As we tally the final days of the decade, it is as good a time as any to take stock of the past 10 years of Wisconsin sports, and the iconic moments and star players that came with it. Here are the 20 most memorable moments of the 2010s.
20. Brandon Jennings launches infamous "Bucks in 6" quote in 2013
Perhaps nothing defined the Bucks’ post-Ray Allen, pre-Giannis wasteland better than Jennings’ now-legendary prediction. Ahead of the Bucks’ first round matchup against the top-seeded and defending champion Miami Heat, Jennings said the Bucks would not only beat the Heat, but do so in six games. Of course, Miami easily swept past Milwaukee, winning each game by an average of nearly 15 points and holding Jennings to 30 percent shooting for the series. And though Jennings’ audaciousness failed to score him any friends on Miami’s roster, he did earn a surprising spot in Bucks’ lore.
19. US Open heads to Erin Hills in 2017
Whistling Straits grabs the national headlines as Wisconsin’s premier golf destination, but it was Erin Hills that landed the state’s first US Open in 2017. While the course fell short of any truly extraordinary highlights, it was the coming out party for Brooks Koepka, now a four-time major champion. And with the benefit of hindsight, the Erin Hills leaderboard was incredibly strong, as Koepka, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood and Hideki Matsuyama all finished inside the top 10. All six players are currently ranked in the top 25 in the world.
18. Bucks make 2019 ECF and win first playoff series since 2001
The Bucks’ four consecutive losses in Games 3-6 of the Eastern Conference Finals certainly soured last spring’s postseason run, but the lead-up was incredible. Not only did Milwaukee capture its first playoff series victory since 2001 – a sweep against Detroit – it also vanquished Kyrie Irving and the Celtics in rather amusing fashion, and turned Downtown Milwaukee into a hot spot for frenzied hoops fans. If the Bucks can build on that run with even more success in 2020, the initial playoff push will look even better with age.
17. Wisconsin heads to three straight Rose Bowls
While losing three straight Rose Bowl games, all by one score or less, is somewhat cruel, qualifying for that honor is just that – an honor – and should be remembered as such. Wisconsin is 3-6 in the Rose Bowl all-time (all three wins came in the 1990s under Barry Alvarez), but what do ya know, the Badgers will get another crack at The Granddaddy of the Them All on New Year’s Day against no. 6 Oregon. It’s no College Football Playoff, but breaking the Curse of the Rose Bowl may be just what UW needs to kickstart the 2020s.
16. Marquette advances to 2013 Elite Eight
UW’s trio of Rose Bowls may be more impressive, but Marquette fans certainly look back on this Elite Eight run with less disdain than their Badger brethren. The Golden Eagles kicked off its tournament run with a miraculous final minute comeback against 14-seed Davidson, followed it up with another furious second-half rally to eek by Butler and then laid a smackdown on 2-seed Miami to reach the Elite Eight. Syracuse ultimately thwarted MU’s second Final Four trip of the century in a 55-39 beating. MU has not won an NCAA tournament game since defeating Miami in the Sweet 16, with all three losses coming by double-digits.
15. Bucks hire head coach Mike Budenholzer in 2018
(PHOTO: Matt Mueller)
Milwaukee had the pieces in place: a transcendent superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, a reliable second option in Khris Middleton and a high-ceiling point guard in Eric Bledsoe. But the Bucks had neither the sideline leader nor the on-court system to fully embraced the team’s talents. Enter Budenholzer, who has immediately pushed Milwaukee to the league’s best overall record since the start of the 2018-19 campaign. Antetokounmpo was already on his way to stardom, but Bud unlocked the Freak in ways that few coaches could. If the Bucks play their cards right and find a little luck, they could be in the beginning stages of building around their own version of the Gregg Popovich-Tim Duncan foundation that made San Antonio so successful for two decades.
