Last Saturday's Homecoming throttling of Northwestern was my first game in Camp Randall Stadium as an official Badger alumnus, and I must say, it was truly a surreal experience.
The word "surreal" is overused in my estimation -- we use it to describe too wide an array of human emotion and often use it out of our own laziness and unwillingness to tap into the recesses of our brain and find a word more appropriate.
But Saturday was surreal; surreal to the point of unexplainable, really.
I had known that my first trip back to Madison post-college would be filled with a mixture of emotions. I was beyond excited to reconnect with friends I hadn't seen for a few months, but also sentimental in wanting to take in many of the sites, sounds and smells I'd grown to love during my four years in a place I called home.
Finding that balance was difficult, but I did my best to enjoy the adrenaline high of a Badgers win and also temper that high with a recognition that I won't be back for awhile. Knowing that in the years ahead I'll likely only get to one Wisconsin home game per season brings with it a ton of perspective, the main one being: we're lucky.
I know that alumni at most universities will tell you how incredible their experiences were at their schools and all that jazz, but I promise they don't have what we do.
Madison was bustling Saturday with beer flowing and brats grilling. Each beer tasted a little better than I remembered, as did each brat. Maybe it's because I had the agenda to enjoy and not the sophomoric agenda to ratchet up my buzz, as was too often the case during my college days in hindsight.
Everything about my gameday experience felt a little different than it used to. I couldn't help but notice how picturesque the trees were that lined the streets as I ventured from State Street Brats to the stadium. Have they always been that alluring?
Even my actual walk to the stadium was more enjoyable than before. Seeing everyone clad in their Badger red, be they ridiculous outfits or not, is something you can easily fail to cherish when you see it so often.
Walking through the Camp Randall Memorial Arch carried with it an aura I had failed to ever recognize. It's like crossing a threshold into a world of greater intensity once you near the entrance gates.
But enough with the sentimental imagery, let's get inside the stadium.
I decided it would be most fitting to buy myself a student section ticket, so I ventured to my seat in the lower half of section K, and the next three hours was simply as good as it gets.
Melvin Gordon lived up to his superstar billing every bit as much in person as we've all been witnessing through the tube. I've said it a few times now, but he needs even more touches. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has gotten into the habit of giving James White his token handful of carries each game, and they just feel like wasted plays. White is a good player and he can break big runs with great O-Line blocking, but Gordon can hit a homerun at any time. From a fan's perspective, that dimension of Gordon's game makes watching him a compelling spectacle -- if you turn your head for a second, you'll miss an 80-yard touchdown dash.
The front seven on the defensive side was special, and Dave Aranda's creativity was a marvel to watch from the stands. He put together a fantastic game plan, and Chris Borland and company executed their blitzes and pressures to perfection. When seven different players record sacks, you know you're in a groove. Holding a talented Northwestern team to just six points -- one coming off an emotionally draining loss or not -- is a feat you can hang your hat on. I have a feeling more performances like last Saturday's are on the horizon.
While being within the confines of Camp Randall, a few other things caught my eye away from the action between the white lines.
The new scoreboard is spectacular, and something you can't fully appreciate until it's right in front of your face. With three Rose Bowl appearances and a program on the serious rise comes a whole bunch of new opportunities that we should all appreciate while they last. I sure will.
The Jump Around was as fun as it always is, though it certainly seemed more difficult than I remembered. My quads failed the raucous test, and that was the only real disappointment of my day. That and I lost the student section race, something I have yet to win and probably never will.
After the Badgers finished off their 35-6 thrashing of the Wildcats, I stayed around for our blog's namesake, the great Fifth Quarter. Hooting and hollering in rhythm with thousands of other Badger fans is another thing you fail to savor as much as you should when you take part in it each week.
Long-winded prose has got me to this point, and game days will always carry with them a different feel for me from this point forward. However, the greatness of the experience will always remain the same.
There are many thousands of Wisconsin alumni out there that I think would voice a similar sentiment, and I consider myself truly lucky to merely be a face in the crowd.
More from Bucky's 5th Quarter:
- Wisconsin offensive review: Melvin Gordon, James White run wild on Illinois
- Wisconsin 56, Illinois 32: Dominant offensive performance carries Badgers
- Boston Blues: Badgers routed by Boston University, 7-3, in Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge
- Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel expected to miss time with ankle injury
- Beatdown in Beantown: No. 7 Boston College blows out No. 2 Wisconsin, 9-2
- #AskB5Q: On Chris Borland, Joe Mixon and Trendy