Friday, September 30, 2011

A Little Thought to the Big Game

Like many officers out to make some extra money, I'll be employed by the UW-Wisconsin Police Department tomorrow night to preside over the humanity converging on Camp Randall to witness the first ever football game played against the new conference team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  It's billed as a BIG game.  Number Seven in the AP Poll verses Number Eight.  Bookies in Vegas have the Badgers by nine.

A couple years ago, the Badgers hosted the Top-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes to a night game.  Bucky emerged victorious and bedlam erupted in the Camp.  Students charged the field in reckless abandon.  A lot of fans cheered on as goosebumps rose on their flesh as they truly enjoyed the moment for their team.  Others simply rushed the grass because... well, it seemed to be the thing to do at the time.  I always like to watch the monkey men rocking on the goal posts with countless victims, I mean witnesses egging them on.  Do they really think it's a good idea to view the determination to drop the upright from... underneath it?

In 1993, then-Coach Barry Alvarez was turning the Badgers into a team to be reckoned with.  One particular Saturday, the Michigan State Wolverines (Shout out to Red Dawn followers!) were in town.  This would be my second year working in the trenches.  At that time, restrictions on carry-ins were lax.  Bologna slices might spin by your head or stick to your jacket like a greasy Frisbee.  Peanuts in the shell were considered too easy to use so enterprising protagonists use penny-ladened marshmallows to pelt unsuspecting officers with.  While you chuckle at the thought, I'd be the first to tell you that a seven penny puffer still hurt like hell after it bounced off the bridge of your nose.

During that contest, I stood on the field in front of the student section.  Students overcrowded these areas because friends wanted to be with friends.  The usual projectiles flew.  The air was electric.  At the time, about a twelve foot walkway surrounded the playing field itself.  With game on, we tried our best to keep it clear of bystanders.  Moving, keep moving.   

The Badgers won and they weren't supposed to.  Good intentions went out the window.  The walkway jammed up with bystanders looking for a chance to storm the hash marks.  I stood at the fence where eager, smiling young faces absolutely glowed with appreciation for the win.  I saw those faces sag into discomfort, alarm, then terror.  I asked one female student what was wrong.  She could only muster a low, "Can't breathe."  I reached over the fence and took her under the armpits.  With good leverage and a younger back, I lifted her free of the wave and put her on my side of the fence. 

Before I could attempt another rescue, someone had me by the back of my duty belt pulling me away from the crowd.  I resisted trying to reach around and free myself.  The reverse momentum carried me about fifteen feet when the chain link snapped and all those happy, now terrorized students exploded forward on top of each other.  A UW cop buddy of mine had been standing back and saw the wave of the Crush descending upon my position.  If his reaction did not save my life, it certainly saved me from serious injury from going down under the masses.

No one died that day although six or seven PNBs (Pulseless Non-breathing) were in progress at the same time, in the stands and on the field.  Every officer that day pitched in to free the mish-mosh of limbs from the twisted metal railings.  It was a long day following a long night shift.  I couldn't really settle down to nap before I went back to patrol that night.  I still felt fortunate that I was not a victim of the BIG Sleep that day.

The UWPD made plenty of changes to ensure that no replay of that catastrophe occurs again. Unfortunately, human nature still remains as an important ingredient in the recipe for disaster.    Most attendees show up to the game on time but others like to be fashionably late.  Kids still think that they have to sit with their friends.  This thinking enhanced after too many adult beverages can overload the student section yet again.  I watch for the nomad crossing aisles with no apparent regard to the designated letter the section represented. I eject errant ticket holders for being in the wrong area according to the ticket in their hand.

That same intoxication level can render its hosts incapable of sensing danger and inadvertently casting another Crush upon the rest of the oblivious fans.  My colleagues and I enforce these infractions of policy firmly.  We get flipped off, cursed at verbally and threatened with losing our jobs.  I guess if the kids only knew why we do it, they would feel better about waking up on Sunday with only a hangover.

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