On Saturday night, Hawk's Bar on State Street was packed full of fans decked out in red and loud with big, throaty and increasingly hoarse cheers, all focused upon the Badgers game on TV. Minutes after Wisconsin defeated Arizona by a single point in overtime, launching the men's basketball team into the Final Four for the third time in the university's history, the bar started to empty. So did others along State, their patrons heading west toward campus. It looked like some strange yet powerful nocturnal migration. Where were they going so full of unknown purpose?
The 500 and 600 blocks of State were crammed with thousands of students in a scene reminiscent of the last time the Badgers earned a Final Four berth, back in 2000. They climbed up trees and street signs and not always with grace. They struggled with branches, showering the crowd below with twigs. When asked how many students she thought were atop one bus shelter, one bystander merely said "too many." The number was at least 30.
At the epicenter of the crowd, the disjointed intersection of State and Francis streets, hundreds of people climbed on the roof of a temporary wooden walkway adjacent to the construction site for the forthcoming Hub complex. They led rousing rounds of Camp Randall's famous "Eat Shit! Fuck You!" chant, and helped their fellow revelers climb up while a half-dozen police officers watched warily from across the packed street.
What could they do but wait? Asked if the mob qualified as a riot, one police officer snapped, "No!" (There was an actual riot, however, in Tuscon, home of the Arizona Wildcats, complete with cops in hard gear. There were no arrests during the Madison festivities.)
"Let's go!" shouted a shirtless young man. "This is nuts!" said one passing young woman wearing only a sports bra and some red striped overalls. "Who wants it?!" screamed another enthusiastic fellow. He looked unsteady in his white shorts and red Wisconsin t-shirt. They all were unsteady.
More people kept coming, drawn by social media, by text messages, by the sheer magnetism of the moment. During the post-game festivities in Anaheim, Badgers head coach Bo Ryan urged for "everybody be safe out there on State Street." And this was a mob, inebriated out of its mind by sports mania and alcohol. When one young man perched on a fence was asked what was going on, his thoughtful reply was simple: "Beer!"
Members of the UW Marching Band showed up to massive cheers. Someone brought a boombox, to massive cheers. Students living in apartments above the street opened their windows, or came out onto their balconies, also to massive cheers.
Rachel Cohen, who watched the game at a friend's house, saw the crowd as soon as she turned onto State while heading back to her home at the Towers, which overlook the street.
"I headed up to my apartment for a better view, and was able to see the street filled with people." she said. "There were people on top of the walkway covering in front of the construction, on the bus stop roof, and on basically every open surface. Even with windows closed, the sounds of singing and chanting were booming and clear. People were crowd surfing through the street."
From her commanding perch above State Street, Cohen shot a photograph of the crowd outside State Street Brats with her phone. That image was then tweeted by a friend. It swiftly went viral getting picked up first by WKOW and then by ESPN's SportsCenter. The photograph has over 25,000 likes on Facebook. An Instagram video Cohen shot earlier while among the crush drew plenty of interest, as well, and was aired on SportsCenter.
Down on State, the crowd still gathered. They threw toilet paper. They sprayed water from windows. One girl spontaneously kissed her male companion -- he hadn't been expecting it, but didn't seem to mind. The air was jubilant and heady. Businesses locked their doors. Three Potbelly employees sat behind a glass window, enjoying their front row seats.
"This is unbelievable!" "I can't describe it!" said a pair of freshmen awash in waves of bonhomie. "By one point! In overtime!"
What was happening?
"Badger pride!" screamed a happy student.