I expect people to be there for the entire game — and that means before the national anthem,” said senior Brad Meier. “People need to cheer also. The front row is the one seen most often on television and in pictures; the people there need to be cheering a lot. Obviously, these expectations extend to all sections and all rows, but the front row gets the most exposure, so I think it needs more dedicated, and rowdy fans.”
One of the changes these fans have worked around is the switch from an 8 a.m. exchange to 1 p.m. exchange Wednesday. The athletic department, after talking with students and taking surveys, found students preferred a later exchange time so they wouldn’t have to miss as much class. When the window would open in the morning, students could be waiting for over an hour just to get near the window, and in the process, miss class. While those in the front of the line don’t necessarily agree with the change, it has ultimately benefited more students than not.
As most of their college careers begin to wind down (and in some cases already have), these fans are enjoying every moment of their time together.
When asked about her first time waiting in line for tickets, junior Tara Banaszek could only mutter, “It was damn cold.”
The rest of the group looked at each other and laughed.
“We do this because we love Badger football,” said senior Rajeev Chhabra.
And that is all that matters.