By Mike Tarrolly
It’s probably impossible for a college athlete to understand the impact they have on an older generation, but I think I may have figured out a way to put it in words. Last week I lost one of my best friends, Pete, and I’m almost certain we wouldn’t have been as close without Wisconsin Badgers basketball.
Pete and I were in the same dorm our freshman year at UW-LaCrosse . . . way back in 1981. He was on the basketball team and we were as tight as it gets, but after a year he transferred to UW-Whitewater where he eventually played on their NCAA Division 3 National Championship team. This was in “the days of home phones” (that were usually disconnected) and while we promised to stay in touch, we didn’t.
Three years later I went to Whitewater with our college “club team” to play in a lacrosse tournament. I’d never played the sport and after 2 games of getting my ass pummeled, our team shifted to party mode.
After 6 hours in the bars we landed at a house party. At 2:00 in the morning I was filling my beer when in through the back door comes . . . Pete.
I said, “What the hell are you doing here?”
He said, “This is my house!”
He’d just finished bartending and I’d unknowingly found his kitchen.
We promised again to stay in contact but fell out of touch aside from a few random encounters. Fast forward to about 5 years ago when he reached out on Facebook to see if I wanted to go to Indianapolis for the Big 10 tournament.
I jumped on the offer and it turned into a run of great memories, including two Final Fours, that won’t be forgotten. The main thing I’ll remember is lots of laughter.
Pete’s buddy was a big donor at Wisconsin who hooked us up in a big way. Pete and I always joked about being “high rollers” and got huge laughs from something as simple as putting on a ticket lanyard, or seeing someone like the Wisconsin AD, Barry Alvarez hanging in the hotel lobby. “Yeah, Barry’s playing it cool, but he knows we’re big time greasers.”* Or this time (much to his chagrin) when I had to photo bomb Bo Ryan to get his picture.
I’m not gonna lie, we often acted like we were still college freshmen on these weekend jaunts. Somehow we got on this thing about zooming our phones to take unflattering pictures of opposing team’s fans. One of my favorites was the sulking Iowa fans wearing Carhartt hats sitting next to us that talked shit all night until they lost.
We’d even do it to each other and the whole point was to create the anti-glamor-shot.
Another year Pete was telling anyone who would listen that I was an “arm-wrestling-champion” and I promptly lost 10 matches in a row to older men.
The second time we played Kentucky in the Final Four at Indianapolis, Pete and I were jacked. We sat with our other Badger buddies Pack and Marty and it was a tight game. At one point Wisconsin made a couple questionable moves and Pete was getting hot under the collar. I looked at him and told him to “RELAX and QUIT CRYING” while I made that “crying move” with my hands on my eyes. We didn’t talk the rest of the half. Well, Wisconsin came back and won that game, and over the next couple years I’d randomly open my text messages to this pic.
There were hundreds of moments like that on our Badger trips and if I had a chance I’d thank guys like Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky, Bronson Koenig, and dozens of other Badger basketball players helping make them happen. It was in large part due to them that two, once-young-college-buddies, were re-connected and became tighter than ever after 20 years.
We always looked forward to the weekend in Indianapolis (or Chicago) and the trips delivered some of the best times of our lives. Win or lose, Pete and I cultivated a deep and real friendship with no boundaries. We went to watch kids play basketball and it gave us back our youth.
That 5-year-reconnection-mark was also the time when I was beginning my life transformation through triathlon and Pete was a huge supporter. He was there for three of my Ironman races and even drove 7 hours to Muncie one time for a half. I think it inspired him and his support surely inspired me.
I’m sure a lot of players don’t understand the vigor of some “older” fans, but the simple answer is, it’s a common cause that creates some of the most important and enjoyable memories of our lives. I love Wisconsin basketball, and I definitely love me some Pete. RIP, buddy.
*Greaser was a term we used for having big money.