2016 was a year filled with a wide range of memories in all walks of life – from politics to sports to much more, this past year will be remembered. In the world of sports alone, both the Warriors and Indians blew 3-1 leads in their respective championship series, resulting in historic wins for the Cavaliers and, yes, the Chicago Cubs. From the ups and down of the sports world, Wisconsin sports gave us reason for hope and a reason to believe that 2017 might be something to look forward to.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers, this season and last, have been one of the more polarizing teams in sports. For one stretch of games it’s “Fire McCarthy, Fire Capers, Fire everyone,” and the next it’s “This team is the greatest team of all time, Aaron Rodgers is the MVP, we are going to win it all.”
Sadly though, that last part never came to pass, as the Super Bowl stayed out of the reach of cheeseheads everywhere. But 2016 did provide one of the greatest football game many of us will ever watch.
The NFC Divisional Round playoff game in 2016 between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, despite the negative outcome for Packer fans, may well go down as one of the top playoff games of all time. It seemed like something out of the script of Friday Night Lights. A season of turmoil and anticipation for the Green Bay Packers culminated in a game that saw Aaron Rodgers make two middling receivers (sorry Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis) look like seasoned veterans.
But the cream of the crop in this one was a 4th-and-20 Hail Mary to Janis followed up by a game-tying touchdown Hail Mary to Janis.
The football gods did not want this one to end. The Packers willed themselves into a position they really had no business being in. It only seemed fitting they see the miracle game end on a miracle play in overtime by Larry Fitzgerald. They may have lost the game and broke our hearts, but to say the least, it was quite a game.
Meanwhile, the current Packers (9-6) will face off next week against the Detroit Lions to determine the winner of the NFC North. On the first day of 2017, the Packers’ New Year will start off either very well or very poorly.
Wisconsin Badgers Basketball
Hall of Fame-caliber coach retires midseason, team drastically underperforming and fans beginning to lose faith that the Badger Basketball program had built itself into a dynasty – needless to say, the Badgers ended 2015 on a pretty sour note. But 2016 proved to be a stellar year for the Badgers as they fought back under new coach Greg Gard.
Going on a miraculous 12-5 to end the regular season and conference play, Gard and the Badgers gave fans a reason to believe another run in March Madness was not out of the question. But after a shaky first game against Pittsburgh, a round-of-32 matchup against #2-seed Xavier was looming.
Stud point guard Bronson Koenig, however, knew it was not the Badgers’ time to go home.
Although Koenig and the Badgers couldn’t pull the trigger against Notre Dame to advance to the Elite 8, they laid the path for this year’s team and set a standard for Badger basketball. They will not go quietly off the court, if they go off at all.
This year’s Wisconsin Badgers (11-2) will round out 2016 with their Big Ten opener tonight against Rutgers (11-2) at the Kohl Center.
The young Bucks are certainly one of the most entertaining basketball teams to watch in the NBA – that’s less of an opinion and more of a fact. In 2016, Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed into a super star, Jabari Parker is the player that we all assumed he would be after going second overall in the draft and the entire Bucks team has continued to improve.
Playing the Wizards on December 23, the Bucks took a step into the future. The future is now for the Bucks and they are putting the NBA on notice. Giannis scored a career-high 39 points, a few of those points coming on dunks over Markieff Morris and alley oops, adding 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
The Greek Freak led the Bucks to a 123-96 rout of the Wizards, a team it is believed to be of comparable talent to the Bucks. Despite losing last night to the same team, the end of 2016 saw a move from “Own the Future” to “We Own the Now” for the Milwaukee Bucks. Defying expectations, the team has not been playing like the cellar-dweller many thought they would after losing premier scorer Khris Middleton. With a 14-15 record, they’re still very much in the running for the Eastern Conference Playoffs this season.
NCAAF: Wisconsin Badgers Football
“Have you seen that schedule? They might not make a bowl game!” “I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up third or fourth in the Big Ten West Division.”
Those were the kind of things you heard before the 2016 season for the Badger Football team. To begin the season, they faced a No. 5 LSU Tigers team that was primed to be a contender for the College Football Playoff. Led by Leonard Fournette and coach Les Miles, there was little reason to doubt the Badgers were about to get rolled over.
To the delight of thousands at a sold out Lambeau Field, the outcome was far from a blow out – the Badgers came away with an impressive 16-14 win after starting the season unranked.
The Badgers have always seemed like that team who can’t get over the hump. A close loss against a good team there, a great season spoiled by a loss to a bad team there. But 2016 was different. The Badger Football team took that step forward in 2016 from a middle-of-the-road program to a contender, all the while ending a dream season for the LSU Tigers and ending Les Miles coaching tenure wearing the purple and yellow.
The Badgers would go on to beat a (then) top-10 Michigan State team before losing back-to-back extremely close games against Michigan and Ohio State. They would go on to take down an undefeated (and top-10) Nebraska team at Camp Randall as well. But the Badgers’ luck ran out when they couldn’t overcome an upstart Penn State team in the Big Ten Championship – a title many thought they’d never be playing for.
Wisconsin (10-3) will face another undefeated team in Western Michigan (13-0) in the Cotton Bowl on January 2nd to perhaps cement the legacy of the “1” for Wisconsin sports in recent years.
See, you forgot about the good old, dinger-ripping Brew Crew. “They were awful, what good could have come from them?”
We’re glad you asked. David Stearns’ first year at the General Manager position turned out to be a godspell for the Milwaukee Brewers, as players Stearns added in the offseason changed the losing and non-competitive culture around for the Crew.
Nowhere was that more evident than a 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Jonathan Villar, enjoying a breakout season, stole two bases. Hernan Perez, also enjoying a breakout year, stole two more. And the wily veteran Ryan Braun added two more. The Brewers played it fast and loose in 2016, and this game showed it as they ran free on the bases and held their own against the eventual Word Series champs.
While a 73-89 record was certainly nothing impressive, the Brewers have continued to add pieces that will help them in the future. Much like the Bucks, they’re building a solid core that should make them competitive within the next couple of years.
2016 was a year of high highs and even lower lows. But the future of Wisconsin sports held constant in all of the big moments for Wisconsin teams. From the Packers all the way down to the Brewers, 2017 is looking to be a huge year, so settle on in and enjoy it.