Rochelle native George “Harry” Ross has owned season tickets to the University of Wisconsin Badgers football program for 72 years. Earlier this month, Ross received the opportunity to step onto the playing field at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in his life. The experience was one the 94-year-old will never forget.
Ross was selected as the Wisconsin Season Ticket Holder of the Game when the Badgers squared off against Brigham Young University on Saturday, Sept. 15. The lifelong Badger football fan and university alum was a member of the Babcock House through the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He graduated Wisconsin with a bachelor’s degree in 1946, and he’s owned season tickets for the Badgers ever since.
“It was the first time I ever got on the football field,” Ross said. “That was really nice… The stadium holds about 80,000 people. I usually sit in the upper-deck area of the stands, but I’ve always wanted to go on the field.”
Ross chose to study at Wisconsin after his father, John Ross, attended the university before him. Raised in Rochelle, Harry has enjoyed watching football his whole life. He even owned season tickets to the Chicago Bears for 25 years.
“It’s a nice day whenever I go to a Wisconsin game,” Ross said. “We sit in the upper deck and the view is nice because it’s easier to see when you’re up high and looking down… We sometimes tailgate with my brother and friends.”
There are six names on the east side of Camp Randall Stadium in honor of former Wisconsin greats including two-time All-American end Dave Schreiner and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. Ross knew both players personally, even having conversations with them at varying points of his life.
Ross was also present when former Badger quarterback Allan Schafer tragically died after a hemorrhage to his lung during Wisconsin’s game against Iowa on Nov. 11, 1944. Some of his favorite memories include Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl victory in 1994 as well as watching former Badger and Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, who holds the all-time NCAA Division I FBS record in rushing yards with 7,125.
“I saw Ron play for three years,” Ross said. “It was fun watching him when he going to break the record. They have photographs of him all over the place.”
Ross remained loyal to the Badgers through good times and bad times. He still remembers seeing the Wisconsin football team struggle for 2-to-3 wins a season before the arrival of former head coach Barry Alvarez, who turned the program around dramatically. Alvarez, who currently resides as athletic director of Wisconsin, retired with a head coaching record of 119-74-1 and a 9-4 record in 13 bowl games.
“They’d only fill about 35,000 or 40,000 people in the seats, but when [Alvarez] got there, he helped build the program up to where it is today,” Ross said. “As long as Wisconsin is in the mix, I don’t care about anything else. It’s always a fun day when I’m up there. I like football.”
Ross never thought he’d own his season tickets for over seven decades, but as he sat inside the community room at the Lincoln Manor Senior Housing Center this past week, proudly wearing his red Wisconsin hat and red Wisconsin 2010 Big Ten Championship polo as he shared his stories, Ross doesn’t plan to give them away any time soon.
“I thought I might have been gone by the time I turned 70 but I’ve kept on going,” he said.