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Student Stories: A rookie’s guide to navigating football frenzy 

September 12, 2023 By Xinlin Jiang
People dressed in red walk to a stadium on Game Day.

Fans work their way to the game, bedecked in red. Photo by Xinlin Jiang

(Editor’s note: Xinlin Jiang is a UW–Madison senior who’s an international student from China.)

I attended my first football game ever on Sept. 2, when the Badgers took on the Buffalo Bulls in Camp Randall Stadium.

Even though I didn’t understand the rules or what was going on all the time, one thing was clear: The joy and sense of belonging within Camp Randall Stadium can even make a scorching day feel fervently festive.

I could sense the game’s flow — cheers indicated our team scored, while sighs meant the opponent did.

The game serves as a grand welcome into the Badger community. Campus, along with its adjacent streets, is awash in a vibrant display of red and white attire. Everywhere, enthusiastic fans chat, laugh and celebrate.

UW-Madison students don their red-and-white Badger gear and take to the streets, ramping up the anticipation for the football game. Simultaneously, many Wisconsin families make the journey to UW–Madison’s campus for the festivities. Tailgating is ubiquitous: grills are set up along roadsides, and game-themed activities are hosted at Union South. But what’s most striking is the sea of red that swells and flows towards Camp Randall Stadium—a moving testament to the Badger spirit.

As the Badgers take the field, Camp Randall Stadium erupts with enthusiasm from 80,000 Badgers spanning all age groups. A sea of red in the stands begins to bubble with excitement.

Before the game kicks off, most attendees have settled into their seats. It’s shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh. The crowd leans forward in unison, eyes fixed on the green gridiron.

W woman in a Wisconsin shirt stands in the stadium.

Xinlin Jiang at her first game. Photo by Chloe Peng

Every time the team achieves a first down, the student section reliably shouts, “First and ten, Wisconsin,” pointing towards the field. Whenever there’s a score, the entire stadium rejoices.

On one side of the field, the marching band entertains the crowd during breaks, their synchronized movements and uplifting tunes echoing throughout. Dancing to their rhythm, cheerleaders wave their red pompoms on the turf.

The stands also teem with children, many of whom are intently focused on the giant screen. During game intervals, cameras pan across the crowd, and the little ones eagerly await their fleeting moments of fame. Every time the music blares and the camera scans the stands, a young boy seated behind me springs to his feet. He stares intently at the screen, hands held high forming a ‘W’ gesture, stamping his feet and murmuring, “Look at me! Look at me!”

When I was puzzled by the game’s proceedings, I sheepishly asked the gentleman next to me. Discovering it was my inaugural match, he chuckled and patiently explained the rules and current situations on the field. Suddenly, the stands erupted; everyone stood up, holding their breath, then exclaiming — Touchdown! The gentleman enthusiastically high-fived me, saying a touchdown was cause for celebration. The joy and excitement in that brief moment were palpable, a testament to the warmth between strangers and the unified spirit for the Wisconsin Badgers.

By halftime, the Wisconsin Badgers were leading comfortably. I inquired about the game’s duration, and he mentioned it typically lasts over three hours, with an intriguing segment called “Jump Around” possibly coming up. 

When the familiar intro of “Jump Around” began, the stadium boiled over with energy. Fans eagerly stood, dancing and jumping to the beat. For the duration of that song, no one cared about dancing prowess, just feeling the rhythm and chanting “Jump! Jump! Jump!”

A long view of a football field with fans in the stands.

The crowd cheers on the Badgers. Photo by Xinlin Jiang

After the match, my friend and I bid a friendly farewell to our neighboring spectator. On our way home, I seemed to glimpse a version of myself from two years prior—curiously and timidly observing the crimson crowd. Today, I feel a stronger sense of belonging and assurance. To every newcomer curious yet hesitant about Game Day: the next time you see that sea of red, take a brave step into the crowd. Perhaps, in Camp Randall Stadium, there’ll be more high-fives awaiting you.

Student Stories tell the many experiences of UW–Madison students 

Tags: student life