The scene at Union South hours before the Nebraska-Wisconsin showdown could be ripe for a culture clash.
At the same time University of Wisconsin fans converge on the first floor to watch the UW Marching Band at the pre-game Badger Bash, the second floor will be occupied by a tailgate party of 850 Cornhuskers fans held by the Nebraska Alumni Association.
“Initially, we were really upset and disgusted that the university would book a party for the opposing team’s fans in our beautiful new facility,” said Lynell Raiche from Germantown, a self-described Badgers band groupie. “But after thinking about it, we’ve decided we need to be hospitable to people who are that eager to get out of Nebraska and come to Mad City to learn from the best how to party.”
The Huskers party at Union South is sold out. So the question is how, exactly, will thousands of Nebraska fans squeeze into Madison to tailgate and — for those who don’t have tickets — watch the game?
Estimates vary on how many Nebraska fans will converge on Madison, but police say it could range from 20,000 to 40,000 for a game that marks Nebraska’s debut in the Big Ten and matches two top-10 programs.
For many Nebraska fans, “this is their version of the Packers, the Brewers and the Bucks all rolled into one,” said Madison Police Lt. Dave McCaw.
Nebraska fans are well-known for traveling to away games, with or without tickets. UW athletic staff set aside 3,000 tickets at Camp Randall Stadium for Nebraska fans, although Huskers undoubtedly will be able to get their hands on more.
“We pride ourselves on having the world’s greatest sports fans,” said Diane Mendenhall, executive director of the Nebraska Alumni Association.
One hot spot for Nebraska fans likely will be the Regent Street Retreat, 1206 Regent St. The Sidetrack Band, based in Lincoln, Neb., will play there Friday night and again at noon Saturday.
Lead singer Joyce Durand said the band has played near the stadium in Lincoln for more than 30 years and plays at most away games, too. Sidetrack plays classic rock, country and original Huskers songs.
Durand said every 20 minutes they play the fight song, "There is no place like Nebraska."
She’s already started some lighthearted trash-talking.
“We always say, it’s so tacky, wearing those big wedges of cheese on their heads,” Durand said. “What you really need is something classy like a big ear of corn on your head.”
A group called the Husker Elvises, decked out in red and white bling, also will be at the bar.
“Is it going to change into a Nebraska bar? I don’t know,” said Alex Van Oudenhove, general manager at Regent Street Retreat. “At the end of the day, it’s business and I’m not going to turn anyone away.”
Nebraska fans began inquiring about watching the game at Lucky’s Bar and Grille, 1421 Regent St., as far back as September 2010 when the game was first announced, said Stephanie Wilbur, general manger.
Badgerville, the official pregame party of UW Athletics, will open at 3 p.m. and stay open throughout the game, with two 9-by-12-foot screens available for people to watch the game. It has a capacity of 5,000.
“We are leaving it open through the game for the express purpose of giving folks a spot to watch the game,” said Justin Doherty, associate athletic director. “The one thing we won’t be doing is selling beer.”
(Beer will be sold at Badgerville from 3 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.)
Rick Brown, 47, a Huskers fan from Indianapolis, doesn’t have a ticket. He’s planning to drive to Madison on Saturday morning with his 13-year-old son and is hoping to buy tickets on game day.
He said he’ll be “pretty bummed” if he doesn’t get a ticket, but is willing to risk it.
“The thing with Nebraska is almost everybody is a fan,” Brown said. “They just grew up that way.”
— State Journal reporter Sandy Cullen contributed to this story.