The vibe, the ambiance, the mystique. Call it what you may, but this place is special.
Madison, quite simply, has "it."
In my four years as an undergraduate here at the University of Wisconsin, I've tried to find the proper word to describe the "it" that friends, family and peers vivaciously describe whenever they step foot on campus. However, discovering a single, all-encompassing word has proven to be elusive. I've reconciled this failure with myself by now.
To epitomize Madison in a single word wouldn't be doing it justice, so I'll settle for saying that the greatest college sports town has "it" without any elaboration.
Since I'm writing my final piece for B5Q as an undergraduate here at UW, I feel compelled to talk not about a specific team or player, but about the university and its athletics as a whole.
I hope to continue contributing to this exceptional blog long after I sit on Lincoln's lap next week, but for now, let us reflect.
What sets Madison apart as a truly unparalleled college town is that is has something to offer for everyone. Sure, we're all sports nuts here at B5Q and I'd venture to say a majority of students and alumni alike have an immense emotional investment in Badger sports. But not everybody does.
Our university has an eclectic crowd, and I think that's something to cherish. That intellectual diversity is what best helps to cultivate the "it" that so many places covet.
Now having said that there is something here for everyone, I'll readily profess that the athletic culture at UW is what sits as the foundation for that "it" to grow and prosper.
The moments you can use to describe the sports scene at UW during my four years are endless, but in fear of turning this column into a never-ending ramble, here's my attempt to name some of the best. I'll give my top 5:
5. Wisconsin beats Michigan in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic
There weren't many specific moments that make this game stand out, but it was my first introduction to the world of Badger hockey. Being from Iowa, where most people don't even know how to properly lace up a skate, I was unaware of the enormous hockey presence here until I went to the outdoor game my freshman year. 55,000 screaming fans wore the cardinal and white proudly that day, and all braved the frigid sub-20s temperatures like it was no big deal. That was awesome.
4. The Jump Around
How generic, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah -- I had to throw it on the list somehow. After all, it was ranked the No. 1 college football tradition by Sports Illustrated last year, so it better be on the list. The chaos that ensues after the student section race finishes is indescribable to the naïve fan or observer. That exhilaration between the third and fourth quarters might be the single feeling I'll miss most about Badger football.
3. Nortman's fake punt and run
October 23, 2010 is a day I'll never personally forget. I had grown up a passionate Iowa Hawkeye fan, but this date marked the first time I walked back into Kinnick Stadium wholeheartedly devoted to the enemy.
Wisconsin trailed 30-24 with six minutes remaining and faced a 4th-and-4 from its own 26-yard line. The game seemed to be fading out of reach, but then... BAM! The Badgers pulled the ultimate fast one on the Hawks, sending punter Brad Nortman straight up the middle for a 17-yard scamper and a "First and 10, Wisconsin!" The Badgers then drove straight down the field and scored on a spectacular touchdown run by Montee Ball, a seldom-used running back who hadn't played the week before against Ohio State. What an illustrious career that guy would go on to have.
That win in Iowa City cemented Wisconsin as the favorite to head to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl in 2010. It also set off an unprecedented three-year run for Badger football and it proved to me that I had officially converted to a diehard-never again would I bleed anything but red.
2. Ben Brust with "The Shot"
I have to admit, this was hard not to place at the top of my list -- I was actually announcing the game for WSUM, Madison Student Radio with my B5Q colleague, Nathan Palm. Having the opportunity to call that buzzer-beater at the end of regulation will be an experience I carry with me forever.
The pandemonium that struck the Kohl Center that Saturday afternoon was just stunning. Wisconsin had played okay all game, but kept finding ways to hang around with the far more talented Wolverines. The fact Michigan almost went on to almost win the national championship this season makes Brust's shot even more special.
I swore I've never heard a sporting venue get that loud and that electric so quickly. Oh wait...
1. David Gilreath takes it to the house
There is really no need to describe the scene or how I felt about the play. You all experienced it.
Being in the raucous student section for the opening kick-off return against top-ranked Ohio State was legitimately mind-boggling and the palpable buzz that followed Gilreath's magic will go with me to the grave.
In all honesty, that one moment in October defines the "it" I've tried so hard to describe.
A couple Badger football stand-outs will run with the Wisconsin track team this weekend.
Brian Bennett of ESPN.com names his two most indispensable players for Wisconsin football. The second name is a bit surprising.