University of Wisconsin Traditions
  • Badger Nickname
  • Bucky Badger
  • Bud Song
  • Class Rush
  • Freshmen
  • Homecoming
  • Lincoln Statue
  • May Fete
  • On Wisconsin
  • St. Patrick
  • Varsity
  • Venetian Night

  • Badger Nickname – The team's nickname, 'Badgers,' was borrowed from the state of Wisconsin. The territory was dubbed the 'Badger State,' not because of animals in the region, but rather an association with lead miners in the 1820s. Prospectors came to the state looking for minerals. Without shelter in the winter, the miners had to 'live like badgers' in tunnels burrowed into hillsides.

  • Bucky Badger – Badgers in various forms have been recognized as the school mascot for decades. The version currently known as Bucky, sporting a cardinal and white letter sweater, was first drawn in 1940 by artist Art Evans. At that time, the badger went by names like Benny, Buddy, Bernie, Bobby and Bouncey. The original live badger mascot was too vicious to control. On more than one occasion it escaped handlers.

    It was decided in the interest of fan and player safety that Wisconsin's mascot be retired to the Madison Zoo. The Badger Yearbook replaced the badger with a small raccoon named Regdab (badger spelled backwards) and passed it off as a 'badger in a raccoon coat.'

    In 1949, a student was commissioned to mold a paper-mache badger head. Bill Sagal, of Plymouth, Wis., was directed to wear the outfit at the homecoming game. A contest was staged to name the popular mascot. The winner was Buckingham U. Badger, or Bucky. The name came from the lyrics in a song which encouraged the football team to 'buck right through that line.'

    Bucky Badger has persevered through the years, even surviving a threat by then assistant attorney general, Howard Koop, in 1973. He suggested that Bucky be replaced by "Henrietta Holstein", a cow.

  • The Bud Song – An integral part of any Wisconsin band performance is the playing of the Bud song. The tune is a spinoff of the song 'You've Said It All,' a jingle with words and music originally written by Steve Karmen for Budweiser beer commercials. Copyrighted by Sandlee Publishing Corporation in 1970, the song has become legendary at the University because of its polka-like rhythm. Band director Michael Leckrone said the song's popularity got started at a 1975 hockey game. 'The crowd wanted to hear a polka,' he said. 'I didn't have any polkas. We had, just by accident, this beer commercial in the tunes we play. I told the band if we substituted the word “Wisconsin” for “Budweiser” it would work.'

  • Class Rush - Lake Rush & Bag Rush
    - Lake Rush

    Beginning in 1850, freshmen and sophomores battled for symbolic turf along Lake Mendota, usually ending in a harmless dunking for the members of the freshman class. The practice was discontinued after a particularly violent clash and a fatality in 1908.

    - Bag Rush (1909–1927)

    Lake Rush was replaced by a competition the where the classes fought for possession of 16 straw-filled bags lined up on the campus mall. Freshmen were on one side, sophomores on the other. At the sound of a gunshot, each side raced onto the field, trying to drag as many of the sacks as possible back to their side. Naturally, the other side tried to stop them, so students covered their faces and arms with grease so their opponents couldn't grip them.
    Contestants ripped each other's clothes off. Players who found themselves nearly or entirely naked naturally fled the field, weakening their team and leading State Street neighbors to complain about indecently clad students.
    Upperclassmen had other ideas and ringed the field, armed with clubs, to encourage the players to stay in the game.
    In 1915, when the sophomores won the Bag Rush, they celebrated that night by literally kidnapping 250 freshmen, individually and in groups, and trucking them as far as 10 miles into the countryside. There the freshmen were locked into barns and other outbuildings until drowsy farmers answered their calls for help. Their long hike back is recorded in photos at the UW Archives.

  • Freshmen – In 1901 it was decided that freshmen would wear small, dark green Eton caps, and strict rules were drawn up to enforce the new dress code. In 1912, however, following several cases of frostbitten ears, the cap law was partially rolled back to allow freshmen to wear heavier head gear through the long Wisconsin winter. In 1923, the cap rule was repealed altogether, but not before UW-Madison students had come up with another tradition. Cap Night, held in May to represent the end of servitude for the advancing freshman class, was celebrated by building a large bonfire, dancing around and burning their caps. Sophomores tried to light the pile ahead of time, leading to several incidents involving broken bones and serious burns and the ultimate abolition of Cap Night in 1923.

