Until the Badger football team laces ’em up to face the Miami Hurricanes in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 27, 2018, Wisconsin has played as many games in New York City as they have in Tokyo, Japan: one.
The year was 1940, when the music of Bing Crosby was climbing the charts and the play of the Wisconsin team was middle of the pack (they mustered a 4–4 overall record by season’s end).
Leading up to the game against the Columbia Lions on November 9 at Baker Field — located at the northern tip of Manhattan Island — you would’ve thought the Badgers were the football equivalent of the ’27 Yankees. At least that’s the impression the Columbia Spectator, the university’s student newspaper, portrayed in an article published the day before the game.
According to the story, “Wisconsin’s burly Badgers will descend on Baker Field … with an attack that promises to be the most bone-crushing the Lions have yet encountered. Paced by ‘Roaring George’ Paskvan, All-Big Ten fullback, the Badgers will be depending on an overdose of power to overwhelm the Morningsiders.”
By all accounts, Wisconsin did indeed outplay Columbia most of that afternoon. The 1941 Badger yearbook recounted how the team “put up a smooth, close fight from beginning to end.” But a missed extra point after the Badgers’ second quarter score proved to be the game changer.
In its game story the next day, the Spectator recapped how the Lions “fought off the giant Midwesterners for three quarters of fiercely contested mayhem, and then broke through in the final quarter to rouse the flagging hopes of 20,000 spectators with an electrifying touchdown, and a 7–6 victory.”
Spectator hype aside though, this game’s real noteworthiness comes not from what happened on the field but who was watching from the sidelines. Iconic Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac was a freshman running back on Columbia’s roster. And if it weren’t for a broken leg he suffered earlier in the season, he may have given the UW’s ‘Roaring George’ a run for his money.