I wanted to do one final blog post in the year 2011, but was struggling to find a topic with the Packers forced to wait a few weeks for a meaningful game, NCAA basketball just starting up conference play...and nowhere near tourney time, and the Bucks, albeit garnering more of my attention than I anticipated, not worth talking about until we know for certain they are legit. Oh, and the final verdict on Ryan Braun should be coming up in a few weeks. Can't wait for that! So with that, I decided it would be a good time to, well, relive the good times - the most memorable moments in Wisconsin sports from the year 2011. I regret not doing this for the year 2010, but to be honest, it doesn't even compare to what we witnessed in the past 364 days. After about 15 minutes of research and personal bias, I was able to compile a top 10 Wisconsin Sports Moments list for all of us to enjoy. So before you go out and celebrate the arrival of 2012, the final year for us humans here on Earth, let's marvel in the glory that was the Green Bay Packers, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Wisconsin Badgers, the Marquette [Warriors], and at times, the Milwaukee Bucks (well, not this year).
10. June 27 - Wilson becomes a Badger
Rumors swirled around Madison early summer that former NC State quarterback and minor league baseball player Russell Wilson, who had a year left of eligibility, would make his way to Wisconsin to leave baseball (for the time being) and play under center for the Badgers in 2011. Wilson earned the starting role over Joe Brennan to the surprise of only Brennan's parents and had a spectacular season, finishing second in the nation in pass efficiency while throwing for 2,879 yards, 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Those eye-popping numbers, along with the performance of Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball, helped lead the Badgers to their second consecutive Rose Bowl where they'll play Oregon on Jan. 2. Without Wilson, the offense likely would have had trouble overcoming their deficiencies on defense and been unable to win the Big Ten. Wilson's signing is one of several off-the-field moments that will make their appearance on this countdown.
9. March - Wisconsin, Marquette reach Sweet 16 (1st for MU since '03)
For the first time since 2005, two Division I schools from Wisconsin had made the Regional Semifinal game, or Sweet 16, in the same year (UWM, Wisconsin). For the first time EVER, Marquette and Wisconsin reached the Sweet 16 in the same year. Neither team had an exceptional regular season, with the Badgers earning a four-seed and the Warriors barely sneaking in with an 11-seed. Unfortunately, each team would lose to their respective opponents, Wisconsin to eventual runner-up Butler and Marquette to North Carolina in rather ugly fashion. Still, because March Madness is one of the most exciting times in sports and this accomplishment never occurred before, it ranks ninth in 2011 Wisconsin sports moments.
8. November 22 - Braun wins MVP
The Milwaukee Brewers had two legitimate MVP candidates after their National League Championship Series run and Central Division Championship in 2011 in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Although I truly believed Prince deserved the honor for protecting Braun in the lineup and having an almost equally impressive season, I knew deep down Brauny had a better shot at beating out Matt Kemp for MVP, and that he did. Braun was among league leaders in several categories and ended up hitting .332 with 33 home runs and 111 RBIs. His late-game heroics created hysteria among fans time and time again and I think his clutch ability was what pushed him above Kemp in the voting race for the award. Although Braun is now under scrutiny from Dodger fans who think he should give up the award, now is not the time to be negative...but those idiots can shut their pie-hole. The MVP belongs to Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.
7. Fall - Rodgers' rewrites the record books
Holy cow. What a year for Aaron Rodgers. Not only was he the Super Bowl MVP back in February, but he's likely to win another MVP award for his ridiculous 2011 NFL season. Assuming A-Rod gets shut down against the Lions on New Years Day, here are his final numbers for the season: 4,643 yards, 68.3 completion percentage, 45 touchdowns, six interceptions, 122.5 quarterback rating. No, this isn't Madden 2012. This is real life. Not only does Rodgers currently have the highest passer rating of all-time throughout a career, he'll break the single season passer rating record. Also, there's not a doubt in my mind Rodgers would have taken the single season completion percentage record away from Drew Brees had our receivers not developed a chronic case of "the dropsies." He also set the Packers' single season record for touchdown passes. I'm certain I'm missing other various records Rodgers took from He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but let's hope he can do something else that douche never did...win back-to-back Super Bowls.
6. September 23 - Brewers clinch second division title ever
Remember in 2008 when the Milwaukee Brewers clinched their first playoff birth in 26 years? Ryan Braun smacked the go-ahead two-run home run over the left field wall in the eighth inning to beat the Cubs and earn the Wild Card. Once again, a spot in the postseason was on the line when Braun stepped to the plate - in the eighth inning - against the Florida (now Miami) Marlins. Now granted it wasn't the most pressure packed situation with the Brewers having several games left to clinch the division, but the moment was still tense with over 44,000 packed inside Miller Park. With two men on, Braun launched a bomb out of the park to take a 4-1 lead and take the Central Division crown. It's one of those moments in sports where you wish you were there, but luckily there's another moment left on this countdown that I was fortunate to be a part of.
