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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The First Badgers-Gophers Game in Madison


The Badgers meet Minnesota on Saturday in the latest incarnation of a football rivalry dating back more than a century. The first Madison game was a long time coming and long-remembered.

Until 1894, the two teams had always played in Minnesota, and the Badgers had always lost. Gophers manager J.E. O'Brien repeatedly refused to play in Madison because he thought the Badgers weren't talented enought to be worth the expense of the trip. So in 1894 Wisconsin manager L.W. Myers offered O'Brien an incentive of $500 (twice what a game normally cost) to bring his team across the Mississippi.

Game Day

UW students painted the town red and white for the occasion and employees at local businesses wore red coats to show their spirit. Bleacher seats had to be built, because up to then spectators had simply stood next to the field (where Library Mall is now located). When the Gophers arrived, they were met by 500 red-and-white-clad students who escorted them to the Park Hotel for the night.

Game day was always recalled as a clash of epic proportions. The Minnesota fans arrived with their marching band and were greeted by thousands of screaming Badgers. There was hardly enough room for everyone to stand, and only a thin rope separated the spectators from the field itself. The state's best-known dignitaries attended, including Governor G.W. Peck, former Governor Lucius Fairchild, and Senator William F. Vilas. At kickoff, the crowd was estimated at nearly 8,000 people, an enormous number at the time.

An Epic Battle

The game began at 3:00pm and was brutal. The Badgers'left tackle dislocated his shoulder. Their quarterback was knocked in the head early on and seemed off balance for most of the game. The teams traded possessions again and again, and at half-time the score remained zero to zero. The stalemate continued until Badgers halfback Ikey Karel ran 40 yards for a touchdown. He sat down and wept afterwards.

Post-Game Celebrations

Then as now, students responded with a party. A bonfire was started on Langdon Street which burned all night. When students ran out of wood they ripped up the wooden sidewalk and tossed it on the flames. University president Charles K. Adams finally fell asleep to the voices ofsinging fans, and the college paper printed a special edition on red paper.

The players were cheered wherever they went and treated to an honorary meal of fried gopher. One hopes it was just chicken under a false name, but we'll never know. O'Brien and his Minnesota players presumably ate crow.


:: Posted in Curiosities on November 11, 2011
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