Fans prep for UW-W championship game
What: Mount Union (14-0) vs. UW-Whitewater (14-0) in the NCAA Division III national championship game
Where: Salem Stadium, Salem, Va.
When: 6:05 p.m. Friday
TV/Radio: WKCH, 106.5 FM/ESPN2
WHITEWATER The feeling never gets old—even after seven years.
Hoards of UW-Whitewater football fans and alumni are expected to make the 760-mile trip to Salem, Va., this week to see the Warhawks battle Mount Union on Friday night for a chance at a third consecutive Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl title.
For some, it's nostalgia.
For most, the championship game has become an annual tradition.
Janesville's John Koebler knows the feeling. A UW-Whitewater alumnus, Koebler was a defensive tackle for the Warhawks when they won back-to-back conference titles in 1974 and 1975.
The team never reached a national title game, and the Warhawks lost when Koebler made the trip to Salem in 2005. This year, he expects to watch the Warhawks celebrate a national championship.
"I should have went last year," Koebler said.
Janesville Parker graduate Matt McCulloch helped UW-Whitewater win the title in 2010. Koebler was a coach at Parker when McCulloch was on the team.
"I would have loved to have been there," Koebler said.
This is the seventh consecutive year UW-Whitewater will compete in the Stagg Bowl. In all of the games it has faced off against Mount Union. Each team has won three times.
What the Warhawks have accomplished since 2005 is staggering. The team reached seven straight championship games, won seven consecutive Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and is in the midst of a 44-game winning streak.
A victory Friday would give the Warhawks their third straight national title and a fourth in five years.
Koebler hopes to make the trip with former Janesville Craig football coach Bill O'Leary and O'Leary's brother Russ. Russ O'Leary played with Koebler at UW-Whitewater during his senior year.
Warhawk football games are a way for alumni to keep in touch. Koebler saw many of his old friends in Salem during the 2005 title game, and he's hoping for the same this year.
Athletic Director Paul Plinske said Tuesday the university sold about 150 tickets after one day. That's a promising figure considering finals week and the distance between Whitewater and Salem, he said.
"For us, it's a great example of how we built a tradition here with Warhawk football, and people each year have a tremendous amount of pride in their program and want to experience it first hand," Plinske said.
"Obviously, you can sit at home and watch the game. But I think when you have the opportunity to be in Salem, you really want to take advantage of that because it's the opportunity of a lifetime."
During each of its regular season games this year, UW-Whitewater averaged more than 8,000 fans in the stands—the highest Division III attendance in the nation, Plinske said.
The number of people filling Perkins Stadium has grown significantly over the years, and Koebler isn't surprised.
"It's the winning tradition," he said. "Everyone loves to be associated with a winner."