He normally sports a white sweater with a small motion “W” emblem on the left of his chest over a red turtleneck. To any Wisconsin hockey fan, he’s instantly recognizable.
He is Phil Dzick. Mostly known simply as “Phil,” he’s been leading cheers at Wisconsin men’s hockey games since 1981.
As a long-term student at UW from 1962 to 1969, Dzick was on campus during one of its most notorious times. Between protests against the Vietnam War, the Sterling Hall explosion and, according to Dzick, the unavoidable smell of tear gas hanging in the air, athletics were a nice escape.
Phil was admittedly was not a huge hockey follower as a student. During those years, Wisconsin hockey was in an abysmal rut.
“The first series [I went to], incidentally was North Dakota playing Wisconsin,” Dzick said, noting the irony in that the Badgers just swept the Fighting Sioux this past weekend. “I had no clue what the students were yelling. I was like, ‘Sieve? What is this?'”
“Wisconsin won both games. Next to the victory over Minnesota previously, I take it that was pretty much when Wisconsin stepped into the big time.”
In 1966, “Badger” Bob Johnson took over the program and initiated the rebirth of Wisconsin hockey. In the 1969-70 season, its first as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, UW made its way into the NCAA tournament.
Phil remembers the evolution of the no-name team into the legendary power it’s known as today.
“I drove out to Boston to watch the Badgers play against Denver in the consolation game in ’72,” Dzick said. “There were 1,000 Badger fans, probably give-or-take, and one person with a trumpet who had to persuade the security people to let him go out on the ice and play ‘Varsity.’ The Badgers lost, but Badger Bob came back out of the locker room and he said, ‘Next year, we’re coming back and we’re going to win.’ And they did.”
As a student, Phil was not the cheerleader fans know him to be today. He was just learning the game and coming to appreciate a program in the middle of its own renaissance.
The cheers didn’t come until a road trip to Potsdam, New York, in 1981.
“It was the year of the ‘back-door Badgers’ with Badger Bob and Wisconsin was playing Clarkson in a two-game, total goal series,” Dzick said. “There were probably 25 to 50 Badger fans among the several thousand Clarkson folks. I thought, our guys don’t even know we’re here, and all I could think of was an old cheer from my college days: a ‘Badgers’ spelling out. It worked.”
Dzick wasn’t the first to lead the crowd in cheers at hockey games, but after riling the few Badger fans in New York, he felt he needed to try it in Madison.
“I thought, well, it worked here, how would it work in our building? But there have been a lot of people over the years who have had roles like that. There was the score count – a guy at the Coliseum used to do that – there were a couple of guys who in the mean time had a winning net/losing net cheer.”
Thirty years later, Dzick can be found in the southeast corner of the Kohl Center, waiting to lead the entire arena in a multitude of cheers from “Let’s go red,” to a simple goal count. Rarely – if ever – does he miss a game.
Wisconsin athletics have a multitude of traditions, and Phil inadvertently has become one of them.
“We picked up a program in the early season,” Dzick said. “I was looking through it and there was a line in there talking about Badger traditions and it said, sieve chant, Phil, the 15 minutes of student dancing in the intermission. I thought that’s about as good of recognition as you can get because most people would say, ‘Who’s that?'”
Dzick never had any intention of becoming a part of Wisconsin lore. In fact, he’s even listed underneath Wisconsin traditions and folklore in game programs, right next to the sieve chant.
He’s the guy everyone in the Kohl Center calls for once UW nets another goal.
“I don’t do it because the camera is going to be on me,” Dzick said. “When the students call me out during the game, it’s like, well now we’re going to do something and there isn’t going to be a guy blathering on about some game we don’t care about or the family of the game – that’s all good stuff – but it doesn’t have anything to do with getting the crowd roused.”
As a link between the students and the rest of the Kohl Center, Phil’s cheers help bring the entire arena together, unifying them in a way not apparent in other sports.
At football games and basketball games, it’s rare to see the entire crowd chanting the same exact cheer in one unified voice. At hockey games, it’s rare for it not to happen.
Phil never meant to gain the fame he currently has – he just wanted to continue to rouse the crowd in support of one of his favorite Badger teams.
“There was a long time that nobody knew [who I was], but I didn’t care,” Dzick said. “I wasn’t doing it to be recognized. I was doing it cause it worked.”