Editor’s note: In June 1917, the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives invited Michigan back into the league, increasing membership to 10 and eventually spawning the iconic “Big Ten” nickname. One hundred years later, Land of 10 will spend the summer looking at the history of America’s legendary conference and its teams.
Even the “soft” opening hit like a 3-ton sledgehammer. Wisconsin cut the ribbon at Camp Randall Stadium by stomping Beloit 34-0 on Oct. 6, 1917. The Badgers dedicated their new home on Nov. 3, 1917, with — what else? — a win over Minnesota, to mark the beginning of an era.
And the beginning of a Big Ten icon.
Throughout the rest of 2017, Land of 10 will dive into some of the shiny — and quirky — moments of Camp Randall’s first century, the chain that links John R. Richards and Howard Hancock with Paul Chryst and Jack Cichy.
To kick things off, we asked five former Badgers from different eras to share, in their own words, what makes the Mad House in Mad Town so special to them. Oh, and we asked a Wisconsin native who plays for a Big Ten rival how the other half on Monroe Street lives, too, once game day rolls around.
Because let’s face it: At 100, after all these years, the old girl can still rock with the best of them.
‘The gal I’d given tickets to showed up at the hospital’
PAT RICHTER, END, 1960-62/ATHLETIC DIRECTOR, 1989-2004
If [the walls] could talk, they’d talk about the 1940s and ’50s, when the athletes stayed in the stadium itself. There were rooms up there. I’m not sure how many that were there. Basically, if the walls could talk, that’s probably the most interesting time, I would guess.
My first game was probably in the early ’50s — ’51 or ’52.
There were probably more [quirks] before the construction went on. Down in the southwest corner, there was a hill where there was kind of a chain-link fence that you could slide in and under and sneak in in the early ’50s. And then they’d just kind of sit on that little sloping hill by the side of the stadium, but nobody really cared too much about it, nobody was too aggressive about getting you out of there. Tickets were not that expensive. Now, in terms of the massive security and all those types of things, it’s amazingly different in that regard. It’s taken away some of the neighborhood-type atmosphere, but that’s just normal [for the sport]. We did it once or twice, when I was little.
Yes, we put an upper deck in there, boxes, suites on the other side. But basically, the bowl itself — in 1958, when they lowered the seating below and took the track out, it’s basically the same. It’s kind of a comfort level that the stadium has not changed. The tunnel, things like this, yeah, they put a weight room there, but basically the configuration is about the same.
As a player, two [moments] stand out. One was, and I’ve told the story about how … the fifth game as a sophomore, I caught a pass that broke my collarbone. I ended up going to the hospital. The gal I’d given tickets to showed up at the hospital, and we’re still married today after 54 years. This year, she told me, I didn’t realize I’d given tickets to another girl as well. I guess they didn’t sit next to each other. She’s the only one that came to the hospital, so she stuck with me. [Laughs]
In terms of the playing part, for me, the game against Minnesota in 1962 which we won to qualify to go to the Rose Bowl was probably one of the big games. That season we beat Northwestern when we were ranked No. 2, they were ranked No. 1.
There were a lot of other good memories — the elephant that Mike Leckrone rode into the stadium [in October 1988] and that elephant decided to relieve itself on the 50-yard line and the second half got started late, with shovels and everything else.
‘You just felt invincible going out of that tunnel’
RYAN SONDRUP, TIGHT END, 1995-97
If I were to describe the best memory of Camp Randall, it’s when they used to take us out onto the field.
They would bring us from the locker room. They’d bring us out underneath the student section and they’d have to rope us off. There was this little aisle and it’s dark — you’re in the helmets and it’s dark. And you bust out of that tunnel and you go from dark to light.
From a security standpoint, that was a nightmare for them to organize, but the way they used to organize that stadium [pregame] and come out of the tunnel, being under the bowels of Camp Randall and running out there. I was not a physically intimidating person, but boy, you’d run out of those and you just felt invincible going out of that tunnel there at Camp Randall. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, that experience of running out and coming through the tunnel.
