Cornerback Nick Nelson’s announcement to enter the NFL draft inside the team locker room following Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl win against Miami made the social media rounds quickly early Sunday morning. But so did something else: Nelson’s fashion accessory as he declared for the pros.
Nelson clutched a handmade “turnover chain” around his neck. Dangling from the chain was a wooden motion W, replete with gold spray paint around the borders and red and white glitter. It represented the spoils of victory and a humorous nod to Miami’s own turnover chain, which made appearances on the sideline all season after the Hurricanes defense recorded takeaways.
But just how did this makeshift chain wind up on Nelson’s neck?
The story begins with Connor Steck, a diehard 27-year-old Badgers fan originally from Portage, Wis. Steck, who lives in Japan, was preparing to fly home for the holidays when he learned Wisconsin would be playing Miami in the Orange Bowl. His dad asked if he’d like to attend the game, which sparked an idea.
“As soon as I found out we were against Miami, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to make a turnover chain. I have to make a Wisconsin turnover chain,'” Steck told Land of 10.
Before Steck could return home, he messaged his mom on Facebook and asked her to pick out a few items for the chain, such as spray paint and glitter. The motion W was made of quarter-inch thick wooden tack board found at Goodwill. Steck then stopped by a hardware store at home and purchased a light fixture to serve as the chain.
Steck estimated it took him a full day to finish the chain because he needed to wait for the glue and spray paint to dry. He used multiple layers of glitter so the chain would look particularly flashy. When game day arrived, Steck and his chain were ready. The only problem was figuring out how to give the chain to players after the win from his Hard Rock Stadium seat in section 314.
Near the end of the game, as Wisconsin’s 34-24 victory became apparent, Steck bolted down to the lower level so he could stand by the railing near the locker room and wait for players.
“There was this huge crowd around,” Steck said. “I kept on holding up the chain, telling people, ‘Let me through. I’ve got to give them the turnover chain.’ People would see me with the chain and they would move so I could get up to the railing next to the players.
“By the time I got there, they were starting to walk back into the locker room. There was like four of them, and Chris James was in this group of four players. I held it up and I was like, ‘Guys, turnover chain.’ They looked at it, and their eyes just lit up and went wide, like, ‘Yeah.'”
Steck handed the chain to James, one of Wisconsin’s running backs, but it fell apart in his hands. Somewhere inside the locker room, however, the chain apparently was fixed with athletic tape. James took Instagram photos and videos of himself wearing the chain, which he passed around to teammates.
— Molly McGrath (@MollyAMcGrath) December 31, 2017
By the time Nelson made his NFL announcement, he just so happened to be rocking the chain himself.
For the Steck family, it was a meaningful moment to play a small part in Wisconsin’s celebration. Connor’s dad, Edwin Steck, purchased his first Wisconsin season tickets during Barry Alvarez’s first season as coach in 1990. Connor grew up a Badgers fan and has the baby pictures in Wisconsin gear to prove it.
“I had a friend of mine call me up and say, ‘We’re getting season tickets,'” Edwin Steck recalled by phone Monday, while waiting with his son to board an airplane in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Before that, I had never paid full price for a Badger football ticket, ever. My friend said, ‘We’ve got to buy season tickets.’ I said, ‘Oh, OK. But only one year. I can guarantee you.’
“We used to get tickets off windshields that people just left on the windshields prior to Barry getting there. Of course now, I’m still bowing to my friend, saying, ‘I’m not worthy.’ We’ve just had one heck of a run for the last 20-some years.”
Wisconsin had appeared in six bowls games with just one victory before Alvarez arrived. Alvarez, who retired after the 2005 season, guided the Badgers to 11 bowl games in that span and went 8-3 in those contests. Over the past 25 seasons, Wisconsin has appeared in 23 bowl games under four coaches and is 14-9. Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl victory represented its fourth consecutive bowl win.
Edwin Steck called Badgers football “a true part of the enjoyment of my life.” Now, the Steck family can add another story to the growing list of special moments shared together.
“I think it’s awesome,” Connor Steck said. “That’s exactly what I wanted. That’s exactly what I was hoping would happen when I gave them the chain is that they would love it and share it and have a good time with it. That’s the whole reason I made it. I knew Wisconsin was going to win. I had faith. I knew that I could give it to them after the game and that they would enjoy it.”