Best College Sports Towns
For good teams, good times and good cheer, there's no place like the home of the Badgers
By Chris Ballard (from Sports Illustrated, September 16, 2003)
1. Madison, Wisconsin
A former Wisconsin governor once described Madison as 89.4 square miles "surrounded by reality," and he was right. What lies within that space, and specifically the 933 acres of the University of Wisconsin campus, is indeed surreal, a little universe in which red and white seem the only allowable colors and the TV ticker on the afternoon of Sept. 11 read airport closed...state capitol closed...no word yet on badgers game. If the question is, What makes a great college sports town? and the answer is Madison, then the next question, of course, is, What is Madison?
Madison is eating thick, red bratwursts and watching games on the twin 10-foot TVs at State Street Brats. It's doing the slow-motion wave, jumping around to House of Pain and taunting the underclassmen in Section O at Camp Randall, the giant horseshoe of a football stadium that holds 76,634 fans and rarely a soul less. It's sitting in a sunburst chair outside the Memorial Union, gazing across the expanse of Lake Mendota, listening to live music, drinking your favorite beverage and seeing the beautiful girl in front of you proudly sporting a red-and-white Bucky Badger tattoo on her shoulder. It's trading elbows with an offensive lineman in pickup hoops games at the SERF, the enormous campus gym honeycombed with so many basketball courts you can get disoriented trying to leave, leading to the happy realization that you might as well play another game.
It's walking over to the venerable Kollege Klub on a Saturday night to see the football players arrive in a flourish -- as Heisman winner Ron Dayne often did -- and then disappear into a bar as unpretentious as any you'll find on this good green earth, a place where a 16-ounce cup of Miller High Life is always $1 and the carousing is so enthusiastic that Playboy once deemed it one of the top places to meet Mr. or Miss Tonight. It is a national-title-winning Ultimate Frisbee program that takes over three fields on the far west side of campus. It is Badgers hockey fans who research the name of the mother of an opposing team's winger so as to better inform their heckling. It is no one caring if you have dreadlocks or wear Birkenstocks or sport six piercings or own the entire Star Trek DVD catalogue, for tolerance is the order of the town, and be you a nerd or a jock or a stoner or a neo-punk, you can all come together on game day.
It's over half the crowd staying after football games to engage in the Fifth Quarter, a choreographed, mass sing-and-dance-along in which students flail about as the band plays everything from polkas to fight songs. It's drinking Spotted Cow and having a beer gut as a matter of pride, whether you're a man or a woman. It is the crimson-and-white tie-dyed masses of the Grateful Red at the Kohl Center summoning un-Dead-like displays of roof-raising fervor during basketball games. It's bundling yourself in duffel-bag clothes and playing ice hockey on the lake in the winter and rowing on it in the summer.
But most of all, Madison is a town where everyone you meet is your friend as long as you know those nine magic words: How ya think the Badgers will do this year?