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Badger Fans, a Breed Apart, Arrive With Rosy Outlook

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Delivered from frozen Wisconsin to the land of sun and sand, Barb Macht and Claudia Blum were nothing if not grateful.

The two Madison elementary school teachers, who wore big Ws on their sweat shirts, their lapels and their earlobes, warmly thanked the bus driver who picked them up at the airport and the bellboy who toted their luggage into the Hyatt Hotel. They thanked the people on the street who ogled their handmade Bucky Badger Rose Bowl Coats and they thanked the waitress at Casey’s, a Downtown watering hole with a special Badger-friendly item on its menu: Cheddar cheese omelets.

“People look at us like, ‘What do you want? ' But we’re just nice,” Blum explained, just a few hours after arriving in Los Angeles for the first time. “We’re from Wisconsin.”

On Thursday, however, as Blum, Macht and hundreds of other rabid football fans still waited to receive their prepaid Rose Bowl tickets, that niceness showed signs of wearing thin. This was their first Rose Bowl in 31 years but--thanks to some overeager ticket brokers who had oversold the game--it looked as if some people who paid for tickets might not get them.

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“L.A. has seen nothing until they’ve seen Badger fans who’ve been screwed,” warned Rick Olson, an optometrist from Oregon, Wis., who still clung to the belief that he’d get his ticket by kickoff time. Just to be safe, though, he was plotting ways to get into the stadium sans ticket. “We’re going to build a Trojan badger, climb into it and roll it onto the field. Or we’ll just try a class-action suit.”

They had come by the thousands, leaving behind their famed dairy farms, machine plants and breweries in towns like Green Bay, Oshkosh and Wauwatosa in hopes of seeing their beloved team walk all over UCLA. They had donned their proud apparel (anything red and white). They had hung banners from their hotel room balconies. They had shaved big Ws on the sides of their heads.

Now, after all that, some worried they might have been better off at home.

“If I have to watch it on TV, I could’ve done that in my living room, with the bathroom right down the hall,” said Pat Wall, a Madison resident and first-time visitor to Southern California.

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“And the refrigerator, too,” said his wife, Nancy.

Ticket agencies, like airlines, often sell more tickets than are available. It’s usually a harmless gamble because by game time, many people have changed their plans, leaving plenty of seats to go around. But there is nothing usual about this game. And there is nothing usual about Badger fans.

These are the people who, in the 1970s, kept their team in the nation’s top 10 for attendance during eight losing seasons. These are the people who remain in the stands for 45 minutes after a game to watch the Wisconsin Badger Marching Band’s post-game show (an event known affectionately as the “Fifth Quarter”). These fans are loyal, stubborn and hungry for good play.

“We’re a breed apart,” said Tony Parrish, a retired radio and television announcer who graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1938. His own story proved his point.

The last time the Badgers played in the Rose Bowl, in 1963, Parrish was there to see them lose to USC’s Trojans. Since then, the 76-year-old Madison resident has lost his sight. But he still attends every Badgers home game and “as many of the out-of-town games as my pocketbook can afford.” He said he wouldn’t miss the Bruins-Badgers faceoff for anything.

“I’m about five feet off the ground like everybody else,” he said as he headed to a pep rally outside his Century City hotel. “I’ll bring my headset as I do to all the home games in Madison. What I don’t get from people sitting next to me I’ll get from the announcer.”

Not all Wisconsinites are expected to love Los Angeles. Comedian Jeff Cesario, a ’75 Wisconsin graduate who has lived in Encino for 10 years, predicted that many so-called cheeseheads will be baffled by everything from “positive wind chill factor” to freeway backup.

“Things still work in Wisconsin, so when they come out here where society is completely dysfunctional, they stand in amazement,” Cesario said. “When they’re stuck in traffic, they think there’s a reason. You’ll see them craning their necks saying, ‘Where’s the jackknifed semi?’ ”

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And that’s not the only way to spot a Badger, Cesario said. The currently stylish grunge look--flannel shirts, work boots--has been popular in Wisconsin for 40 years, he said. So fashion-wise, at least, many will blend in. The Badgers’ behavior, however, will set them apart.

“They’ll be the ones helping people on the side of the highway. Wisconsin people still carry jumper cables, even when they travel,” he said. “You’ll probably see them at sushi bars too, staring in fear, trying to find the fry vat. Or standing on the banks of the L.A. River, asking, ‘How do you cast over the fence? How do you launch?’ ”

For their part, Macht and Blum were easy to spot. Thrilled to have left subfreezing temperatures behind, the elementary schoolteachers were taking every opportunity to wear shorts. Tickets or no tickets, they said, they were determined to make the best of Los Angeles. Given the Badgers’ track record, they said, it was hard to know when they’d have the excuse to visit again.

“We’d like to come back next year,” Macht said, “but we’re more reasonable than that.”


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