14. Packers defeat Cowboys in 2015 NFC Divisional Round thriller
A pair of Packers-Cowboys divisional games could have landed in this spot, but I went with the one that has since been dubbed the "Dez Bryant Catch Game." Ah yes, the days when we didn’t know what a catch was. Now, we also don’t know what pass interference is. Simpler times ...
Anyways, Rodgers – on a gimpy leg – threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, while Davante Adams recorded the finest game of his rookie season (seven catches, 117 yards and one TD) to lead the Packers in a comeback win at home. Green Bay advanced to the NFC Championship game against Seattle, and that is the last we will mention of that.
13. Giannis, Yelich and Rodgers (and Braun…) win MVPs
(PHOTO: Milwaukee Brewers Facebook, Dave Bernacchi and Evan Siegle/Packers.com)
The faces of the Wisconsin’s three major sports teams stack up against any other group, something that is borne out by all the hardware Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Rodgers and Christian Yelich accumulated over the decade. The three stars totaled four MVPs and 12 All-Star/Pro Bowl appearances between them. (Those numbers climb to 5 and 18, respectively, if you toss in Ryan Braun’s awards, but that resume may be one that is best ignored for this discussion).
12. Bucks open Fiserv Forum in 2019
If measuring long-term impact, this move could go as high as number one. Fiserv Forum was built on the heels of an ownership transition and a lengthy #SaveTheBucks movement, and quickly became a crucial piece of the city’s scenery. The surrounding Deer District has revitalized significant parts of Downtown, and the sparkling new arena has put Milwaukee in play for high-profile national events, such as the upcoming 2020 Democratic National Convention. On gamedays, the Milwaukee faithful has been blessed with one of basketball’s finest in-game venues, a tremendous upgrade on the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It is only fitting that the Bucks opened their new arena just as the team was hitting its stride on the court.
11. Marquette stuns no. 1 Villanova in 2017
The Golden Eagles rallied from down 17 – erasing a 14-point deficit with 7:08 remaining in the process – to knock off the defending champion and top-ranked Villanova Wildcats at home. As someone who was a senior at MU in 2017 and sat through some glum years in the final days of Buzz Williams and the early days of Steve Wojciechowski, it took all my willpower to not put this game atop the list. No. 11 will have to suffice. What a photo.
10. Wisconsin slips past Arizona in OT to reach 2014 Final Four
Playing in Anaheim, California, roughly four times farther from Madison than Tucson, the Badgers faithful still managed to turn the Honda Center red as UW advanced to its first Final Four since 2000. Junior Frank Kaminsky carried the day for Wisconsin with 28 points and 11 rebounds, including six of UW’s 10 points in overtime. Josh Gasser drew a key charge on Arizona’s Nick Johnson in the final seconds, and despite a late inbounds turnover by the Badgers on the ensuing possession, Bo Ryan’s staple defense held strong for one final play.
9. Whistling Straits hosts wild 2010 PGA Championship
The dazzling course and the energetic crowds put on a show during the PGA’s second trip to Whistling Straits. Even on a final day that included an 81 by the 54-hole leader Nick Watney, a leaderboard with a budding superstar in Rory McIlroy, and a three-hole playoff between Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA Championship will always be remembered as the Dustin Johnson Bunker Debacle. Whistling Straits hosted the PGA Championship once more in 2015, marking the third time the event visited Kohler since 2004. An American has failed to win any of the three major championships held at Whistling Straits in the 21st century (Vijay Singh, Kaymer and Jason Day), which will make for some interesting storylines when the Ryder Cup arrives on the scenic lakeside course in September next year.
8. Brewers acquire Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on same day
After a promising season in 2017, general manager David Stearns officially pushed his chips in on Jan. 25, trading four prospects to Miami for Yelich and inking Cain to a five-year contract. The moves immediately paid dividends, as the two outfielders both finished in the top 10 in the NL in MVP voting and propelled the Brewers to a division title and the NLCS. Even as Cain showed his age in 2019, Yelich’s second consecutive monster campaign means Jan. 25 should still be a statewide holiday for all Brewers fans going forward.
