In general, the interstate rivalry between Wisconsin and Minnesota seems to be based primarily on a contest between losers, to see who has the coldest weather, the stupidest sports rituals (I’ll put my Cheeseheads against your Viking Helmets any day), the drunkest residents and the least amount of actual attractions per capita.
To be really honest, it’s kind of like watching two geeks compete to see who can quote the most lines from the original Star Wars movie: it’s pathetic and sad, but you get swept into the contest anyway, and end up rooting for one of them based on who’s related most closely to you, or who bought you a beer second to last.
And while the Packers and the Vikings hate each other, and the fans hate each other, and ordinary people will occasionally, upon seeing a Minnesota license plate on a Wisconsin highway, mutter, “Go back to Minnesota, ya hoser” (not that I would ever, ever do this — hoser), nowhere is the rivalry more fierce than in college hockey.
Minnesota has some goons on skates. Serious goons. Humongous louts imported from Canada or home-grown on the Iron Range who may not be all that fast, but can perforate a net at 50 feet and specialize in hitting defensemen so hard they forget their sexual orientation.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, has mostly concentrated in recent years on recruiting short, small guys who can’t skate, pass or score. The few games that have been won have been on the strength of their goalies, two years ago Graham Melanson, who had 51 saves two nights in a row and can call me anytime he likes, and now Bernd Bruckler, who stood on his head in pads once to block a shot and will also not be kicked out of my house should he choose to visit. C’mon over, guys. We’ll drink beer and watch my tapes of the 1980 U.S. Olympic games, and you can play darts with my husband.
So for a die-hard Badger, the only enjoyment in contest, mainly, has come from the fans. Ah, the fans. For the next 10 years, until Wisconsin has an honest-to-God recruiting system that produces more than one proven scorer a year, the main amusement in watching these two teams play comes from watching the fans play each other to see who’s the biggest tool.
First … from Minnesota.
Their fans bus down to Madison every year for the annual contest and take over the hockey stadium, take off their shirts and gyrate wildly to the Wisconsin band, which is playing the State Anthem, “St. Paul Sucks Worse than Milwaukee, Minneapolis Worse than LaCrosse.” Meanwhile the student section is chanting “Shave Your Backs! Shave Your Backs!” at the hairy beasts from the Land of Ten Thousand Half-Assed Little Towns With Unpronouncable Names, who spent most of the afternoon staring at the street, having never seen so much traffic in all their hick lives.
They walk around State Street, the campus’ main shopping strip, in their Minnesota jerseys and stupid Gopher hats, making chipmunk faces and ducking the garbage thrown at them by students who started drinking at 9 a.m. in preparation for this contest.
They don’t know how to cheer, directing their intoxicated swearing at a sweet lady (my Mom, ladies and gentlemen) whose anger is really only aroused by drunken Minnesota frat boys, and who gave it right back to them, getting in their thick red faces and screaming, “Your power play SUCKS!” quite possibly the only time in her rather refined life that she’s ever uttered those words. Did I mention they outweighed her, individually, by about 200 pounds? Go Mom.
Speaking of … from Wisconsin.
Wisconsin hockey fans have several advantages over the visiting losers from the Land of Ten Thousand Varieties of Official State Suck.
They are creative.
A guy in a bear head and bear paws and a hockey jersey; five guys with foam beer mugs on their heads; a guy in pink bunny ears; a guy in a track suit, sunglasses and moon boots; a guy in full goalie regalia including helmet, swinging a stuffed gopher tied to a hockey stick by its neck; a guy wearing a pith helmet spray-painted silver; three girls dressed like refs, all wearing dark glasses, and one guy in a giant red wig.
To a goalie with a plain white helmet, in stark contrast to our own goalie’s wildly decorated headgear: BORING HELMET! BORING HELMET! BORING HELMET!
To a goalie named Hauser: DOOOOOGIE! DOOOOOGIE!
To a goalie named Weasler: WEASEL! WEASEL! WEASEL!