    Besides wearing caps, freshmen in the first half of the century had to wear special buttons. They also had to salute upperclassmen, they couldn't smoke in the Memorial Union until May 2, and they were not allowed to wear corduroy pants.

  • Homecoming – Graduating Law Students Cane Toss – At Homecoming, graduating law students march down the field and throw white canes over the crossbar of the goal post. If they catch the canes coming down on the other side, the students are supposed to win their first cases. If canes are dropped, cases would be lost. Started in 1912.

    Bonfires – For many years, bonfires played a central role in Homecoming and other student activities. Often one class, usually the freshmen, would build a bonfire and another class would attempt to ignite it ahead of schedule. Outhouses were often considered the best tinder, leading to some friction with townspeople. The pyrotechnic practices largely died out by World War II.

  • Lincoln Statue
    The only replica ever authorized by sculpture Adolph Alexander Wienman. The original was made in 1906 for Lincoln's birthplace, Hodgenville KY. There were several bids for the replica including $25,000 by the University of Nebraska, nearly the cost to build Birge Hall at that time. The statue sits upon a granite pedestal that is 6' 6" inches tall, with the total height of the statue and pedestal at 13' 6".

    Richard Lloyd Jones, who had been instrumental in creating the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, convinced Weinman to donate the replica to the University of Wisconsin. Thomas Brittingham paid for casting the statue and the pedestal. Placed on the Bascom Hill between North & South Halls in 1909 it was moved up the hill and the terrace built around it in 1919. Abraham Lincoln is considered a patron of the university because he signed the Morrill Act in 1862 to provide federal aid to land-grant colleges like UW-Madison.

    100 year rededication

    UW grads are known to have a picture taken on Lincolns lap.

    Passer-bys can’t resist touching the toe of Lincoln’s boot.

    The Daily Cardinal joked in 1944 that the statue reflects campus morals:
                      “Lincoln stands up every time a virgin walks by”

  • May Fete

    May Pole Dance
    Women in white dresses and dark vests dance around a traditional maypole. The maypole dance was the main attraction at May Fete, an annual event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1903-1917.

  • “On, Wisconsin” – The tune was composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy, with the intention of entering it into a competition for a new fight song at the University of Minnesota. Carl Beck, a former University of Wisconsin-Madison student, convinced him to withdraw it from the contest at the last minute and allow his alma mater to use it instead. Beck then wrote the original, football-oriented lyrics, changing the words “Minnesota, Minnesota” to “On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!” Sung for the first time at the 1909 homecoming game vs. Minnesota.

    The lyrics were rewritten for the state song in 1913 by Judge Charles D. Rosa and J. S. Hubbard. The song was widely recognized as the state song at that time, but was never officially designated. Finally in 1959, “On, Wisconsin!” was officially designated as the State Song.

    The music was adapted by Band Director Michael Leckrone in 1969. The original version had been played virtually unchanged since its inception. 'I got a lot of flak for that,' Leckrone said. 'The old version was one you had to wait on. I wanted to generate immediate crowd reaction, so I stepped it up a bit.'

    UW-Madison libraries “On, Wisconsin!”

    On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin
    Plunge right through that line,
    Run the ball clear down the field,
    boys Touchdown sure this time
    On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin
    Fight on for her fame,
    Fight, Fellows, Fight,
    Fight, Fight We'll win this game!


  • St. Patrick – Beginning in 1912, engineering students held an annual beard-growing contest to determine which of them would play St. Patrick during the traditional Spring Celebration. The contestants stopped shaving around the first of the year, and they were judged on a variety of criteria. The contest, which lasted into the 1960s, eventually became a facet of the bitter debate between engineering and law students as to whether St. Pat had been a lawyer or an engineer (shyster or plumber). Often the two groups engaged in somewhat violent clashes following the engineers’ annual St. Pat’s parade. These confrontations were later institutionalized as basketball games.

  • Varsity – The traditional arm waving that comes at the end of the song “Varsity” was the 1934 brainchild of then-UW band leader Ray Dvorak. He originally got the idea from University of Pennsylvania students who waved their caps after a losing game. Dvorak later instructed UW students to wave as a salute to UW President Glenn Frank. Frank died, and students don't wear hats as much, but the waving continues. If it confuses visiting fans, well, that's one of the reasons for doing it.

  • Venetian Night – Popular during the 1920s and early 1930s, Venetian Night was a colorful annual event celebrated in late May with lighted floats, illuminated piers and fireworks on Lake Mendota. Unpredictable weather often disrupted the occasion, however, and eventually lead to its demise.