On Wisconsin! State well represented in NFL
An anniversary is rapidly approaching in my world – less than two months from now I'll be closing the book on "Year One" at OnMilwaukee.com. There will be time for some 12-month retrospective then, but my first football season as a reporter in Wisconsin is nearing an end as well.
I say "nearing" because while the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers rule the hearts minds of residents state-wide, I noticed something different about Sconnie Nation – you root for the state just as hard. And, no doubt people will be rooting for Badgers alumnus Peter Konz and the Atlanta Falcons this week.
Or, maybe you've attached yourself to Milwaukee native and former Fond du Lac resident Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers after his impressive performance last week (and proclamation of his Brewers fandom during the week).
This city and state never cease to teach me something new about sports, and the amount of pride I've seen taken up in the success of Russell Wilson in Seattle, or J.J. Watt, Garrett Graham and Owen Daniels in Houston is amazing.
Growing up in the Chicago area, no one cared about Northwestern or Illinois or Northern Illinois alumni. It's even hard for those "native" to the area to win the hearts of their former city, in any sport (just look at how Isiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade have been treated when they return). Most people down there don't even know that Atlanta's Michael Turner is a north suburban guy.
It's not just Madison, either. I don't doubt Milwaukeeans puff their chest out a little bit if Nick Roach (Chicago) or Lance Kendricks (St. Louis) have good games.
Considering all of the players I mentioned, save those in Atlanta, played against the Packers this year, no doubt there was a lot of "I hope they play well, but the Packers win" going on in homes and bars. Yet the affection for those who come from Wisconsin, or played for the state university, is a real thing.
And in 2012 NFL season, there was a lot to cheer for.
Russell Wilson (University of Wisconsin): Lost early on in the Robert Griffin III-Andrew Luck hype, Wilson proved to be just as exciting as the two top draft picks. He threw for 3,118 yards in the regular season and posted a 100 quarterback rating in leading the Seahawks to within seconds of the NFC Championship game.
Colin Kaepernick (Fond du Lac): He moved away as a child, but he's as Sconnie as they come and he maintains his Brewers fan card. He's led the 49ers to the NFC Championship game after coach Jim Harbaugh pushed him into the starting lineup.
J.J. Watt (Pewaukee): A Pro Bowler this season, he is also in the running for Defensive Player of the Year after recording 20.5 sacks, 81 tackles and forcing four fumbles.
Joe Thomas (Brookfield): The Cleveland Browns were awful yet again, but Thomas made the Pro Bowl after dominating on the left side of the line yet again.
Peter Konz (Neenah): Atlanta drafted the center in the first round and he's made an immediate impact. He became a starter about midway through the season and has helped quarterback Matt Ryan put up MVP numbers. The Falcons play in the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
The state was well-represented in the NFL playoffs by the following players.
Houston Texans: The Badgers were well represented on the AFC South champs with tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham becoming favorite targets of quarterback Matt Schaub.
Seattle Seahawks: Wilson wasn't the only Badger representing on the left coast. Defensive back Chris Maragos (Racine) was part of the fourth-ranked defense in the league while John Moffitt helped protect Wilson all season at guard.
Denver Broncos: Defensive back Jim Leonhard (Tony) was a former walk-on at Wisconsin who signed with the Broncos this season. Denver finished the regular season as the league's second-ranked defense.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler is a Waukesha native who went to school in Milwaukee before playing at UW. The rookie started all 16 games for the Bengals.
The Badgers have sent plenty of players to the NFL, but not all grew up in Wisconsin.
Gabe Carimi (Monona) returned from an injury-plagued rookie season to claim the starting right tackle spot for a 10-win team in Chicago. Teammate Nick Roach (Milwaukee) started alongside future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher at linebacker. ... DeAndre Levy (Milwaukee) is a key part of the Detroit Lions linebacking corps. ... Kraig Urbik (Hudson) is the starting right guard for the Buffalo Bills, and the team signed him to a four-year contract extension. ... Lance Kendricks (Milwaukee) emerged as a valuable target for St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford. ... Doug Free (Manitowoc) has been a staple on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line since 2007. ... Travis Beckum (Oak Creek) started the year on the physical unable to perform list but returned to appear in four games. ... Bradie Ewing (Richland Center has been on injured reserve all season in Atlanta. ... Brad Nortman (Brookfield) ended the year as the Carolina Panthers' punter. ... Austen Lane (Iola) started seven games for the Jacksonville Jaguars on the defensive line.
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