"Applesauce. Applesauce." a monotone voice announced over large speakers set up on the Camp Randall Stadium field, sending the cardinal-and-white clad players to the sideline for a snack, a drink and a breather in the middle of their practice Saturday.
New Wisconsin Badgers football coach Gary Andersen has introduced music to the Badgers' practices, which means a device called a "tempo system" is programmed to play a mix of Will.i.am, Young MC, The Lumineers and many others over a loudspeaker, interspersed with brief announcements from a computerized voice sounding not unlike HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That tempo system is just one way Andersen's style is markedly different from former coach Bret Bielema's and Badgers fans got a chance to see that for themselves as the new coach endeared himself by opening practice to the public Saturday. About 800 fans showed up and saw players run through drills for nearly two hours, from the mundane to the exciting, along with a dance contest that could only be described as bizarre.
They also witnessed a coach who appears to be in constant motion. As the Badgers broke into their position groups, Anderson stalked around mid-field in a visor, windbreaker and shorts, monitoring the multi-ring circus around him. When the offense and defense ran skeleton drills, live passing plays without linemen ("Red zone skellie," according to Badger HAL), the coach was actively encouraging players, handing out high fives and instructing individuals.
Watching practice gives fans a unique opportunity to see an unvarnished version of their team, from linebacker Chris Borland joking with a security guard to diminutive receiver Kenzel Doe celebrating a touchdown by dunking the ball over the goalpost crossbar (teammate Jared Abbrederis attempted to match the feat at the opposite end of the field after his touchdown with no luck).
Kids danced in the stands to the music, high school coaches scrutinized the practice's fast pace and die-hards attempted to learn which of four scholarship quarterbacks -- Curt Phillips, Joel Stave, Danny O'Brien and Bart Houston -- is performing the best.
At the end, Andersen asked his team to applaud the fans who showed up and gave away a pair of season tickets while several players signed autographs and posed for photos. It was a charming scene and a reminder that as commercialized and revenue-driven as college athletics have become, simple gestures are appreciated by the people who buy the tickets.