5. The Packers don't lose for 362 days
Dec. 19 was the last time the Green Bay Packers knew the feeling of defeat up until they fell at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 17, nearly a whole year later. I know some of you probably took that loss a little harder than you should have simply because we all forgot what it was like to suffer through a Packer game like we did a few weeks ago. Failing to make history and go 19-0 is a little disappointing, but like the Packers, my main focus is winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy. Rodgers had a career high five touchdown passes last Sunday night and sealed the top seed in the NFC, which was the final remaining regular season goal for the Green and Gold. Perhaps another 362 day stretch of not losing has just begun.
4. December 3 - Badgers win thriller against Michigan State
The Badgers suffered one of the most heartbreaking defeats I can remember when their undefeated season was interrupted by a Hail Mary against the Spartans in East Lansing. Next week's loss against Ohio State wasn't much easier to swallow, and the Badgers all of a sudden faced an uphill climb to even reach the Big Ten Championship Game after having hopes of reaching the National Championship game. Wisconsin still found it's way to Indianapolis, and a familiar opponent stood in their way of grabbing a Rose Bowl birth - the Spartans. Down 39-34, Russell Wilson found sophomore wide receiver Brandon Duckworth on a prayer fourth down throw, much like the one Michigan State threw up several weeks ago, and the Badgers would take the lead on a Montee Ball touchdown run. Punter Brad Nortman's flop would allow the Badgers to keep the ball up to the final whistle, and in two days it will be Wisconsin squaring off against Oregon in Pasadena. Have fun in the Capital One Bowl, Sparty. You earned it.
3. February 12 - #1 Ohio State goes down in the Kohl Center
The unbeaten first ranked Ohio State Buckeyes came into Madison on a crisp, cool February evening to face a talented Wisconsin team led by Jordan Taylor and current Milwaukee Buck Jon Leuer. A legitimate National Title contender led by freshman big man Jared Sullinger and several other veteran players, the 18th ranked Badgers had other plans and knocked off the top team in the country. Fans rejoiced and (rightfully) stormed the court to lift Leuer up on their shoulders and celebrate one of the biggest victories in Wisconsin men's basketball history. Although the Badgers would have a rather disappointing end to their season, this win was one of the most exciting moments in the past 12 months not only in Wisconsin sports, but in college basketball.
2. October 7 - Tony Clutch walks the Crew into the NLCS
In the most exciting moment during my lifetime watching the Milwaukee Brewers (Braun's HR in '08 is a close second), the Brewers' electrifying outfielder Nyjer Morgan stepped to the plate with a man on second and one out in a tie game in the tenth inning. It was Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series and the crowd was on pins and needles, reminding me of the regular season finale I attended between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers when a playoff birth was on the line. Similarly to that game, I was present when Tony Plush punched a base hit into center field, allowing speedster Carlos Gomez to round third and beat the throw home and give the Brewers and exhilarating 3-2 win and a spot in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Fans stayed for nearly a half hour after the game to celebrate and revel in the moment with confetti floating down all around them. It was the farthest the Brewers had made it in the playoffs since 1982, when they also squared off against the Cards. And just like '82, Milwaukee would fall to St. Louis, but the season was a success and the big off-season moves to bring in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Nyjer Morgan and the in-season moves to bring in K-Rod and Jerry Hairston Jr. paid off. Morgan's walk-off Game 5 base hit would be number one almost any other year, except...
1. February 6 - The Packers win Super Bowl XLV
The NFL is the most popular sport in America, and the Super Bowl is the most-watched event in the country year after year. The Green Bay Packers, who sneaked into the playoffs as a six seed with a 10-6 record, were forced to win three road games in order to reach the Super Bowl last season and they did just that, first winning in Philadelphia, then Atlanta, then Chicago, all places of which they had played during the regular season. Now, a team that needed help to reach the playoffs, a team that was 3-3 and 8-6 at different points of the season, a team that had 16 players on injured reserve, had SOMEHOW found its way to Dallas to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 45. Memorable moments included an interception returned for a touchdown by Nick Collins, a couple of thread-the-needle touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and of course, the forced fumble by Clay Matthews when the Steelers were driving down the field to take the lead with all momentum on their side. After the fourth down stop by the Packers defense, it was all over and the Lombardi Trophy was back in Green Bay for the first time in 16 years.
Has there ever been a year like this in Wisconsin sports? I don't think so. We witnessed the Badgers in the Rose Bowl, two Sweet 16 teams, the Brewers two wins away from getting in the World Series and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers...all in the same year! Incredible. To expect anything of the sort in 2012 seems unrealistic, but fans will naturally have higher expectations of all their professional and collegiate teams. One question remains: can the Milwaukee Bucks get the state of Wisconsin on their side and rise to the occasion? We'll see, as they were the only major sports team unable to find success in 2011. Looking forward into 2012, Wisconsin has two top 25 teams, the Rose Bowl game and a one seed in the NFC, but before we bring in the new year, remember the fun ride we had as fans and continue to relive these moments.