As the University of Wisconsin made preparations to play at Brigham Young for the first time in history, a panic ran through a large crowd of Badger fans planning to make the trip: “Where are we gonna’ get our beer?” Brigham Young, of course, is sponsored by the Church of the Latter Days Saints, which shuns alcohol, and not until morning deejays in Madison reminded their listeners, “You can buy beer in Provo,” were the worst fears dashed away.
Beer is big in Wisconsin – are you kidding, with Milwaukee just down the road -- but the better fact is that Camp Randall, where Wisconsin plays its home games, is one of the most famously-raucous stadiums in the country.
Visiting teams hate it and, don’t worry, the Badgers fans are every bit as snarly as the prison guards who once kept Confederate POWs at the site. Some in the Big Ten believe it is a prerequisite before graduation that students must be arrested there.
Wisconsin was ranked 10th in the nation last week, so a huge crowd followed the team to Utah and, since hardly a one had ever attended a game with a fan base that doesn’t swill down beer by the gallon bucket, they had no idea what to suspect. As one Badger would later say with a smile, “It was like we had stepped into the Twilight Zone.”
As writer Jody Genessy pointed out the next day in the Deseret News, “Wisconsin killed BYU on the football field but BYU fans killed Wisconsin … with a plethora of kindness.”
Seriously, it’s the talk of college football around the country, how BYU bent over backwards to welcome the Wisconsin fans. One newspaper headline read, “Kindness Finally Wins!”
How’s this: early last week a caller from Provo called a restaurant in Madison asking how Badgers liked their bratwurst. “I hate to tell you this because I know you don’t drink, but we boil it in beer.” The reply? “That’s what we need to know … give us the recipe … we aren’t going to drink it but we can sure cook with it.”
This shouldn’t be a news story but at a time when our nation’s angst meter is in the red, Provo’s hospitality and the BYU fans bowled Wisconsin over. There are two bars in Provo. At ABG’s Libation Emporium they usually don’t open until 11 a.m. but, for Wisconsin, they unlocked at 8 a.m. and by 10 o’clock Saturday morning every seat was taken. Downtown Provo was a sea of red and white.
What was the pre-game like? “It was New Year’s Eve … St. Patrick’s Day. Everywhere is crammed but the Wisconsin people were really nice, too … it was a super-fun day,” said a bartender. “We didn’t run out of anything except Pabst’s but, man, these people will drink some beer!”
That’s when two Badgers who live in Idaho showed up dressed like LDS missionaries. Black pants, white shirts, skinny ties and bicycle helmets. They even had name tags that read, instead of Latter Day Saints, “The University of Wisconsin.”
As you might guess, they were mobbed by the BYU fans but instead of brawling with “Elder Bucky” and “Sister Becky,” the fans found it hysterical and lined up to have pictures made with the two. As “Sister Becky” told everybody, “We are going to convert some Wisconsin fans today.” (There were numerous requests for the ‘missionaries’ to be pictured with their beers.)
The weather perfect, the game got off to a bumpy start when a sky-diver came in a little too hot and bounced off a wall at Edwards Stadium. Then Wisconsin quarterback A Hornbook put on a clinic, completing 18-of-19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The Badgers won easily, 40-6, but there was no gloating or mockery.
During the third quarter, free ice cream from the BYU Dairy was passed out to the totally-stunned Wisconsin fans and every Badger was telling about how many times each had been stopped and welcomed to BYU. “These people take nice to a new level. I’ve never seen anything like it … and I have never been treated so kindly at any football stadium.”
Dieter Uchtdorf, the president of the Latter Day Saints, attended the game and cheerfully approached a number of Wisconsin fans. David Esser, who has lived in Utah for 12 years after leaving Wisconsin, admitted the two crowds at BYU and Camp Randall are “polar opposites” but said of the Badgers, “They are good hearted, good religious people, too, but they like to have fun and have their beer.
“It’s just a different take on it, a different way to do it,” he added.
Kindness will always be undefeated.