MADISON – The last time the University of Wisconsin Badgers enjoyed a night game at home, Paul Chryst was the head coach at Pittsburgh Panthers, Joel Stave hadn’t started a game yet and Gary Andersen was on the opposite sideline.
Yeah, it’s been a long time.
Wisconsin football has become a primetime desire for national networks but have spent the last 42 games playing home matinees or, worse yet, road games under the lights. That changes Saturday, when the Badgers host Hawaii Warriors at 7 p.m.
Stave was a redshirt freshman when UW last started a game after 6 p.m., a 16-14 win in 2012 over Utah State Aggies, a program being led by Andersen before he came to Madison the following season to replace the outgoing Bret Bielema.
There are only 12 players on the current roster that played in the game. Stave was one of them, who made his college debut and completed 2 of 6 passes for 15 yards in relief of Danny O'Brien. Another contributor was Michael Caputo, who was a redshirt freshman and starting to find his niche.
“Personally I like playing in the early morning because you wake up, you get ready to go, you come to the stadium and you play,” said Caputo. “That’s always fun to do. 2:30 is not that bad. Seven, I like seven, but you have to wait all day to play, but it’s always special to come out here at night. Everyone is awake. The fans are all here by the time we step out on the field. It’s just a different atmosphere. Everyone seems more alive.”
When it comes to home night games, nobody has more pep in their step that the Wisconsin students. Notorious for their late arrival to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. kickoffs, usually not filling their allotment of the stadium until late in the first half, the students typically arrive in full force once the sun sets.
“I think the best part, as a student, coming in for the game is coming for Jump Around,” said Caputo. “That would be really cool to come in for. I am here to play football, so I can’t speak for my fellow students.”
Wisconsin is 37-30 overall in night games, including a 2-6 record since its triumph over Utah State. Six of those games have come against ranked opponents, including this season’s 34-17 loss to then-No.3 Alabama Crimson Tide.
But the Badgers are a stout 12-5 in home games, having won their last five dating back to the start of the 2009 season. Some of those wins include a 31-24 victory over Purdue in 1998 (the birth of “Jump Around”), a 17-10 victory over No.3 Ohio State with Lee Evans’ 79-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, UW’s home win over No.1 Ohio State in 2010 and the Badgers’ 48-17 demolition of Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ first conference game.
Chryst was a part of those last two games as offensive coordinator but also played in the first night game at Camp Randall, a 34-17 loss to Michigan in 1986.
“It certainly is a different atmosphere, the ones that I've been in,” said Chryst. “I've been lucky, the night games that I've been in here, even goes back to as a player.”
While night games are great for the fans, it presents an altered routine for players and coaches, traditionally players of habit. For Caputo, he spends the time reviewing the game plan but spends most of it relaxing and watching other games on television.
And while Chryst will tweak the schedule, Wisconsin will follow its usual plan before running out of the tunnel into what’s expected to be a full – and lively – Camp Randall.
“We follow a schedule that I first got when I had a chance to work for Coach Alvarez, and a lot of thought went into it,” Chryst said. “He would tweak it a little bit, but … guys look forward to playing the game. When you have to wait, that's different. So you do some things to kind of help them through that.
“I think we've got a pretty good plan and you want a team that, no matter what time kickoff is, no matter what the conditions, they're excited to play and ready to play and that's our job this week, to make sure that happens.”