Our latest stop on our summer tour took us from Iowa City to Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Badgers. However, before we left, we ran into another group that also happened to be visiting Big Ten towns as well. Perhaps you’ve heard of them before, here’s their transportation, which is a little larger than mine.
In any case, the visit to Madison was great. Camp Randall Stadium was originally an army training ground during the Civil War (hence the name) and started with wooden bleachers that were replaced after a portion of them collapsed with a combination of concrete and steel as well as the remainder of the wooden bleachers. This is the 100th anniversary of that opening. Originally only 7,500 concrete and 4,400 wooden bleacher seats, it has had several renovations and expansions through the years, until the last addition of boxes along the eastern rim of the stadium a dozen years ago takes the stadium to just a little over 80K seats.
As you walk through the stadium, there are lots of views of the history of the team. I particularly loved the sign as you enter from the main gate, into what is called Badger Alley, which is the main concourse around the field.
Also, there are a lot of wall space given to important players and events in Badger football history. It is a great representation of an iconic building.
Wisconsin is similar to Iowa in that the stadium is right in the middle of the city, so parking (and therefore tailgating) is more of a challenge than it is in Piscataway. In fact, the city of Madison requires permits for anyone to tailgate in the city, and parking is at a premium. Consequently, a lot of the “tailgating” done before and after games is done in bars in the city. The most famous one of all is Jordan’s Big Ten Pub, located on Regent Street, just a large block from Camp Randall Stadium.
Jordan’s is really a iconic place, and a very popular one at that. I stopped in at lunchtime on this past Tuesday, and the manager was able to spare me a few minutes to talk about the place. Lacey is one of the managers at Jordan’s, and Jen, one of the wait staff shared with me how they prepare for all 12 football games, and it is pretty amazing. On game day, all of the chairs and tables are removed from the bar area, the back rooms, and all glass is removed from behind the bar as well. Everything is moved into the kitchen, so it is just large empty spaces to permit the crowds into the relatively small bar. Everything on game day is served with either plastic or cans. There is no glass used at all. It is not done because of rowdiness or fights, it is done just due to safety so there is no chance of broken glass hurting any of the patrons. As you can imagine, it is an exciting feeling of camaraderie, and those who frequent the bar on non-game days would be shocked to see the difference from the usual calm, quiet atmosphere.
An 11:00 AM kickoff usually means that they open at 8:00, and the outside area is going by 8:30, where they also have tables, chairs and video screens (there are 17 of them inside the bar, and more are put up outdoors). They serve tailgate food, and theirs is known as the most famous of the several that take place in other establishments in the immediate area. Contrary to expectations, they offer more than just brats and burgers, serving food for vegetarian tastes, Polish sausage as well as the more traditional fare. A DJ helps keep things hopping until kickoff, too!
To give an idea of how many people pack Jordan’s on game day, the usual “non-game day” staff is five or six, while on those seven home game Saturdays the staff is tripled, as well as security personnel. Another important part is building capacity. Fire marshals keep a very close eye on that, and will ticket an establishment if they go over their capacity.
In addition to the “changing of the guard” where many leave for the stadium just before the game begins, and others without tickets arrive to watch the game from Jordan’s there are those who planned to go to the game and never get there for one reason or the other, and remain the entire day at Jordan’s!
How iconic is Jordan’s? Well, how about the couple who showed up there following their wedding on game day? Yep, the bride showed up in her gown and visited through both indoors and outdoors to visit with the crowd. The staff tried to clean it up as best they could, and swept up outside, but as Lacey said, “It wasn’t wedding dress clean!”
While Jordan’s is a gathering place for basketball and hockey as well as football, they are not permitted to have the outdoor tailgate for anything other than football games, at the request of the neighboring homes. However, there are shuttle buses from the bar to the Kohl Center for both basketball and hockey. The crowds are not as large for women’s sports (“...which is kinda sad, because women’s hockey is at least as good as the men’s hockey.” said Lacey)
Another wonderful part of Jordan’s is the visits they get prior to kickoff from the UW Marching Band Brass and the Drum Line visit, and come into the tailgate area in the adjacent parking lot to perform for the crowd.
They will play school songs, and everyone joins in and sings along with them. Everyone, including staff, just sort of stop and watch the scene when that occurs. The only one not signing along is the giant painting of Bucky Badger in the back!
The entire part of town near the stadium almost shuts down on game day, The roads are clogged up, and everyone knows to stay away from the area due to the crowds that pack the streets. For later games, alcohol sales are prohibited after 10:00 PM to reduce after-game craziness.
This year, Wisconsin is facing a situation that is new to them, but nothing unusual for Rutgers fans. For the first time, Wisconsin will have a Friday-night home game on September 1 against the Utah State Aggies of the Mountain West Conference. It is a seismic shock to Badger fans, who are trying to figure out how to manage having a game at the end of a regular work day in the middle of the capital city of Wisconsin. It messes up the timeline for these establishments, who use Friday evenings as their time after the lunch crowd on Friday to prepare for the Saturday game. That isn’t possible with a Friday evening game. Even parents of players don’t like it, as it makes getting to games more difficult. As one person said to me frankly, “I don’t like it!” Rutgers fans and parents of players have dealt with this for many years, having not only Friday but also Thursday games in the Big East and the American conferences.
Jordan’s is not really a student bar, but one that is frequented by alums as well as visiting team alums. Just like some of our tailgate lots, there is a lot of face-painting, wearing Badgers’ jerseys, overalls, badger hats, etc. The staff love the visiting fans, and they feel the vast majority of Wisconsin fans are very friendly to the visitors. This was corroborated by those hardy Rutgers fans who visited Wisconsin in 2015, in our second Big Ten season.
They proudly proclaim that they have the best food and service of any of the tailgate establishments in Madison, and by the look of things, I would agree. I strongly suggest that Jordan’s be a stopping point if you are planning to go to the Rutgers game in Camp Randall Stadium next season!
Follow-up from last visit: I hope that @RFootball on Twitter is having at least as much fun as I am with their tweaking the noses of our Big Ten bretheren. As they did with my tweet when I visited Evanston and Northwestern football,
They made sure that Iowa football knew that Rutgers fans were in their midst over the past week:
Hey, @RFootball, I am still going, let’s keep it up. I’m hoping for a trifecta!