No letdown for local Badgers fans

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Sunday, January 1, 2012
— Reports of Badger fans' flagging interest have been greatly exaggerated, local fans say.

News outlets have been quick to jump to speculation. They've been talking about the fact that fewer Wisconsin football fans are booking flights to southern California for the Rose Bowl than they did last year. They're asking:

-- Are fans let down because the Badgers, who were on everyone's list as national championship contenders early this year, lost two crucial games and "only' won the Big Ten championship?

-- Are fans simply yawning at the fact that the Badgers had another winning season? After all, the team has played in the Rose Bowl four times since 1994, the most recent appearance just last year.

-- Are fans drained of energy because they've given it all to that other Wisconsin football team, the Packers? Or the baseball Brewers?

Is the bloom off the rose?

That's all bushwa, at least when it comes to Janesville's Badger fans.

"I'm just as excited as I was last year," said Larry Buhrow, a patron of the sports-crazy Legends bar.

Ethan Henning, another Legends patron, admitted he's disappointed the Badgers aren't playing for a national championship, but it's "the second-best bowl," and besides, the system for picking the championship match-up "is a joke."

No letdown at all, said Ethan's dad, Jim Henning.

"I think it's great."

Buhrow said he priced a trip to last year's Rose Bowl at $2,200. He decided instead to invest in new living room furniture and a bigger TV.

Price is a big reason more Badger fans aren't Pasadena-bound, said Chris Gersmehl, travel consultant at All Ways Travel at the Janesville Mall.

The bowl games are announced so late that people have to pay a premium for airline tickets, Gersmehl said, and even the cheap chain motels charge more than $500 a night.

"I love football, but (at those prices) I think I'd rather watch it on my TV," Gersmehl said.

"It's a shame the average person can't go," she said.

Patrick "Wiggy" Wygans has held season tickets for 32 years and attended the 1994 Rose Bowl. The fans he knows—including the ones who frequent his downtown bar, Wiggy's Saloon—are just as excited as ever, he said.

Nevertheless, "We've been spoiled by Wisconsin sports," Wygan said. "We have the Packers, and the Brewers making the division playoffs. It's been a very successful last couple of years for Wisconsin sports."

Bob Schaffner, who played for the Badgers in the late 1960s, when victories were scarce, said his sense is that Badger fever is as hot as it's ever been.

Schaffner went to the two Rose Bowl games in the 1990s, but he's making it a family event at home this year.

"I live and die the Badgers, so not going is no indication of not being interested, that's for sure," Schaffner said.

"This is going to be a phenomenal ball game, better than last year's game, I think, especially with the two offenses as strong as they are, two different styles of football," Schaffner said.

Schaffner notes that this is a classic match-up between Wisconsin's power and the speed of their opponent, the Oregon Ducks.

"Which one's going to come out on top? This could be a very interesting ball game," Schaffner said. "We could get run right out of the park, or we could really show them how strong the Big Ten really is with power football. The jury's out."

The power-versus-flash match-up is a talking point down at Legends, where fans would like to see their kind of football prevail.

"I'd like to see a normal Midwestern team beat up some liquid-Nike squad," said Buhrow, referring to the Ducks' new helmets, with their mirror-like finish described as "liquid metal."

"What's up with that?" Buhrow said. "What about tradition?"

Wygans said Badger fans should not miss this year's action because a lot of questions hover over next year.

"It might be a few years before we do it again," Wygans said. "Enjoy it while you can; it makes the winter shorter."

Last updated: 7:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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