No doubt, a lot of lousy events happened in 2011. Steve Carell did not win a much-deserved Emmy for his final season of The Office. “Boston Rob” Mariano came back yet again on Survivor (and, unlike Carell, won). Rick Springfield got arrested for drunk driving, in the process further justifying my teenage decision to purge my collection of his albums (beside the fact that they, you know, sucked). The Oprah Winfrey Network turned down my idea for a show where I turn fashion trash into fashion treasure with my Bedazzler.
But 2011 was no doubt a great year for Wisconsin sports. The Green Bay Packers didn’t lose a game until the 51st weekend of the year. The Milwaukee Brewers won their first playoff series since the days when Men at Work and Dexys Midnight Runners ruled the pop charts. The Wisconsin football Badgers began the year by playing in one Rose Bowl and ended the year preparing to play in another. The Wisconsin women’s ice hockey team won its fourth NCAA championship in five years, finishing the season on an incredible 27-game unbeaten streak.
It’s tough to reduce such a memorable year to just 10 highlights, but that’s why I’m here. Well that, and to wrap presents. Badly. (But seriously, putting a shiny bow on any gift, no matter how shoddily wrapped, forgives any variety of wrapping mishaps. My tip to you this holiday season.)
Let’s get started:
10. Russell Wilson 36-yard TD pass to Jared Abbrederis, Nebraska at Wisconsin, October 1, 2011. Going into their first conference game, the Badgers football team looked unstoppable, having beaten their first four opponents by a combined total of 194-34. But because of the weakness of their non-conference schedule and because Nebraska had started their first season as a member of the Big Ten equally hot, there were concerns. Those concerns seemed to be well-founded for most of the first half, as the Huskers and Badgers battled in a close 14-13 game, with a missed PAT being the sole difference. But following the first of three Taylor Martinez interceptions, Russell Wilson found Jared Abbrederis, who made a beautiful diving catch in the end zone, for the 36-yard go-ahead score. Wisconsin went on to win 48-17, silencing any doubts (at least for the time being) that they were the best in the Big Ten.
9. Jordan Taylor blocks Jacob Pullen shot, Kansas State vs. Wisconsin, March 19, 2011. In the battle of point guards, Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen outplayed the Badgers’ Jordan Taylor all night in this third-round game in the southeast regional of the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Pullen put in 38 points on 13-of-22 shooting while Taylor scored only 12 on a miserable 2-for-16 night. But Taylor was huge in the final minutes, earning a steal, two important free throws, and finally a crucial block on a 3-point attempt by (who else?) Pullen to seal the Badgers’ victory. Taylor would follow up this strong finish with an impressive 22-point effort in the Sweet Sixteen, but unfortunately it would not be enough, as the Badgers would be eliminated with a 61-54 loss to Butler.
8. Tramon Williams intercepts Michael Vick, Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles, January 9, 2011. Many NFL fans assumed the Packers were living on borrowed time when they traveled to Philadelphia for this NFC Wild Card game against the NFC East champion Eagles. After all, the sixth-seeded Packers had basically been in playoff mode for the previous two weeks, they were seemingly outmanned by the cooling-but-still-hot Michael Vick and company, and, oh, Aaron Rodgers had never won a postseason game. Rodgers did just fine, throwing for 180 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. But it looked as if the Eagles would advance when, down 21-16 and driving, Michael Vick found Tramon Williams in the end zone with just 33 seconds left. Only problem for Michael Vick: Williams plays for Green Bay. The Eagles were eliminated, while the Packers’ season continued. More on that later.
7. Ryan Braun seals the NL Central for the Brewers, Florida at Milwaukee, September 23, 2011. Though Braun’s image has been tarnished recently, his 3-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning was probably the most celebrated play during the Brewers’ 2011 regular season. And why not? Sure, the Brewers had a five-game lead on division rival St. Louis with only a week left to play, but the Cardinals never seemed vanquished until Braun hit the eventual game-winner. (Well, and the Cubs beat the Cardinals, a game that finished about 20 minutes after the Brewers game.) Unfortunately, the Cardinals hot streak continued, the Braves completed their collapse, and well, you know how it eventually ended. But forget Disney World, Braun and the Brewers made Miller Park the Happiest Place on Earth back on September 23.
6. Jordan Taylor leads Badgers in furious comeback win, Ohio State at Wisconsin, February 12, 2011. Things were looking bleak for Bucky. Not for the season – Wisconsin (19-5, 9-3 conference) was ranked No. 14 in the country and was assured a 13th straight trip to the NCAA tournament – but certainly in this game. Unbeaten Ohio State was having their way with the Badgers, beating Bucky by 47-32 with 13:21 left in the second half. But led by Taylor (who scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half), Wisconsin went on two stunning runs – a 15-0 run and then a 10-0 run – to win the game 71-67, which kept their home winning streak alive at 17 games and stopped Ohio State’s overall winning streak at 24. Better yet, Wisconsin’s upset of No. 1 Ohio State was the perfect complement to its victory over Ohio State’s football program the previous October, when the football Buckeyes were also ranked No. 1.
Next week: We countdown 2011’s top five Wisconsin sports highlights. Happy holidays.