Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dear Bucky Badger,

Don't do it. I know you want to, but don't.

Last football season was a banner year for you: 12-1, bowl victory over Arkansas, top ten final ranking. One of the best in school history, no doubt. And the tremors resounded across Madison -- without that close loss to Michigan, Wisconsin would've had a case to be in the national championship game rather than once-defeated Florida.

Stop. Just stop.

Look, I'm from Nebraska, and I can tell you that you're entering a world of gut-wrenching pain. To follow a national championship contender is to know early on what acid reflux disease actually feels like -- one little slip-up and it's time to wait for the next season. And then there's the next level: spoiled fan bases like Nebraska, Alabama, USC and others who expect their boys to contend for the championship every single season, and no less is truly acceptable.

It doesn't have to be like this. Before the 2006 season, I remember the local TV stations' interviews with fans around the Madison area, most of whom set their expectations of a good season at about 9-3. Nine wins and three losses is a fine year, enough to win some easy games handily, win some good games close, lose a couple where you're overmatched, slip up one you should've had and still end up ranked in the end.

Having suffered decades of terrible play prior to Barry Alvarez's 1990s revival, I can feel that you all aren't ready to be too spolied yet. But it could come. While I was browsing around Barnes & Noble today, one of the preseason magazine announced via its cover that you were the #4 team in all the United States. If all goes right, you, Bucky Badger, could begin consistently competing with the likes of Michigan and Ohio State for Big Ten hegemony, and draw more 5-star prospects from Texas or Florida or wherever you find those boys.

But all will not be right.

Madison is a haven of temporal pleasure, one of the drinkinest towns since drinkin' came to pass. Nebraska and Wisconsin have some things in common -- the blood red uniforms, power football, Barry Alvarez (originally a Nebraska guy) -- but this is not one of them. Football games in Lincoln are a lot of fun, but Nebraska fans never truly enjoy a victory, because it's always about the next one. No matter how thourough a drubbing they lay upon an opponent, the talk is what this means for the future, how they match up against next week's foe. Midweek fanatics pass the hours scrutinizing practice or anxiously wondering whether the I-back with 4.3 speed will commit to Lincoln or spurn us for some rival. And don't get me started on close games. My mother yells at the TV. My sister can barely watch. Even when team sucks, as they have frequently in recent years, we can't get their "every game is a matter of life and death" feeling out of our systems.

But much moreso in Madison, a win is a win, to be celebrated with suds all around. There will be a game next week, but midweek is for re-stocking the beer fridge, not figeting about the life choices of high school seniors. To be fair, some of this is because Sconnies get their obsessive hand-wringing out of way by spending it all on the Packers. I mean, they televised a Packer scrimmage the other day -- not a preseason game, an intersquad scrimmage. Yeah. But whatever it takes, don't give up that Madison atmosphere. Everything has consequences, and becoming Nebraska just isn't worth it.

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