Football!

This is the first post in a series in which I will document this football season. It will broadly be about the Badgers and Packers but will more specifically be about myself in it. Football season does not just happen on the field. It is about great friends, foods, drinks, and merriment. My hope is that it will be interesting for readers but at the very least it will serve as a journal to look back on. I wish I had done this last year.

This whole week, all I could think was, “Football! Football! Football! Football! Football! Football! Football!” This happens a lot during the deep, dark offseason even more so this week. I have a 50-track mind but the first track and one with the highest play count is football. The possibilities for the Badgers and Packers this season are endless (well, endful*, because sports, unlike life, has well-defined winners and losers and comes with unfettered closure at the conclusion of each season).

*Apparently not a real word but it should be.

The Packers won the Super Bowl and have coaching and roster continuity that gives them as good a chance as anyone to win it again this season. The Badgers reached the Rose Bowl last year, and, although they lost some key players, were given a rare spark with transfer Russell Wilson. I am all-in on the Russell Wilson narrative. The Badgers are clear cut favorites to win the Big Ten and could legitimately contend for the national title if all breaks right. We are fast approaching the most wonderful time of the year and I cannot wait to see it all shake out.

Thursday night, the Badgers had their season opener, hosting UNLV at Camp Randall. I grappled with making the pilgrimage to Madison but ultimately decided to watch the game at Will’s Northwoods Inn, a Wisconsin-themed bar in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago which will be the setting of many entries in this journal this season. Will’s has everything you could possibly want out of a Wisconsin bar. Its patrons and staff are deeply passionate and knowledgeable about the Packers and Badgers and are universally the unique brand of friendly that I have only come across in the midwest.

Will’s is adorned wall-to-wall with Packers and Badgers pictures and memorabilia, deer antlers, old beer signs, and rustic photographs. My favorite Northwoods-y picture on the wall at Will’s features a boy in overalls, no older than 12, unable to contain a grin from ear to ear as a deer is on its hind legs licking the boy’s face as a puppy would do. The (real, I think) photograph symbolizes the type of all-encompassing connection that a gifted few are able to cultivate with nature and its inhabitants in that special part of the country. This picture always makes me nostalgic for summer camp. When inside, you are in an oasis that feels as if you have teleported directly to the rural Northwoods as opposed to at a bar in a major urban center. This is by careful design and executed flawlessly.

The outside of Will’s features an expansive patio with two large televisions, about 10 tables, a large moose statue, and a beautiful Leinenkugel’s mural. Until it gets unbearably cold, sitting outside is your dominant strategy for comfort but you lose some of the camaraderie that comes with watching the game inside. I typically go to Will’s with friends but it is the type of bar where you can go alone and immediately make friends with strangers. One of my best friends now is someone who I met at Will’s two seasons ago.

All week, I had been thinking of taking my Granny to watch the Badgers at Will’s. On the day of the game, she was up for it so I decided to do it and it was a great decision. Granny is 92 years old but young for her age. She is adoring and adorable. Although she cannot see or hear very well, I knew she would get a kick out of the game-like atmosphere at Will’s. If you explain what is happening on key plays, she can maintain a pretty good understanding of the flow of the game. I introduced her to cute girls as my girlfriend and was greeted with enthusiastic smiles in return; I didn’t get any numbers but Granny is going to be a great wingman this football season.

When we got to Will’s, a great table opened up so we sat down and ordered food. I opted for a bacon cheeseburger (chedder cheese and of course sans vegetables) with tater tots* and a Diet Coke while I ordered a small cheeseburger with tater tots and a ginger ale for Granny. We had an hour and a half to wait till kickoff but we had a solid table.

*Because you are dying to know, here is my stance on tater tots vs. french fries. French fries have a higher potential value (think transcendent fries like crispy, well-seasoned curly fries or, in my somewhat unpopular opinion, McDonald’s fries) but tater tots have greater expected values. There are a lot of bad french fry styles out there (like the irresponsible cringly fries at White Castle or fries that are potato-y and not well done) but tater tots are pretty standard. Will’s doesn’t have bad fries but it doesn’t have great fries either so tater tots are my consistent move there.

Bubbling with anticipation, our collective perception of time started to slow to a halt. Minutes went by very slowly, as if we were stuck starving in a boring high school class mentally counting down the seconds before lunch. The bar gradually filled in until it was time for kickoff and there were pathways to move through but no other open space. My good friends John and Matt* joined Granny and I at our table.

*When we reach the roadtrip chapters in this series I imagine that it will be in my friends’ best interests if I give them pseudonyms. Even though nothing particularly inappropriate happened on Thursday, I am just going to start doing that now. The over/under on number of times this season that I am going to have to look back at old journal entries to figure out what fake names I assigned to my buddies is 75.

The game finally started and Wisconsin dominated from the very beginning. Russell Wilson missed a few passes early but turned in a stunning overall performance. He completed 10 of his 13 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, rushing twice for 62 yards which included a long 46-yard touchdown run. Montee Ball and James White both looked like NFL running backs and combined to score five touchdowns. Somewhere around 27-0, Granny commented rhetorically in her soft-spoken southern drawl that “UNLV just isn’t very good, are they?” Wisconsin’s defense bent a lot but didn’t really break. Hopefully this was a case of playing down to opponents rather than a sign that the Badgers will have to win some shoot-outs. The Badgers ended up winning 51-17 but missed covering by a half point which I am sure was infuriating to many.

Granny and I left Will’s at halftime (a function of having been there for three hours, the game’s essentially being over and the bar’s being really hot) but overall had a great night. This night was an appetizer for football season when the Badgers play real opponents and the Packers regular season begins. My appetite appropriately whetted for the time being, I am still so ready for some football. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

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5 Responses to Football!

  1. F. Weisburgh says:

    Thirty-three cheers for you and your wingman Granny. love, from halowoman Grammy!

  2. What’s this BS about midwesterners being uniquely friendly? You’re crazy and obviously ignoring the friendliness of us easterners. We’re nice, just not to idiots or people who disagree with us, which is a tautology.

    Get your head on straight and start acknowledging that we easterners are even more friendly that midwesterners.

  3. Charlie Feldman says:

    i am glad your Dad sent me the blog. Love reading about your “date”. Aunt Harriet has always been a great sidekick! Please give the family all my love……………..CF(a transplanted southerner who is now an easterner)

    PS I think Mitch needs to lighten up a bit!!!! 🙂

  4. ryan,

    please add me to your blog—it’s great. also, i’ll give you some material from an sec perspective which is my specialty. i’m responding to your dad w cc to you.

    keep up the good journalism! feel free to use any info i send to your dad in your blog.

    your cousi, Louis (Bayer)

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