Camp Randall 100: Jamar Fletcher

Photo collage of images of UW football player Jamar Fletcher
Photo collage of images of UW football player Jamar Fletcher

The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.

“I just read the quarterback’s eyes. They were throwing quick all game so I decided I’d just sit back and eventually I’d get one.”

— Jamar Fletcher on intercepting a Drew Brees pass during
the Badgers’ 1998 Homecoming victory against Purdue

Photo of Jamar Fletcher with the Thorpe Award given to the nation's top defensive back
Jamar Fletcher

Jamar Fletcher, though he spent just three seasons in a Wisconsin uniform, will go down as one of the best defensive backs in school history. A three-time first-team All-Big Ten choice and two-time first-team All-American, Fletcher set the school record with 21 career interceptions (later tied by Jim Leonhard). His 459 career interception return yards and five career INT returns for a touchdown are both Big Ten records.

As a junior in 2000, despite playing in just nine of the Badgers’ 12 regular-season games, Fletcher was named a consensus first-team All-American, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and won the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

Fletcher turned pro following that season and was taken in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins and played eight seasons in the league.

But despite all those accolades and great moments, it was a single play in the sixth game of his Badgers career that many UW fans will remember most.

On Oct. 10, 1998, Wisconsin, ranked 12th and sporting a perfect 6-0 record, hosted Purdue and All-America candidate Drew Brees in just the third night game in Camp Randall Stadium history. The Boilermakers entered the game with a 3-2 record (road losses to USC and Notre Dame) and were coming off a 56-21 win over Minnesota in which they put up 692 yards of total offense.

Everyone was expecting an exciting contest. What unfolded was a game for the ages.

For much of the first half, the game looked like it would turn into a Wisconsin romp. Late in the second quarter, UW had the ball inside the 10-yard line looking to build on a 14-6 lead. Purdue then stuffed Ron Dayne on third-and-2 from the 4-yard line, forcing a field goal.

Brees quickly led an 11-play touchdown drive that took just 1:13. A two-point conversion cut the lead to three, and after Mike Samuel fumbled on the Badgers’ ensuing drive, Travis Dortsch tied the game with a 45-yard field goal as the first half ended.

The third quarter was scoreless despite Purdue driving into Wisconsin territory three separate times. Facing a second-and-8 from its own 47-yard line with less than two minutes left in the quarter, Brees dropped back, looking for his favorite target, wide receiver Randall Lane, on a hitch route in front of Wisconsin’s sideline. Lane had already caught 13 passes on the day, but on this throw UW redshirt freshman cornerback Jamar Fletcher read the pass perfectly, stepped in front of Lane, picked it off and raced 52 yards for a touchdown. The homecoming crowd of 78,782 exploded and the Badgers led, 24-17.

“That was the biggest play of the game right there,” Brees said after the game.

“I just read the quarterback’s eyes,” Fletcher said. “They were throwing quick all game so I decided I’d just sit back and eventually I’d get one.”

A few minutes later, the third quarter came to a close with Purdue driving around midfield. Seeking to capitalize on the buzz in the crowd, UW assistant marketing director Kevin Kluender searched for the appropriate song to follow the traditional “student section race” on the scoreboard. He played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” The rest, as they say, is history.

That historic moment, however, went unchronicled in the next day’s accounts of the game in local newspapers. In fact, the first reference that could be found to the new “tradition” was more than month later when, following the Badgers’ season-ending win over Penn State that sent them to the Rose Bowl, Andy Baggot, then of the Wisconsin State Journal, wrote:

To feel the moment, all you had to do was sit in the press box and feel it shudder and tremble. It happened between the third and fourth quarters when the sound system began blaring “Jump Around” by House of Pain. The beat prompted tens of thousands of fans to mimic the title and create a mini-seismic episode that prompted more than a few uneasy looks from members of the Fourth Estate as well as patrons in the upper deck.

The song seemed to work as the Badgers defense stiffened as the fourth quarter began, stopping Purdue on a fourth-and-1 from the UW 33 with 13:36 left in the game. Wisconsin’s offense then went to work, embarking on a nearly six-minute drive capped by a Dayne 1-yard TD plunge.

UW safety Bobby Myers intercepted Brees in the end zone on Purdue’s next drive. The Boilermakers were able to tack on a touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the game but the Badgers prevailed, 31-24.

Brees ended the evening with 494 passing yards, setting an NCAA record with 83 pass attempts and tying the NCAA mark with 55 completions. He was picked off four times, though, including Fletcher’s game-changing TD return.

The game marked the first night victory at Camp Randall for the Badgers. Since that game, UW has compiled a 13-3 record at home under the lights.

And in every one of those games, “Jump Around” has been played.

Thin Photo collage of images of UW football player Jamar Fletcher