Lucas at Large: What Christmas means to the Badgers

It was Christmas and Aaron Henry had his heart set on some Jordans - Air Jordans - Michael Jordan basketball shoes. The price was around $150.

"But my mother couldn't afford them,'' Henry said.

Was he mad?

"Not at all,'' he emphasized. "I have some younger sisters and I was more worried about my mom buying them something. I was at an age where I really wasn't into receiving.

"My mom wasn't able to get the Jordans for me that Christmas. But she eventually got them for me. Giving rather than receiving was kind of the theme or the model in our household.''

Henry, a starting safety on the UW football team, reflected on Christmas Past.

"A lot of times my mom and grandmother didn't have a whole lot of money to buy us presents,'' he said. "There were a couple of Christmases where I received one or two things. And there were a couple of Christmases where I didn't get anything at all. I understood the situation financially.

"As I got older, I really didn't expect things for Christmas. It was more about the spirit and the love - for me and my family it was a time to come together. Christmas wasn't about the presents. We'd always go to church and make food and give it out to the homeless. It was more about the giving.

"At the end of the day, some people make Christmas into a competition with each other where they're trying to impress people with what they buy and they're more concerned about who has the best presents. Christmas should be about love, especially when you really don't know if all of your family members will be there for the next Christmas. Christmas is for enjoying your family.''

Henry will be with his Badger family this Christmas.  "Yes, sir, I will enjoy it - yes sir, it's very neat,'' he said, looking forward to Saturday's departure for Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.

UW middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean, like Henry, is not big on gifts.

"I always appreciated and cherished whatever I got at Christmas--I'm a person who always tries to give back,'' said St. Jean, a senior." My mom and dad didn't have all the money in the world. They worked hard and whatever they gave me was whatever they could give me. And that was enough.''

St. Jean has a 1-year-old daughter in Naples, Fla. "I do wish I could be home right now for her and my nephews and nieces,'' he said. "But my daughter was here for my graduation last Sunday. It's a little sad not being with her. She doesn't understand now, but she'll understand when she's older.''

She'll understand that her daddy started and played in a Rose Bowl.

Henry and St. Jean are among those players who will not have a chance to go home for Christmas Eve. Many others will have that option depending on their proximity to Madison.

Everybody will be expected to report to UW strength coach Ben Herbert for "conditioning" at 10:30 a.m. on Christmas Day. The team charter is scheduled to leave Madison at 1 p.m.

"In our last team meeting,'' said UW coach Bret Bielema, "we asked if anybody didn't have a place to go for Christmas Eve. And nobody raised their hand. Many of our local kids will grab some of our players who live out-of-state and treat them to a little bit of the holiday season.

"When we get to Pasadena on Christmas Day, we'll have a team meal. And being the giving guy that I am, I'm giving them the whole night to themselves. There will be no curfew. But the Grinch inside me tells me that there won't be many places open on Christmas night.''

So what was on Bielema's wish list for Christmas when he was a youngster?

"I wanted a new shovel and a pair of gloves or boots and I usually got them,'' said Bielema, who grew up on a pig farm in Illinois. "You accepted what you had and I didn't know what I didn't know.  When we were trying to stay warm on those cold days, a pair of gloves and boots worked.''

It speaks to Bielema's blue-collar approach to coaching. Given the amount of preparation that has gone into finalizing a game plan for a Rose Bowl appearance, Bielema had a simple game plan for his Christmas Eve."I'm going to sit at home,'' he said, "turn my phone off and never leave the house.''
ON WISCONSIN