It was a sea of red every step of the way.
Last Thursday night, I got to Rockford International Airport to board a flight to Las Vegas for what has become a regular Badger event -- a football game in Sin City against UNLV.
Due to some issues with Allegiant Air's computer system, no names could be checked against the no-fly list. So the 172 people onboard-- a vast majority of them wearing Packer green or Badger red -- had to have their luggage searched and were patted down by TSA.
And of course, they dealt with the 90-minute delay caused by the computer problems in true Wisconsin fashion -- by taking advantage the airport's beverage service. At $4 a pop, the plastic bottles of beer sold by the airport's one vendor couldn't compare to the specials offered on Monday night at the Vintage. But by 8:30 p.m., the scheduled departure time, the Rockford airport looked like any Madison bar on game day, with alumni telling tales of college days and wishing over and over again that they could go back.
When the flight was about 20 minutes from boarding, the gate attendant had to warn the entire airport that FAA regulations required that no person board the plane who was visibility intoxicated, so they better take the time "to sober up." The crowd roared with laughter, and instead of following orders, they bought the place out of Miller Lite, causing many to gripe about having to switch to a certain rice beer made in St. Louis.
"Maybe they should let the sober people board the plane first," joked a Rockford police officer, while the group waiting near the gate was warned repeatedly to step back. It was all in good fun, though, and everyone got on board without too much trouble.
My flight arrived in Vegas shortly before midnight and by 12:30 a.m., when I hit the strip, Badger red had already engulfed the casinos. College students were taking advantage of the open intoxicant law, roaming around Las Vegas Blvd. with all sorts of booze.
A woman working the roulette table at Bill's Gamblin' Hall saw my Wisconsin hat and said "You Wisconsin folks go big or go home -- in drinking and in gambling."
Throughout the weekend, the color red continued to dominate every hotel and casino -- from Mandalay Bay to the Tropicana to the Monte Carlo to the Golden Nugget up on Fremont Street.
It all hit a climax Saturday night at the enormous Badger Huddle tailgate put on by the Wisconsin Alumni Association. With almost 6,000 early purchases for the all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink festival, it was truly the greatest Badger pre-game imaginable. Students, alumni, lifelong fans, all took part with everybody getting riled up for the first game of the season.
With no band at the game, the small student section had to take care of most cheers on our own. I personally got the entire group singing a rousing chorus of "If You Want to Be a Badger" several times. Others did the emblematic chants of "You Still Suck" and of course, the personal favorite of Bascom Hall administrators, "Fuck You, Eat Shit."
We even attempted "Jump Around" after the third quarter, but it turns out few of us can keep the beat to the House of Pain classic unless it's blaring out of Camp Randall's speakers.
My brother, who has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and is a 2003 graduate of the University of Michigan, attended the tailgate with some friends and me. From the moment he walked in, he was pretty amazed. "Wow... I wish Michigan did something like this."
And that's the point. This trip to Vegas and everything that goes along with it is very unique to Wisconsin, and it's a very special event. For students, it's a chance to travel out west, to go to a city they've heard about their whole lives and experience it for themselves with their best friends. For alumni, it's a chance to relive the glory days of their college years with those best friends they don't see nearly as often as they probably should.
The University of Wisconsin is a world-class educational and research institution. But it's also a place where hundreds of thousands of people lived some of the best memories of their lives.
Few weekends can match up to what happens when the Badgers invade Vegas. It makes you so proud to be a Badger, and for that reason, I sincerely hope the team continues to schedule a game there every few years.
Kevin Bargnes is the editor-in-chief of The Badger Herald and an editorial intern for Isthmus.