MADISON, Wis. — James Everett works at Mickey’s, a popular diner located across the street from Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium.
On game days, the establishment “is packed, with a line going outside the door,” Everett said. Inside, Mickey’s is decorated with Badger memorabilia and there's plenty of Midwestern, stick-to-your-ribs menu items.
Everett, who graduated from Wisconsin in 2004, is a huge fan of the program.
And when Gary Andersen was hired last December to replace head coach Bret Bielema, who bolted for Arkansas, Everett, like most Wisconsin faithful, was surprised. They didn’t know much about Andersen, who spent the previous four seasons at Utah State and several years before that as an assistant at Utah.
“I only knew what I read in the newspapers,” Everett said Friday morning. “I know he coached Utah State and they played here last year. So I had heard of him. How can you have negative or positive feelings for someone you don’t know? After they announced his hiring, I read a lot about him. He seemed like a well-respected guy. A lot of people liked him. He wasn’t scandalous in any way.”
Now that Andersen has been on the job for nine months, Badger fans say he is a nice fit in Madison.
“He seems like a no-frills guy,” Everett said. “He’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar coach. I actually like Gary Andersen. I don’t know him or anything, but he has a good demeanor, the way he carries himself. I don’t hear many fans complaining about him.”
Andersen’s Wisconsin team is ranked No. 21 in the nation and has a 6-2 record. The Badgers host BYU Saturday (1:30 p.m. MST, ESPN).
Shawn Lange, who graduated from Wisconsin last year, was on his way to the Camp Randall Sports Center for a workout Friday when he was asked about Andersen.
“He’s killing it this year,” Lange said. “He uses the running plays well, and we love to see that. He’s a good coach so far. When he was hired, I didn’t know too much about him. I think it’s been an easy transition for him. It seems like the team listens to him and appreciates his knowledge of the game. He’s earning the respect of the players.”
Even though Bielema had led the Badgers to three consecutive Big Ten championships and three straight Rose Bowl appearances, he may have worn out his welcome in Madison.
“A lot of people didn’t like him here,” Everett said. “Fans thought we should have gone to a game higher than the Rose Bowl. His play-calling was questionable in a lot of games. There were games when he should have played it safe, and he went for it. Then when he should have gone for it, he should have played it safe. The majority of people were happy he left.”
Wisconsin fans have a reputation for their knowledge of the game and for their passion. Clad in red, Badger fans love filling Camp Randall Stadium on Saturdays in the fall. Wisconsin’s game-day ambiance is one of the best in college football, Everett said.
“It’s the best atmosphere in college football if you’re a student,” he said. “When I was a student, I went to games all over the Big Ten. Wisconsin has the best atmosphere. There are houses across the stadium next to the stadium. Other places, there’s a huge parking lot in front of the stadium. Here, it’s like right across the street. People party before the game, then go right in to watch the game.”
On game day, Wisconsin fans create a party-like atmosphere that starts long before kickoff and continues long after the game ends.
Between the third and fourth quarters, Badger fans jump in unison to the song, “Jump Around,” a ’90s hit by House of Pain, that blares over the loudspeakers at Camp Randall Stadium.
“That’s one of the reasons why it’s best atmosphere in college football,” Everett said. “It’s exciting. I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere else. It’s fun.”
“It’s definitely worth sticking around the entire game for,” Lange said. “There’s been talk about reinforcing the stadium because of how many students jump up and down. At the Rose Bowl, they played the 'Jump Around' song. It was awesome. The thing I love the most is everyone’s on the same page here. Everybody wears red. It’s so lively. There are people on every street corner. It’s upbeat and awesome to be around it.”
Everett said it’s “kind of weird” to be playing a non-conference opponent in the month of November. But he likes it.
“We used to play a lot of cupcakes for our non-conference games,” he said. “It’s nice to see other types of teams come in here.”
When Everett thinks of BYU, he thinks of former quarterback, and Heisman Trophy winner, Ty Detmer and the Cougars’ winning tradition.
Lange admitted he is unfamiliar with BYU.
“Honestly, I don’t know much about BYU. Are they in the top 25?” he asked. “It will be a fight to the finish, but I think the Badgers realize they have to get these wins to get to a good bowl game. I’ve got to go with the Badgers, baby. I would say 24-21. It will be a close game with some good offense and good defense. It will go down to the wire.”
Back at Mickey’s, BYU fan Steven Facer and his friend, William Gibson, are eating a hearty breakfast.
Facer is wearing a Cougar hoodie, while Gibson has on a UCLA sweatshirt. It’s their first time to Madison. Facer and Gibson live in Seattle, where they own five Papa Murphy’s pizza restaurants.
Earlier this season, Facer picked BYU to upset Texas. His confidence is high.
“They’ll beat Wisconsin, 28-24," he said. “If we played the way against Texas, not the way we played against Virginia, I think we’ll come out with a hard-fought victory. (Quarterback) Taysom Hill is an incredible player. If he does what he does, then we’ll be good.”
What kind of atmosphere does this diehard Cougar fan expect Saturday at Camp Randall?
“I’m expecting a lot of red,” Facer said, noting that he and his friend are staying at the Hotel Red, located next to the stadium. “It doesn’t repulse me like the (University of Utah) red.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company