On July 7, 2013, Bucky’s 5th Quarter site manager Mike Fiammetta introduced the Kielbasa Kings Sports Extravaganza to the B5Q family. Scott Wisniewski and I, after building an independent sports podcast covering Wisconsin-based teams, were and definitely still are grateful for the opportunity to join this crew of talented writers.
Honestly, I was content just publishing podcasts where our internet sports show could generate interest on a broader level. Before joining the site, we interviewed former Badgers like Travis Frederick, Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie—plus current Green Bay Packers Mason Crosby and David Bakhtiari. Little did I know, four years later, where the journey has taken me.
That includes learning how to cover the beat with some amazing peers welcoming me and providing tips along the way, a long form on the Wisconsin walk-on tradition that turned into a book, and working with some amazing people.
In commemoration of four years on the job here at B5Q, here are four of the most memorable games I have covered for the site.
Like the 2014 edition of the series, the Badgers were down at home against the Gophers (17-3 in ‘14, 17-7 in ‘16) before the tide finally turned in their favor.
In 2014’s win, Wisconsin had to overcome a similar deficit earlier in the year against Nebraska (more on that game in a couple of sections). Last season’s win may have been one of the most dominating performances I’ve seen by a UW defense in a two-quarter span since I started covering the team.
After giving up 226 yards in the first half, Justin Wilcox’s defense locked down the final two quarters, forcing four interceptions and sacks apiece. The Gophers only gained 60 total yards in the second half as the Badgers made it a baker’s dozen in consecutive wins for Paul Bunyan’s Axe with the 31-17 win.
This list isn’t all UW wins (I’m “media” now, folks). My first non-home game at Camp Randall Stadium I covered was a special one, with Wisconsin traveling to the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area to take on Nick Saban and Alabama.
Despite a not-so-pleasant and delayed flight into DFW from O’Hare (shout out to BadgerNation.com’s Ben Worgull for picking me up despite the two-hour plus wait), it was a new experience well worth the trip.
AT&T Stadium is a beaut to be at with a very nice press box, and though I pulled an all-nighter to get stories out for B5Q and BadgerNation.com (the latter as a guest writer), I caught the plane back to Chicago and slept the rest of the Sunday on that Labor Day weekend.
It was a toss-up between No. 1 and No. 2 (maybe these should be 1a and 1b), but as seen previously back in May, this game holds a special place for me both professionally and personally:
There are moments where you don’t try to write, don’t try to tweet, but just take in the sights, the sounds, the atmosphere of what you’re covering. I walked down to the field with other media to get a glimpse of what became of Camp Randall—a winter wonderland with goal posts 120 yards apart, a sea of red waves of fans cheering and enveloping the stands, and snow falling ever so peacefully throughout the stadium. Despite the lopsided score and the fact it had been nearly a full quarter since Gordon was pulled from the game, students and fans alike stayed and cheered until the end to see the final seconds tick off in what was then an unprecedented feat.
This game also resonates with me on a personal level. My wife and I were expecting twin boys, and earlier that fall, she went into preterm labor at under 23 weeks. After a scary night in September where doctors prepped us for worst-case scenarios, she was put on bed rest for the rest of her pregnancy (our boys are two-and-a-half and healthy and wonderful, and thanks to Luke Mueller for covering most of those home games thereafter). I returned for the birth of the Chevy Bad Boyz against Maryland, yet the Nebraska game will forever stand out to me. The energy in Camp Randall, combined with the emotional and exhausting journey of the two months prior, was nearly too much for me to handle. I walked towards the media room, tears nearly swelling as I tried to subdue them in order to not alert others to the rollercoaster boiling inside me. Maybe as a member of the media I shouldn’t admit that part, but that performance will never be forgotten and always hold a special place both personally and professionally.
This takes the cake for the most memorable game I’ve covered due to its significance for the season for the team as a whole. Gordon’s individual performance will be the most significant I’ve covered, possibly for all-time depending on how long my sports writing/reporting trajectory continues.
There was a magic in the air that’s nearly indescribable, however, after safety D’Cota Dixon’s game-clinching interception and the ensuing post-game celebration in the stands after the final kneel down.
This win set the stage for an impressive 2016 season where the paper schedule was stacked against Wisconsin. How many times did people hear 7-6 or 8-5 would be the possible ceiling for this program with LSU, away games against Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa—along with home games versus Ohio State and Nebraska—on the docket?
The Badgers would go on to secure an 11-3 record and a New Year’s Six bowl victory against Western Michigan in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. They were 14 points away (two losses) from a possible College Football Playoff appearance.
Not a bad outcome at all.
As I was walking down to post-game media availability, the cheers and noise from fans exiting Lambeau Field were deafening. I haven’t seen the fan base, in the four years being on the “beat,” act in such jubilation. High fives, screams and more emanated from those dressed in Cardinal and White—whether friends or complete strangers. I’ll always take this memory with me.
One of the writers covering the game looked at me and said (paraphrasing), “This game was pretty big, wasn’t it?”
It certainly was.
Fast forward to now, as we’re less than two weeks away from Big Ten media days and the start of Wisconsin’s fall camp. This season could be something special for Wisconsin football. Despite losing the likes of All-Americans Ryan Ramczyk and T.J. Watt, along with a slew of other impressionable seniors—Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, Bart Houston, Vince Biegel, Leo Musso and Sojourn Shelton among them—this program reloads with depth and talent.
That includes many potential contributors on both sides of the ball. Among them a preseason All-American in tight end (and former walk-on) Troy Fumagalli, watch list candidate extraordinaire Jack Cichy and a home run threat who hasn’t even touched the field in a real game in a UW uniform with running back Chris James. There’s also “Jazz Sweep” Peavy, redshirt sophomore tailback Bradrick Shaw and two versatile fullbacks in Austin Ramesh and Alec Ingold. Then there’s, along with Cichy, four NFL-caliber inside linebackers, a rich two-deep of defensive linemen and a secondary whose confidence should surface immediately even without Shelton and Musso.
I’m cautiously optimistic for big things from this team in 2017. Throughout my life and when covering the program, I’ve always erred on the side of being realistic. However, 2017 could be different.
I’ll be there, trying to cover as many practices as possible, interviewing as many Badgers as I’m allowed to, and trying to bring the best football coverage I can to B5Q each and every time I’m around the team.
Thank you to all of our readers for continuing to come back to this site, to Mike for taking that initial chance on a 29-year-old with just a year of podcasting experience, who continues to help nurture me every day as a writer. Thanks also to those on the beat who’ve given me advice and put up with my antics/terrible dad jokes along the way. So many to name, but note you’ve all helped shape up in some fashion.
And to our readers, thanks for coming to this site. Humbled to be on this journey, and hope you continue coming back.