Saturday, November 23, 2013

Convergence of Three Great Forces in Wisconsin This Weekend

There is an ever so slight chance that I might be a tad biased but to put it bluntly there is simply no better state in the United States to be from than the great Cheesehead State of Wisconsin.  The reasons for that statement are so numerous that I could fill page after page of this blog with examples. Suffice it to say, however, that there are two kinds of people on earth – 1) those of us who were born in Wisconsin, and 2) those who wish they had been.

If you grew up in Wisconsin in the 1950s and 1960s you knew three things to be undeniable facts. First you knew that from sunrise on the Saturday before Thanksgiving until sunset on the Sunday after Thanksgiving everything except the bars in Wisconsin stopped operating because it was deer hunting season.  In 1900 there were an estimated 100,000 white-tailed deer in Wisconsin and in 1976 when I worked as a temporary employee (for $3.00 an hour!) with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources hunters in Wisconsin shot 100,000 deer for the first time ever.  By the mid-1990s hunters were harvesting 500,000 white-tailed deer in the state each year.  Four million people will take to the woods for the deer hunting season – nearly the entire population of the state – and at sunrise today if I was a male white-tailed deer I’d be looking over my shoulder and I’d be dropping pellets like a machine every time I heard a twig snap.

The second thing you knew is that also on the Saturday before Thanksgiving the venerable Badgers from the incomparable University of Wisconsin head to the gridiron where they regularly and resoundingly pound into submission the golden rodents from that inadequate college in that lesser state that clutters Wisconsin’s western border.  (If you are geographically challenged I’m talking about the University of ….god I hate to type this word…..Minnesota).

The third thing you knew growing up was that on Sunday during the football season if the Green Bay Packers were playing at home there was only one church in Wisconsin and its name was Lambeau Field.  An entire state held its collective breath from the moment Bart Starr took the field of battle in Green Bay and nobody exhaled until the end of the fourth quarter.  Even during the crucial deer hunting season if the Pack was playing on Sunday afternoon, the white-tailed deer population of Wisconsin knew it had a two-hour reprieve that day because every Cheesehead in the state was glued to a radio or a television following the game.  To this day my 80-something year old aunt dresses up on game day in a Packer uniform.  She dons a Packer helmet and sits in front of the television to watch the action.  If the Packers fall behind in the scoring my aunt gets on her treadmill, in full uniform, and walks off her frustration until the Packers regain the lead.  The only thing is, my aunt’s actions are not that unusual.  The entire state of Wisconsin reacts the same way.  And if the Green Bay Packers are playing that purple team from the state that clutters our western border (see the note above for the name of that state) the intensity level in Wisconsin reaches a boiling point.

Perhaps it was pure luck or perhaps it was by random chance but for whatever reason those three great things are all happening in the same weekend in Wisconsin.  

The reasons for this bold statement become obvious when you look at the calendar and also the schedules of 1) the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2) the University of Wisconsin football team and 3) the schedule of the Green Bay Packers.

At dawn today, November 23, 2013, everyone in Wisconsin will become an expert on the ecology of white-tailed deer because dawn today signals the opening second of the 2013 deer hunting season for those armed with guns.  Just a mere 24 hours earlier the only deer biologists in the state were men and women hired by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to manage Wisconsin’s deer population.  However at dawn today every janitor, sales clerk, farmer and truck driver, along with everyone else in Wisconsin, becomes an authority on the ecology of white-tailed deer and those few biologists hired to manage the deer population know not a thing about the animal.  By noon today most of the bars in the state will be filled with deer experts telling stories that make fish stories look lame and most of those stories will carry at least one reference to “those god damned DNR people don’t know shit about deer.” 

Just watch.  It’s going to happen.

About seven hours after deer season begins this morning the Wisconsin Badgers take to the field in a city in that lesser state to our west where hopefully by 5:00 p.m. today they will have reduced the Golden Gophers to a status slightly less upright than a large lasagna noodle.  Long a power house in the Big Ten Conference (now the Big 12 even though there are 13 teams – go figure) and regularly the Big 10/12/13 representative at the Rose Bowl, the only game the Badgers play each year that really matters is when they play (and preferably beat) the Golden Gophers from that state that begins with an M.

Why and where this disgust with and hatred for that state that begins with an M comes from remains a mystery but it’s still there.  It might be that it is simply a genetically inherited trait about which we have no choice and that might be it.  I like to think its because the M state brags about having 10,000 lakes but the bastards all come over to Wisconsin and fish on our 8,000 lakes.  Whatever the reason, the distaste for the M state runs deep.  In 1969, the year I graduated from high school, a state legislator from near La Crosse introduced a bill into the legislature that if passed would have imposed a $100 toll on all vehicles entering Wisconsin that sported a M state license plate. He wasn’t trying to raise revenue with the legislation; he was trying to keep them out of Wisconsin.  The bill failed to move out of the committee in which it was introduced.  Maybe next time it will pass.

Both the deer hunting season and the Badgers annual trouncing of the Golden Gophers will happen today.

Adding to the drama and high suspense and no doubt causing beer and booze sales to go off the charts this weekend, tomorrow afternoon the Green Bay Packers take on that purple team from the lesser state that begins with an M in a National Football League battle.   Luckily the Packers game is in that M state otherwise Wisconsin would likely explode.  When I was a kid and Vince Lombardi was the coach the Packers were invincible.  Who could ever forget Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak with 9 seconds left in the infamous Ice Bowl for christs sake?   After Vince moved on the fortunes of the Packers were not as great and to be quite frank they sucked.  The one bright spot in those dark days were the Sunday afternoons during which the Packers played those purple bastards from the M state.  As long as the Pack could beat them, a 2 win and 12 loss season was almost bearable.    

Although the Packers aren’t doing as well as hoped this year, tomorrow they take on those hapless purple bastards and if the force is with us, a Packer vs. Purple Team win tomorrow coupled with the start of deer hunting season and the Badgers vs. Golden Gopher game today could make this an incredibly unusual and volatile weekend in the great Cheesehead state.

The only thing I can think of to reduce the tension and anticipation that will be so palpable in Wisconsin this weekend is for every deer in the state to immediately put down its head and begin running like a mad man for the nearest border with Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, or even that M state (but just stay in the M state long enough for the season to end and then come back).  Along with the overstressed deer I would suggest (as if they need the suggestion) that the human population of Wisconsin make regular trips to the local Corners Bar (almost every town in Wisconsin seems to have at least one Corners Bar) to stock up on that sweet nectar made from hops and barley.  Get to the grocery store and buy more bratwurst and as many tubs of cheese curds as you can carry.  Get yourselves thoroughly buzzed on the beer and stuffed on the brats and cheese curds and then sit back and watch the games. 

Don’t forget to wear your Cheesehead hat and  sing "On Wisconsin" throughout the weekend and make sure that you yell “Fuck ‘em Bucky” every time the Badgers carry the ball.

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