This article originally appeared in Isthmus on Sept. 1, 1995.
Each year I know that fall looms when Barry Alvarez is the guest speaker at the weekly meeting of the Downtown chapter of Rotary, the international service group. This being his sixth season as Badger football coach, Alvarez's appearance is becoming ritual. Soon after, footballs fly and the tempo of the town changes.
This was that week this year. Though I'm not a member of Rotary, my wife is, and -- as usual -- she invited me to attend the luncheon gathering at the Park Motor Inn, and -- for the first time -- I accepted. I figured it was time for me to make the pilgrimage to venerate St. Barry and admit that, pretensions to intellectuality aside, football and fall can stir my blood too.
For all their sophistication and competitive acumen, the downtown movers and shakers love their football. Or maybe they just love their Badgers, especially when they play football. And the Badgers have been playing it very well lately for Mr. Alvarez, making him a big draw at Rotary. The meeting, I'm told, is the best attended of the year, though the ranks are swelled by an unusually large number of guests.
The coach was a good show. I've witnessed his public presentations before and remarked in him that ability to take his football intensity beyond the field and infuse his life with it, so that the sense of will and determination are almost palpable. I've seen it before in other coaches I've met, and I've met a few. And the one Barry Alvarez reminds me the most of is Ara Parseghian, former Notre Dame and Northwestern coach, a guy who also exuded the feeling that he would do whatever it took to be successful at football, including giving speeches and meeting the public.
Maybe it is the coal- and steel-country background that these two and so many others in their profession share. Football is religion in those regions, and the citizenry is fervent about it. When one ponders the Madison persona, intensity is not a noticeable characteristic. We have to import guys like Alvarez to instill it. Come this Saturday evening at Camp Randall, when the Badgers take on the Colorado Buffaloes on national TV, we're going to get a demonstration.