Janesville fans ride emotional rollercoaster as Badgers lose

Frank Schultz
Sunday, April 6, 2014

JANESVILLE—This is a Badgers town, down to the red nail polish on Amy DeGarmo's fingernails and the Bucky decal on her cheek.

DeGarmo, her father and her boyfriend watched the biggest Badgers basketball game since 1941 in Legends bar in downtown Janesville on Saturday night.

Their team had reached the national semifinals only twice before, in 2000 when it lost and in '41, the only time the Badgers won it all.

“The intensity down here for any Badgers or Packers fans, there's nothing better,” Amy's father Jeff DeGarmo said shortly before the final, fateful seconds when Wisconsin lost by one point to Kentucky.

But smiles dominated the night at Legends, which might be the heart of Janesville Badger fandom. Or at least its liver.

Ask Amy DeGarmo and many of the others at the bar how long they've been Badgers fans, and they answer, “all my life.”

“My dad used to tell me that I used to say, “Go Bucky!” when I was tiny,” DeGarmo said. 

DeGarmo got her childhood wish and attended UW-Madison. She teaches third grade at Janesville's Lincoln Elementary School.

“This is really cool, being here with fellow Badgers fans,” DeGarmo said. I always get goose bumps when they play, especially at this level.”

“I'm going to cry” if they lose, she said. “I'm going to definitely cry. But it's so cool they've come this far.”

That was the opinion of many fans at Legends. They knew that beating Kentucky was a tall order.

Of course, some in town roll their eyes at such excessive devotion to “just a game,” but this is clearly a huge part of many lives here.

Kevin McCulloch is from Milwaukee, where he was more of a Marquette fan, but he moved to Janesville in 1966, the year his brother went to UW-Madison.

“It was easy enough to be converted once we moved to Janesville,” McCulloch said.

What followed were a lot of years when Wisconsin's premiere university generally didn't do well in the popular sports, football and basketball.

Fans like McCulloch stayed fans because that's what fans do.

With that perspective, McCulloch is philosophical. He would like to see Coach Bo Ryan's Badgers back in the tournament again and again, but “but this could easily be the last time in my life I get to see the Badgers in the Final Four,” he said. 

Legends co-owner Tim “Milly” Millis is celebrating his bar's 30th anniversary this weekend. A huge Badgers fan, Millis said the Badgers' success is icing on the anniversary cake.

A 1973 Craig graduate, Millis remembers listening to Badgers football on the radio as a boy.

“It was the Packers and the Braves and the Badgers,” he recalled of the Wisconsin teams of the 1960s.

The Badgers are Wisconsin, and that's why many of his patrons who never went to UW-Madison are nevertheless rabid fans, Millis said. “I suppose it's the same in any state.”

“I think tonight, as much as we wanted the Badgers to get to this point, and as much as we want them to win, it's incredible that they got to the final four teams in the tournament,” Millis said.

“Just look at the excitement,” Millis said as the fans packed the bar an hour before the Badgers took the floor. “People like rooting for good things, obviously. It's not the end of the world if they lose.”

“It don't get much better than this. I like the atmosphere, all the TVs are on the same game, and most people know what they're talking about,” said Jake Hassinger, Craig High School 2002, who often catches games at Legends with his buddy Zach Anacker, Parker High 2007.

Hassinger and Anacker were among the most enthusiastic of a very enthusiastic crowd, who cheered frequently and vigorously, jabbing fists into the air each time the Badgers scored or stopped Kentucky, as if they were watching the game live.

“Badger fans,” Hassinger explained, “born and bred.”

“I won't be too disappointed if they lose, because it's farther than I thought they'd get,” Anacker said before he had to leave for work. “And if they lose, you know they're going to come back strong next year—a lot of their guys are coming back,” Anacker said.

Anacker had invoked one of those things all fans can related to. There's always next year.