Less happens during an actual three-ring circus than what played out on the Camp Randall Stadium turf last Saturday morning. Over 800 fans showed up for an open spring practice - something unheard of during the Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema regimes - and got a brief glimpse behind the curtain of big-time college football.
At one end of the field, linebackers blitzed and stunted against a line of overturned garbage cans. At the other, quarterbacks practiced fake handoffs and pitches. Receivers took turns trying to strip the ball from each other along a sideline, and tailbacks negotiated a gauntlet of ropes and blocking dummies. It all took place as an odd soundtrack including Will.i.am, Young MC, the Lumineers and the occasional classic rock nugget played loudly over speakers stationed around the field.
Midway through the session, a monotone computerized voice sounding not unlike HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey called out "applesauce, applesauce," at which point managers distributed plastic cups of applesauce to the players.
"This is important. It matters to the kids," said still-new head coach Gary Andersen at the conclusion of the session, right after thanking the fans for coming and rewarding one with a pair of season tickets. "It gets them even more invested with the public, with Badger Nation."
The fans in attendance Saturday were plenty invested as well. They cheered as diminutive receiver Kenzel Doe celebrated a touchdown by dunking the ball over the goalpost crossbar, and they chuckled when Badger HAL announced it was time for the drill "red zone skelly." Accustomed to being relentlessly marketed to, fans appreciated a rare opportunity to see an unvarnished and unscripted version of the Badgers.
At the center of it all was Andersen, who is winning over fans by being genuine, open and even fun.