Many years ago, when my friend Glen Gardner and I were doing a morning show on a local radio station, we would occasionally do a segment called “Statue-Worthy”, in which we’d suggest names and let the listeners vote on whether or not the person we “nominated” was worthy of having a statue erected.
The genesis of this segment was the statuary in the photo above: Pat Richter and Barry Alvarez, guarding the entrance to Gate 1 at Camp Randall Stadium. The statues were put up in 2006.
While we are both avid supporters of collegiate football, Glen and I both believed that far too much emphasis was placed on it by academic institutions, that the money involved in big-time Division One football is obscene, and that the level of hero-worship that exists in the jockocracy is silly.
Dona Shalala is as much responsible for the success of the UW football program as Alvarez and Richter, and you won’t find a statue of her anywhere – not even in Bascom Hall. Shalala was smart enough to know that guys like Don Morton and Ade Sponberg were not going to get the UW football program back on track. She knew the people of Wisconsin would respond to a local hero like Pat Richter taking the reins once held by the legendary Elroy Hirsch, and she relentlessly hounded Richter to take the job, even insisting that they make the announcement late in the day on December 31st, so that the Rose Bowl telecast buzz would be about Pat Richter taking the Athletic Director job at Wisconsin.
Our listeners agreed that if Richter (who did, indeed, rescue the UW Athletic Department from the sea of red ink it was drowning in) and Alvarez (the winningest football coach in Wisconsin history, the only one ever to win back-to-back Rose Bowls) were statue-worthy, then certainly a statue to Shalala should be erected. Many of the callers made light-hearted jabs about how they’d have to hire a good statue-maker, who could make the tiny Shalala appear as prominently as Richter and Alvarez.
Given the good response to the first “statue-worthy” segment we did regarding former Chancellor Shalala, on a later broadcast we put Jeff Sauer’s name up for nomination, and the listeners resoundingly responded with a loud “YES!!!” and most insisted that if we were going to erect a statue for Sauer, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also erect a statue to Badger Bob Johnson. Between Coach Sauer and Badger Bob’s contributions of players to the NHL, you could put together a team that would stand the challenge of any Hockey All-Star squad you care to assemble.
Through the course of these little show segments between 2006 and 2008, Glen and I came up with a list of other people who were statue-worthy and passed muster with the audience.
And, of course, with any discussion of statuary around Camp Randall came the universal complaints about the “Nail’s Tales” statue which went up in 2005. It’s perhaps best described as a maggot-infested corn cob, and a friend of mine (TV writer and producer John Roach, who knows a thing or two about sports) suggested Sunday that now that there’s an empty spot where Joe Paterno’s statue was, the good folks of the Badger state should ship Nail’s Tales over to Pennsylvania to fill the void left by the removal of the Paterno statue.
In his daily column/blog on the Isthmus Daily Page today, reacting to the news about Penn State, former Madison Mayor (and UW grad) Dave Cieslewicz suggests that the statues of Richter and Alvarez also be taken down. He makes the same points Glen and I did years ago, but far more eloquently, with his rapier-like Polish wit.
The question “who’s statue-worthy” will always be one with many answers, but maybe it’s time to think a little harder about the kind of idol-worship we engage in.