Some stories need to start with an introduction. I’m Alex White, Copy Director for Lands’ End Kids, and dad of Eli, an 8-year-old with an eye for sports I never had at his age. So when I was given 2 tickets from work to the Wisconsin/BYU game, I knew immediately they were more for Eli than me — his first Badger game.
I need to explain here that I am not a born-&-bred Wisconsinite. My wife and I moved to Madison when Eli was 8 weeks old, and when we look at Eli, the whole timeline of our life here is written on the way his face has matured, how big he is now. So, I am not a die-hard Badger fan — a fervent state of mind and heart that only a few other sport-tribes can surpass (Red Sox Nation comes to mind).
That said, I’ve lived all over the US — Oklahoma, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Alaska, California, Wisconsin — and in most of these places I’ve adopted a passing love for the local teams, Badgers included. And as a grad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!), I understand what can drive a person to pump their hands in the air, screaming with joy when a last-minute 3-pointer swishes the net to win a game. I get it.
We don’t live far from the stadium, just a couple miles by bike path down to Camp Randall from our house. So, to outfox the traffic, we hopped on bikes and rolled past the long red train of Badger fans walking down to the stadium. It was one of those incomparable fall days. Blue skies, pure sunshine, crisp but not cold — perfection for football. And Eli was vibrating with excitement as I held him close and negotiated the crowd into the stadium. It’s infectious around the stadium — the huddles of friends & family amid the grill smoke knocking back keg beer, the hawkers of programs, t-shirts and all things Badger red.
There was already a small crowd of other Lands’ Enders in our area, and during introductions I could tell having an 8-year-old among us was a fun curveball for the regular attendees used to hosting corporate clients. After loading up on snacks (Eli’s soda ban lifted for the day) we installed ourselves in our seats. The fall air and hum from the stands got us in the mood for the game, and the sun streaming down on us put the whole place in a happy glow for kickoff.
Eli had eagle eyes for spotting Bucky Badger, Wisconsin’s much-loved mascot, as he gyrated on the field and played hide-&-seek in the stands. I was a bit amazed at how Eli was keyed into every play, clapping after a great run, yelling “Nooooooo!” at a “bad call.” And even though I had to repeatedly explain the differences between kickoffs and punts and all manner of penalties, I could tell my colleagues seated around us loved his pure energy. He even took part in the “jump-around” — Wisconsin’s answer to the 7th inning stretch, where the stands erupt in a jumping dance to beat off the cold and reenergize for the 4th quarter. I’m pretty sure most of my colleagues who are regulars to the games usually stay seated, but that day Eli got a few of them to join in.
You couldn’t have asked for a better game. Wisconsin scored on their opening drive. There was a bit of back and forth, thanks in large part to BYU’s dangerous quarterback. A couple key turnovers on both sides kept things interesting. And even though the Badgers won by 10, it seemed tight right to the end. But what I loved most about watching the game was watching Eli. And it was more than seeing the game through his eyes that made the day for me. More than that, it was sensing for the first time that he’s a Wisconsin boy, that after all my travels we’ve landed in a place to call home, and that my son could grow up to be a Badger.
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