It was fun to be in Heritage Hall at Camp Randall Stadium last week as University of Wisconsin Athletics kicked off its centennial celebration of the storied venue that debuted in 1917.
It dawned on me that I have been going to games at Camp Randall for more than half those 100 years. My first game was the 1965 season opener, against Colorado. I was 9 years old and my dad took me.
The game ended in a 0-0 tie.
It was an early lesson that all would not be glorious for the Badgers on the football field over the years. Yet fans would find a way to have fun anyway.
I hope the panel selecting the “Camp Randall 100”—a list of 100 individuals who shaped the stadium’s first century, to be revealed a day at a time starting May 24—will include some of the colorful individuals who didn’t star on the field but contributed to Camp Randall lore nevertheless.
At the Heritage Hall kickoff event Feb. 28, the emphasis was on the football heroics, and understandably so.
Athletics director Barry Alvarez, the great running back Ron Dayne, former star and administrator Pat Richter and current head coach Paul Chryst were on the dais and shared their favorite Camp Randall memories.
Only Richter went for humor, recalling his first game in the stadium in 1951 in the company of his dad.
Richter, one of the best wide receivers in UW history, also remembered a Camp Randall game in the early 1960s when he had given a game ticket each to two young ladies, with plans to take both of them out afterwards. Rather than attend different games, the women wound up seated next to each other.
As Pat told the story, he broke his collarbone during that game, and was taken to University Hospital. Only one of the young women came to see him that night. Pat did the gentlemanly thing—he married her. Pat and Renee have been together ever since.
Richter also shared, briefly, the infamous story of the elephant who relieved itself in spectacular fashion near Camp Randall’s 50-yard-line during a halftime show.
Matt Lepay, who moderated the program last week, laughed and said he thought he remembered Mike Lucas telling him the elephant’s name was Binky. I can report that the elephant was indeed named Binky, and that band director Mike Leckrone rode Binky onto the field at halftime of the Illinois game in 1988.
Leckrone, of course, will be one of the “Camp Randall 100.” In his over 40-year career in Madison, he launched such fabled Camp Randall traditions as the fifth quarter and the “Bud Song,” in which the word “Budweiser” is replaced with “Wisconsin.”
When some joyless administrator suggested playing the song might encourage drinking, Leckrone successfully countered by saying, “You might as well ban the playing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ because it was once the tune for an old British drinking song.”
Ron Dayne, at the centennial kickoff last week, recalled walking onto the field on a recruiting trip and being surprised and little concerned to find artificial turf, not the grass he was used to. Someone pointed out that Dayne adjusted pretty well. He rushed for more yards than anyone in college football history, a record that went unbroken until last season (although that’s been disputed).
The more seasoned fans among us can remember when the artificial turf was first installed—in 1968. I was then old enough to go to games by myself, and the Badgers were hungry enough for fans that kids could get end zone seats for $1.
That was in the late 1960s, one of two dark periods for football at Camp Randall over the last half century (the other was the late 1980s). For instance, the Badgers’ record for the 1967-68 season was 0-19-1.
Those losing seasons provided the spark for off-the-field fun—tailgating, the band, the whole football Saturday experience—which has since come to define Camp Randall as much as the winning football we’ve enjoyed since Alvarez’s arrival in the early 1990s.
In the 1970s, the football teams got a little better. Two exciting running backs, Rufus Ferguson and Billy Marek, were a big help. And then there was Terry Westegard who played a role in livening the atmosphere off the field. “The Portage Plumber,” as Westegard was known, put on a fur skirt and a football helmet and danced with the pompon squad. He was a huge hit, and suddenly, Camp Randall was fun, whether the team won or lost. I would hope that the Portage Plumber is one of the Camp Randall 100.
Of course, winning is more fun. For that we have to thank Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst. I profiled the former in Madison Magazine in the early 1990s, after the first championship, and I met the latter last week. Chryst is as nice and unassuming as advertised. We laughed about the antics of our mutual friend John Roach, a longtime contributor to the magazine.
I realize now there’s so much else I haven’t mentioned: big plays, big games, even concerts. As Madison Magazine editor, I once accepted for publication a story from a young woman who waited in line 23 hours to get tickets to the 1992 Genesis concert at Camp Randall. It was a good story, and I followed Pat Richter’s lead. It took a while, but I married her.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. See his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.