Growing up in the shadows of Kinnick Stadium, I had the opportunity to see many great games and players.
I was in the stadium when Rob Houghtlin kicked a 29-yard FG with no time left on the clock that game then Iowa a win in a battle of #1 vs. #2. I was there when Kirk Ferentz led the team to its first Big Ten victory of the season against Michigan State in 1999, and on the field for the party that ensued.
Sooner or later, when you live where I have, you recognize the sheer luck and coincidence that has paved your road as a sports enthusiast. Well, the left hand turn I used to make is now making a diagonal right.
Having been offered a contract and signing on to be the new publisher of BadgerNation.com and BadgerNation magazine, the colors of the road are going to change a little bit.
I will now live in the shadows of the house Randall built, but Barry renovated. The good news is that not all of the faces I will see are going to be unfamiliar. A face from my past is now at the helm of Badger Nation.
Bret Bielema, who as a player, was filled with intensity and intrigue. He once told a coach "it was fun beating you for the past 5 seasons" after a game. His coaching style has been very successful, evidenced by the track records of the defenses he had control of. He still has a Hawkeye logo tattooed on his leg, and has stated it will never leave. No matter where he has gone, he has been a winner. So, on that alone, I feel more comfortable than ever in making a life-changing decision.
When the football season kicks off on September 2, 2006, I will not be at Kinnick Stadium for the maiden voyage of the new press box with club seating. I will not be there to watch the a Hawkeye team play defense without a player named Hodge, Greenway, Johnson, or Allen for the first time since the 2001 season. Ti-Vo is your friend. I will be watching the Wisconsin Badgers do battle with Bowling Green University at Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. There are new faces to remember, but not new names to learn.
Matt Shaughnessy. John Stocco. Joe Thomas. Mark Zalewski. Names that have haunted the teams of the Big Ten for at least two seasons, are going to be showing me the way now. The people of Madison, Wisconsin are passionate about life and about their sports. They love to enjoy good ale at one of many pubs, or a good day on the lake fishing for the big one. Hockey is held on high. One person may like the Vikings, another may cheer for the Bears. A vast majority have love for the green, yellow, and white of the Packers. There is one thing most of the people in Madison agree on: Badger football on Saturday mornings is a good thing. They also agree that the calendar should have a few marks on it.
September 23, 2006: Welcome to Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Big House. October 14, 2006: Homecoming brings those little furry rodents to town. November 4, 2006: Coach Bielema meets JoePa in a battle for the age(s). November 11, 2006: Roses might fall from the sky in Iowa City for the winner.
Who would have known that these days would have so much importance back on a cold day in September of 1985. When Houghtlin beat the Wolverines at the gun, I was all of 12 years old. I had a fire in my heart that day; maybe everyone did. That fire still burns. But now, it is for the excitement and experience my new choice is bringing. Sheryl Crow sings that "a change will do you good". With a change comes a new life of sorts. You begin to realize that no matter where you go, there you are.
Wisconsin has been the site of many great firsts in sports. One of them in particular is close to my heart. Tiger Woods, now all of 30 years old, played his first professional golf tournament in Milwaukee. When he talked to the press for the first time that week as a pro, his opening comment(s) was/were: "well, I guess it is ‘Hello, World', right?" He did not play well that week, but I think he recovered quite well. I have wanted to be where he was since 1994. Wisconsin was the place where he wanted to unleash the fury of his game. Madison is the capital of the state.
It has always been there – and now I am excited to truly see it for the first time.