A little Wisconsin football history for you:
The Badgers used to really suck.
Tickets to a Wisconsin game were as sought after as a communicable disease. People would leave unsold Badger tickets on car windshields. Shamed football players shielded their letter jackets from view. The late eighties officially materialized Wisconsin’s tradition of being a doormat.
The program needed a major facelift, and the leaders at UW knew it. That is when Barry Alvarez strolled in as Wisconsin’s new head coach. Confidence. Toughness. Swagger. Adjectives that Badger football lacked, but that Alvarez had packed in his suitcase.
A handful of Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships later, the Badgers have become a consistent winner. Alvarez is now the athletic director helping to maintain this success.
I share this history because today’s 61-0 Wisconsin victory over CMU should not be taken for granted. There was a time when fans would come more for the band than the team, which made the retirement of its longtime band director such a momentous shift.
For the last 50 years, legendary UW band director Mike Leckrone held the baton. Success on the football field was meager at best when he arrived in 1969, and he had many years of futility ahead. As a result, he made the band a focal point at Camp Randall, and his presence on gamedays had become iconic. As Badger football grew to match the success of the band, gamedays in Madison became a complete package, and Wisconsin fans had good reason to feel spoiled.
Mike Leckrone retired in the spring, and Wisconsin hired on the talented Dr. Corey Pompey. As the game versus Central Michigan approached, anxious fans packed the Union South terrace for the pregame concert and to experience the first performance of the UW band under new leadership.
No one looked disappointed.
Dr. Pompey’s energy and enthusiasm immediately took affect on the players and onlookers as “On Wisconsin” flooded the warm September air. His perfect blend of maintaining tradition while weaving in his exuberant style gave everyone the sense that this beloved part of gamedays was in good hands.
The show moved over to Camp Randall Stadium where QB Jack Coan, WR Quintez Cephus, and RB Jonathan Taylor took center stage. The Badgers went on to “jump around” their opponent, thus slaughtering the visitors from Mount Pleasant.
Winning so convincingly wasn’t always the case in Madison, which forced Badger fans to find traditions that kept gamedays a worthwhile endeavor. The pregame band concert and postgame 5th quarter were a part of this recipe. With Mike Leckrone in retirement, it’s good to see that the Wisconsin experience will continue to keep in rhythm.