To an empty goal, after the goalie has been pulled to give the team an extra scorer: BETTER GOALIE! BETTER GOALIE! BETTER GOALIE!
To a ref who has called some kind of penalty on a Wisconsin player, no matter how justified: REF NEEDS A WIFE! REF NEEDS A WIFE! REF NEEDS A WIFE SO HE WON’T FUCK US!
To a Minnesota player who hasn’t done anything but skate close to the student section, the source of most of this hilarity: YOUR MOM CALLED! SHE SAID YOU SUCK!
To a Minnesota player with the bad fortune to fall down or be knocked down (the former is more likely than the latter, really): HEY (PLAYER’S NAME)! YOU WANNA DATE? YOU’RE MY KIND OF GUY!
To the Minnesota coach, should his team be behind in the final period, accompanied by pointing at the goalie: PULL YOUR SIEVE! PULL YOUR SIEVE! PULL YOUR SIEVE!
If the goalie is Weasler: PULL YOUR WEASEL! PULL YOUR WEASEL! PULL YOUR WEASEL!
If the Wisconsin team approaches four goals, the fifth of which guarantees everyone with a ticket stub free ice cream from a local restaurant: WE WANT ICE CREAM!
Should the Wisconsin team actually get five goals: WE WANT TWO SCOOPS!
They are persistent:
At a recent Wisconsin-Minnesota contest, the Badgers were down by three in the last ten minutes of the game, and the student section stood up, exhorted others to stand up, booed those who refused, and proceeded to scream their lungs out for those last ten minutes, in a futile attempt to get the team excited.
They chanted “SIEVE!” so often at one goalie that he turned around, faced them, and smacked his stick on his, er, codpiece. They cheered.
They are knowledgeable:
They know who’s really working on the ice and who’s not. When Melanson, the only one who really showed up to play that night, once slapped a shot halfway down the ice in frustration with his colleagues who were puzzlingly unable to do the same, the man sitting behind me stood up and yelled, “Skate it up, Graham!”
They know the rules of hockey. Two women in front of us one night were having such a vociferous argument about changing lines and penalty-killing we were afraid it would come to blows.
They are dedicated:
One couple in front of us brought their three-week-old baby to the game. Baby wore a Badger hat and slept through the entire game, including the air horn that goes off every time Wisconsin scores. Kid’s first words are gonna be “Hit ’em again! Harder, harder!”
My family has driven through blizzards, three-hour traffic jams, torrential rains and five-below temperatures that rendered the car about as mobile as a block of ice to get to these games. My father, when he was a Wisconsin student, used to walk two hours in those same temps, bundled up like an Inuit, out to the stadium from his Pharmacy Frat House of Chemical Experimentation. At that time the games were played in the Dane County Coliseum, a drafty, beer-sticky, concrete-floored monstrosity that echoed with 15,000 screaming lunatics, all worked up from two days of press about the rivalry and hungry for blood. Good times.
When the game is played in Minnesota, Badger fans simply charter a bus and go up into hostile territory, screaming and bouncing and drinking beer and wearing red, for much the same terrible treatment we give their (hoser) fans down here.
They love each other:
One year for Christmas I was given a) A rubber chicken dressed in a Minnesota sweater with a noose around its neck and b) an official University of Minnesota stuffed mascot gopher, stapled to a stick. As I carried these items proudly toward the stadium, the crowd behind me began chanting, “Gopher on a stick! Gopher on a stick! Gopher on a stick!” I’ve never felt more warmth for or from a group of people.
They give fair treatment to their heroes:
During Melanson’s last game, which the Badgers won, they started screaming his name in the last five minutes. They wouldn’t let him off the ice until he took of his helmet and skated around waving at them. They chucked programs, hats and flowers onto the ice for him. When he finally left, they sang the school song and chanted his name for five more minutes until marching off as one for beer.
The Minnesota (hosers) game is next weekend. I can’t wait.