Happy Halloween, everybody.
Appropriately enough, Wisconsin is off to Evanston this week to face Northwestern. Having (fairly) successfully run the Michigan State (then No. 8)-Michigan (No. 4)-Ohio State (No. 2)-Iowa (lolz)-Nebraska (No. 7) gauntlet, the reward for the Badgers’ labors is a trip south to a place they haven’t won at since 1999.
Ryan Field has been a house of horrors for the Badgers over the past 17 years. Neither Bret Bielema nor Gary Andersen won at Northwestern. Lee Evans, Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, Jim Leonhard—they all came up short.
Despite the Wildcats’ early-season woes, this year’s iteration has improved significantly over the past few weeks and gave Ohio State a game last weekend in Columbus. This matchup is no laughing matter.
Looking ahead to Paul Chryst’s first foray into the unhallowed ground down there in northern Illinois, we acknowledge the challenge ahead and explore the possible reasons for the Badgers’ striking inability to win in Evanston.
Is Ryan Field built over an ancient badger burial ground?
Assuming someone with way too much time on their hands did not mess with the Wikipedia page, Ryan Field was built in 1926. At the time it was considered quite the gem, but reviews have been less than stellar over the past few years. In 1997, there was a controversial name change which saw the stadium renamed Ryan Stadium from Dyche Stadium when the Ryan family, who has been involved in a number of high-profile donations to Northwestern, dumped a ton of money into the stadium’s revision.
All of this, however, obscures the more important question: Was this stadium built over an ancient badger burial ground?
In 2005, the No. 14 Badgers lost to the unranked Wildcats 51-48. The Badgers gave up an astonishing 674 yards of offense to Northwestern, allowing running back Tyrell Sutton to gain 244 yards on the ground and score three touchdowns.
This horrorshow of an effort lends credence to the belief that something supernatural is in the works. While the Ryan Stadium wiki does not expressly mention the building of the stadium upon a grand historic badger burial ground, it also does not expressly mention that it was not built on such a site (#curiousomission). That said, the Badgers kind of owned the Wildcats from the late 1940s through the 1980s, so one would expect that a long-standing structural issue from the time the stadium was built would have perhaps raised its head well before this most recent spate of losses.
Is Ryan Field haunted by malevolent, anti-Wisconsin spirits?
In 2009, No. 16 Wisconsin trailed Northwestern late. After a big defensive stop, the Badgers were driving on the Wildcats only for John Clay to lose a fumble with 1:44 left on the clock to seal a Northwestern 33-31 victory.
I have seen some of the great supernatural sports movies of our day (see, e.g., here, and here). Though mostly baseball related, I have seen enough to know that when balls start bouncing around in strange and random ways, it is frequently the result of ghosts.
The Ryan Field wiki highlights the fact that the stadium was built with curved grandstands, ostensibly so that spectators could be closer to the field. I posit that it may actually have been designed to enhanced spectral activity à la 55 Central Park West in Ghostbusters.
Why this activity centers around Wisconsin-based failure is beyond me. Perhaps the ghost of Pappy Waldorf has a particular bone to pick with Glenn Thistlewaite over the latter’s move to Wisconsin in 1927 or some spectral pinochle game or something. Perhaps some thoughtless Badger fan backed over a poor wildcat leaving the parking lot after the 1999 win and the beast’s spirit roams the grounds, just waiting for Wisconsin’s semi-frequent return.
But it feels weird. And when it feels weird, that usually means ghosts.
Someone placed a curse on the Badgers.
In 2014, the No. 17 Badgers came to Evanston amid a bit of a quarterback controversy (ah, man). Joel Stave came on to replace an ineffective Tanner McEvoy before throwing three interceptions himself in route to a 20-14 loss.
In 2003, the Badgers were ranked No. 20 coming into the matchup with the Wildcats, only to fall 16-7. Quarterback Jim Sorgi was injured and running back Anthony Davis got injured in the first half. The big play of the game was a fake field goal in the third quarter.
All of this trickery sounds like the work of some witch or wizard with an axe to grind. Every time the Badgers have come to Evanston this millennium, they have been ranked and clearly the better team. Every time, they have left with a loss, and frequently because of some freak injury or black swan-type occurrence. If the presence of ghosts is not to blame, perhaps some dark purveyor of black magic is at fault.
So here is the challenge. Not only do Paul Chryst and the lads need to outsmart and outperform Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats, they may also have to take on the dark spirits of the Chicago suburbs. By Saturday, maybe they can find this guy. He’s got experience in this and I suspect he won’t have much going on.
Enjoy the week, kids. Be safe and be sure to check under the bed.