7. Brewers top Cubs in Game 163 at Wrigley Field in 2018
Grab your eighth straight victory to end the regular season? Check. Win the NL Central? Check. Earn the top seed in the National League? Check. Knock off your chief rival on the road? Check. The Brewers’ Game 163 win had it all and completed a seemingly historic September in the process ... that is until Milwaukee pulled off even more artistry just 12 months later to swipe a postseason spot from Chicago yet again.
6. Wisconsin knocks off undefeated Kentucky in 2015 Final Four
After enduring heartbreak against the Wildcats the year before in the national semifinals, the Badgers got their revenge in 2015 as four UW starters scored in double-figures to outduel Karl-Anthony Towns and unbeaten Kentucky. Wisconsin went cold midway through the second half, but finished on 15-4 flurry over the game’s final five minutes to advance to the program’s first national championship game in nearly eight decades. The top-seeded Badgers went through some of the finest hoops program’s in the nation that March, topping Oregon, North Carolina, Arizona and UK before eventually succumbing to an NBA-riddled Duke team in a well-played final.
5. Aaron Rodgers’ 2015 Miracle in Motown
Rodgers had a trio of Hail Marys that could have made its way onto this list – his 2016 heave to Jeff Janis to send the game to overtime against Arizona was just flat-out ridiculous – but the Miracle in Motown will always be one of the most iconic plays on Rodgers’ incredible highlight reel.
Everything about the play is classic no. 12: scrambling backwards nearly 20 yards, side-stepping defenders, flinging the ball 65 yards to a leaping Richard Rodgers and doing so against the punching bag Lions, no less. Rodgers has always had a flair for the dramatic that made him arguably the league’s most thrilling player for the past decade; this play embodied every last ounce of that skill set.
4. Aaron Rodgers returns in Week 17 to win the NFC North in 2013
Speaking of the flair for the dramatic, how does returning from a broken collarbone in the final week against your biggest rival on the road with the division on the line only to throw a 48-yard touchdown on fourth-and-8 with less than a minute remaining sound? For any other QB, that is a career-defining moment. For Rodgers, it’s just another notch in his 18-5 career record against the Bears.
3. Nyjer Morgan's walk-off single to win Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS
Morgan fittingly capped off the finest season of his career with the moment every ballplayer envisions: a walk-off hit in extra innings of a postseason winner-take-all game. Morgan only spent two seasons with the Brewers, and his 2012 batting line was a whopping 48 percent worse than his 2011 numbers, but he will forever be a vital part of Brewers history. The 2011 NLDS was the Brewers’ first series victory since the 1982 ALCS against the California Angels.
2. Bucks draft Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2015
There are only a handful of days in the lifespan of a sports organization that truly alter everything about that franchise. Finding a franchise quarterback. Hiring a legendary coach. Winning your first championship. For the Bucks, it was selecting Giannis 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Landing a superstar is tough enough. But to do so at number 15, and to get a player who possesses a tireless work ethic and shoulders broad enough to carry an entire city is something that permanently puts the organization in a different class.
1. Packers win Super Bowl XLV
Flags fly forever. In an electrifying battle between two of the NFL’s pillar franchises, Green Bay outlasted Pittsburgh 31-26 as Rodgers connected on back-shoulder fades and big-play slants to streaking wide receivers, while the defense feasted on turnovers and timely stops. The Packers overcame first-half injuries to veterans Donald Driver and Charles Woodson, and Rodgers threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns to earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
Rodgers grabbed his first ring in just his third season as starter, and most assumed he was a near lock to capture another by the end of the decade. Many factors have kept him from climbing the mountain again – poor defenses, coaching issues, injuries, inconsistent supporting casts, etc. – but if anything, Rodgers’ inability to return to the Super Bowl proves how rare and fleeting even one title can be. For that one night in Arlington, Packers fans had it all, and that is something that will never be forgotten.
When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.