Now you’ve got the lights and the [smoke] which is really cool. And I think it’s simplistic [to today’s players], the coming out of the tunnel the way we used to. But man, you just felt like there was nothing that could stop you.
‘That was our first Camp Randall memory — getting pelted by marshmallows in the student section’
ERIC GRAMS, TIGHT END, 1996-98
I mean there are all kind of stories. Stuff [such as] when people sneaking in there late at night. To me, the ones that come to mind probably shouldn’t be told. [Laughs]
I remember going there as a kid, and, you know, growing up, and the team stunk. And my parents would kind of take us there for the Fifth Quarter — that was the highlight.
One of my favorite memories of Camp Randall is walking around with my brother and my buddies. They had a track around it and you could just mingle. And I remember going by the student section on a rainy, wet day and — BOOM — just getting nailed in the face with a marshmallow on the head. And to this day, my buddies still bring that up. That was our first Camp Randall memory — getting pelted by marshmallows in the student section when I was 12 or 13.
‘Every time I go back to Madison, I still get a little better bounce in my step’
TIM ROSGA, DEFENSIVE BACK/SPECIAL TEAMS, 1996-99
That was something you can’t ever describe, just walking around those people and just the fans — that atmosphere.
There’s something about walking around those people that gives you such a rush. You can’t describe it. [Chris McIntosh] and I roomed together and we talked about that stuff. That’s crazy.
They’ve just done a tremendous job with that place and every time I go back to Madison, I still get a little better bounce in my step. You feel good being there and going onto campus, walking into Camp Randall just adds a little bit of vibrancy.
‘It looked like a 1970s high school gym’
PETER PEKAR, IOWA HAWKEYES TIGHT END AND GREENDALE, WIS., NATIVE
People [in 2015] were like, ‘Oh, I thought Jump Around should be a lot crazier,’ blah, blah.
But honestly, it wasn’t as crazy as some games. I went there [in 2010] when they beat Ohio State back when Ohio State was No. 1, when they played and beat them. And that was pretty crazy.
It’s very cramped [in the visitors’ locker room]. I mean, compared to the pink locker room and how it’s broken up here [at Kinnick Stadium] to kind of separate [teams], Wisconsin’s was really small. And old-school, like the locker rooms looked like they were from, gosh, I don’t know how long ago, but it was very cramped.
It’s similar to Northwestern, like we had a couple guys sharing lockers and this and that. It’s definitely old-school. Very old-school. So when they come here, I’m sure they’re like, ‘OK, other than the pink [color], our facilities in that locker room are really nice.’ The amenities, the lockers — it’s big, it’s carpeted. Unlike there, [where] it looked like a 1970s high school gym.
‘I think it’s just really beautiful’
DARE OGUNBOWALE, RUNNING BACK, 2013-2016
You still see the old Field House, but then you’ve got the new luxury suites, the press box, and things like that. You’ve still kind of got the mix of the new and old. I think it’s just really beautiful.
Personally, I always think back to my first game, the first time running out of the tunnels. I was redshirting. I wasn’t going to play at all, so just running out of the tunnel for the first time, in front of 80,000, just yelling, flags are flying and all that, it’s just an awesome feeling. Any time after that, running out of the tunnel was the best part of the game for me. That’s something you can’t really replicate, especially being a Wisconsin guy.
You’re always welcome back. You don’t have to write your name [on a wall], you could walk through the tunnel. Also, the tunnel just got renovated, so if someone wrote their name, it’d kind of get painted over.
If the walls could talk, they would probably talk about how hard we work in between games. There’s a lot of preparation, whether that’s the off-season or just game week. Just preparation that comes with being a Badger. That’s pretty unique.
[I’ll always remember] graduation at Camp Randall, and being able to graduate and to see everyone — the culmination of all your hard work and the beginning of your dream. That would definitely be a close second [favorite]. If not tied for first.