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Wisconsin Badgers’ fans know this drill all too well.

For the sixth time since 2011, Badger Nation will make the 375-mile trek to Indianapolis.

There have been wins in the Big Ten Championship football game over Michigan State in 2011 and Nebraska in 2012.

Most have tried to block out of their mind the 59-0 drubbing from Ohio State in 2014 and last year’s heart-breaker in overtime against Penn State. In 2015, it was the Badgers basketball team that provided the thrills at Lucas Oil Stadium by beating previously undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four semifinal but losing to Duke in the title game by five points.

This year’s trip has the potential to become one of the greatest moments in Wisconsin sports history. And fans are responding accordingly for a chance to be a part of what could be a raucous environment as the Badgers face Ohio State for a chance to advance to the final four national college football playoff.

“They have a chance,” said Leon Harris, 68, who spent part of Thursday picking out Badgers gear at University Bookstore on State Street. “I’m not swayed by the 59-0 loss (to Ohio State). It could very well be a different story this time.”

Harris, a Marquette University graduate and retired chemistry teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College, had two children attend UW-Madison and has been at three of the four Big Ten Championship games. He and his wife are season ticket holders and will leave Friday for Indianapolis along with thousands of others from around the state.

Some fans say they will make the drive Saturday morning, thanks to the 7:15 p.m. kickoff, and spend just one night in a hotel. Others, like Natalie Stanek, 19, a UW-Madison sophomore from Edgerton, will try to make it even more economical by driving back after the game.

“It’s a bold choice,” said Stanek, who purchased tickets for $75 each and will attend the game with her father, Chris Stanek. “It’s his Christmas present.”

‘Interest will be enormous’

Unlike bowl games, there is no official charter trip by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Instead, most fans are making arrangements on their own. And because of Indianapolis’ proximity to Wisconsin, most will drive instead of boarding an airplane. The exception will be the Badgers football team, which is scheduled to depart by bus at 8:45 a.m. Friday from the McClain Center to the Dane County Regional Airport.

John Meier, president of Madison-based Badger Bus, said 13 of his 70 coach buses are reserved for the Badgers. Some will haul the team to the airport, others will transport the band and cheerleaders. Meier has no charters available for bus trips to the game for fans since many of his buses are reserved for other UW teams or opponents coming to Madison, road trips for the Edgewood College men’s and women’s basketball teams and several shopping charters.

Mike Zimmer, director of sales for Middleton Travel, said the company will open at noon Sunday to begin taking reservations for the Badgers’ bowl game. The options with a win would be either the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. A loss on Saturday would likely mean a trip to either the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, or the Orange Bowl in Miami.

“I think the interest will be enormous, and it will be hard to accommodate everyone,” Zimmer said of a Badgers trip to the final four.

Saturday’s game hasn’t reached the fever pitch of the Badgers Rose Bowl appearance following the 1993 season, but a win could put the national semifinal into that rarefied air, said Jeff Wendorf, 57, vice president of advancement for the Wisconsin Alumni Association. He was at the Rose Bowl on Jan 1, 1994, when Wisconsin beat UCLA 21-16.

“People realize we may be on the verge of something really great,” Wendorf said. “It’ll be crazy to see what happens if we win on Saturday night.”

Prior to the game, the Wisconsin Alumni Association will host a tailgate party from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Indiana Convention Center. The event is free but requires a wristband and is limited to 5,000 people. Wristbands will be available outside of Exhibit Hall F beginning at noon Saturday, according to the association’s website. The party will include music and big screens for fans to watch the Badgers basketball team play Ohio State at the Kohl Center.

Worth the expense

For some, the trip to Indianapolis has been in the works for months.

Connie Hammill, an elementary school teacher in Middleton, is going to the game with her husband, Gregg, 52, and their son, Sammy, 11, a sixth-grader at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton. They will be at the game with Gregg’s sister and her son, who live in an Indianapolis suburb.

The Hammills will leave Friday afternoon but because they have free accommodations didn’t balk at the $159 price for each of their tickets, which will put them in the lower bowl of the 70,000-seat stadium. Their daughter, Molly, 7, will go along on the trip but will stay with her 12-year-old cousin and her uncle, George, a Florida State fan, who wants to stay home and watch football on television.

“We’re really paying for the game and the experience,” said Connie Hammill, 50, a UW-Madison graduate. “We’re really, really excited and looking forward to being down there and being with other Badgers fans. It’s going to be a really fun atmosphere and a fun game to be at.”

Cooper Brannigan, 21, a UW-Madison senior majoring in political science and communications, grew up in Evanston, Illinois, as a Northwestern Wildcats fan. He’s now a Badgers fan and will make the trip Friday to Indianapolis in an eight-person, two-vehicle car pool.

His roommate’s brother booked two hotel rooms near the Indianapolis airport back in July. The rooms will cost $30 per person for both nights, and they all purchased student tickets for $50 a piece, which puts them in Section 233, in the lower level of the stadium in the corner of the end zone.

Brannigan, who was born in 1996, has never attended a bowl game. Saturday will be his first Big Ten Championship game experience.

“I’m a senior and it’s my last real rodeo,” Brannigan said. “We have a chance to go to the playoff. And if we do win, it will be pretty awesome.”


Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.