Saturday marked the official start to the bowl season with the New Mexico Bowl and the St. Petersburg Bowl. It also was an unofficial start to Wisconsin's preparations for the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 29.
Though the Badgers practiced four times last week, including some early prep work on Miami, the bowl game and the trip to Orlando is becoming more of a reality and that point was driven home on Saturday. That's when UW's equipment truck, full of the team's equipment and luggage for players, coaches and staff members, started the 21-hour drive from Madison to Orlando.
Team members, coaches and support staff dropped off whatever excess luggage they had for the week-long trip at the McClain Center. On Wednesday, when the team travels down, the hope is that the luggage is kept at a minimum to speed up the departure and arrival process. For that reason, folks are asked to plan in advance and send as much stuff down on the truck as possible. Since many of the coaches and staff members are bringing their wives and children, it is usually multiple bags per family, as well as strollers, car seats and whatever else may be making the trip. With Christmas day in the middle of the trip, some families have also included small Christmas trees as well as a couple presents for the kids to open on Christmas morning.
Upon drop off, you are given the appropriate number of tags which have your name and room number on them. You put those on your belongings (in my case, two suitcases and a stroller). Everything is then lined up on the practice field in the McClain. Noon on Saturday was the deadline to drop stuff off.
Soon after that, the equipment staff started loading the truck, first with equipment and supplies that will be needed at the stadium. Once that is secure in the front of the truck, the excess luggage is loaded towards the back.
The truck is driven by Ken Kangas, who will be making his sixth trip to Florida in as many years. Kangas said that familiarity definitely helps as he follows a route that will take him and his co-pilot, student manager Doug Ingels, from Madison through Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta and, finally, Florida.
Ken thought the truck would be loaded and ready around 5 p.m. but wasn't sure what time Doug would be done with his last final exam, which would determine their departure time. Once on the road Ken estimated the driving time at 21 hours. The pair was planning to sleep in the truck on Saturday night then make a pit stop in Atlanta, where Ken's son lives, to watch the Packers-Steelers game on Sunday. Once they got back on the road, he thought the truck would pull into the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando around noon.
The first wave of UW travel party members will be flying to Orlando on Monday, a 10-person advance crew that includes football equipment manager Mark Peeler, a couple student managers, football operations coordinator Mark Taurisani and some sports medicine personnel. They will meet the truck at the team hotel, unload the bags and stage them in the rooms. They will then head over to the stadium and unload the rest of the gear to be ready for when the team arrives.