Of course Aaron Harrison hit a long, contested 3-pointer to put Kentucky up on Wisconsin with 5.7 seconds left in Saturday night’s Final Four in Texas. Of course Traevon Jackson’s buzzer-beating attempt, a good look, hit everything but the bottom of the net.
Of course Wisconsin isn’t playing for a national title tonight.
It was heart breaking, which is something fans of teams in this state are used to.
Now, some might say the recent success of the Green Bay Packers might make up for all of the basketball and baseball heartbreak over the years, but there are plenty who would beg to differ. (Even then, the Packers have appeared in just three Super Bowls in the last 46 years. The New York Giants have been to three in the last 14, for example.)
In fact, the turn of the century hasn’t been too kind to those who cheer for teams from the Badger State.
2000: Fitting that the Badgers start this list, back in their last Final Four run. The underdog Badgers, an eighth seed, started out West, and knocked off a No. 1 seed in Arizona in the second round. The dream was alive then, as they beat LSU and Big Ten rival Purdue in the Elite Eight. Unfortunately, another go-round with a conference opponent would prove too much, as Michigan State put the clamps down in a 53-41 victory.
2001: The Milwaukee Bucks won the Central Division and went to the Eastern Conference Finals against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers and Allen Iverson, but a trip to the NBA Finals didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility. George Karl had done that, and the "Big 3" were rolling. And this was that gap in league history – after Michael Jordan, before LeBron James – when titles could be won. (The New Jersey Nets made to the Finals twice in that period!) Now, Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers pounded the 76ers in the championship series, but Bucks fans will always wonder "what if."
2003: Dwyane Wade, Travis Diener and head coach Tom Crean led the Marquette Golden Eagles out of Conference USA and on a magical tournament run that came to an inglorious end at the hands of Kansas, which just pounded Marquette by 33 points. You could say Marquette’s "luck" ran out, but if you’re in the national semi-final, you’re good enough to win it all. Unfortunately, that day, they weren’t.
2005: Many will think the inclusion of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers on this list is a stretch, considering they won "only" two NCAA Tournament games before bowing out to eventual national runner-up Illinois in the Sweet 16. And, you can’t really say this team had any hope of winning it all. But, when you’re Cinderella – it’s just as heartbreaking to have the shoes fall off before you even get inside the ballroom.
2011: What a year.
The Badgers football team seemed destined to win a Rose Bowl when the calendar flipped. They were the No. 4 team in the nation, Big Ten champs, and playing some team named TCU. Yes, the Horned Frogs were ranked No. 3, but who in Wisconsin didn’t think Bucky was going to bring home a win? TCU had other ideas, winning 21-19 and starting a painful run of three straight losses in the "granddaddy of them all."
Hearts were broken again in October, as the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers were a powerhouse. The team won 96 games, outscored opponents that year by 83 runs and won the division with an MVP in Ryan Braun and fellow all-stars Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder.
Perhaps it was bad luck that the Brewers ended up facing rival St. Louis in the National League Championship series, as the Cardinals played the Brewers even (9-9) during the regular season and knew them all too well – but after St. Louis beat the Texas Rangers in seven games to win another World Series, Brewers fans had to know the franchise’s first championship was oh-so-close.
2014: Like that Brewers team from 2011, this year’s version of the Badgers were, indeed, a powerhouse. They won 16 straight games to start the season, a stretch that included victories over eventual conference champions Florida, UW-Green Bay, Saint Louis and Virginia. They beat five ranked teams once conference play started, too, and earned the No. 2 seed in their part of the bracket in the NCAA Tournament. If not for a great shot by Harrison, the Badgers could be cutting down the nets tonight and bringing home a championship.
On one hand, you could say the last 15 years has been OK in that a handful of teams have given fans a reason to really hope. But on the other hand …
In that time, St. Louis has had teams appear in six championship games, bringing home three titles. Detroit has had teams appear in seven title games (three wins). Even Tampa Bay, Anaheim and New Jersey (!) have had franchises appear in more championship games and win titles than Milwaukee since 2000.
Assuming the Earth is still spinning and sports as we know it continue on for the next 85 years, the Brewers, Bucks, Badgers, Golden Eagles, Panthers and Phoenix seem due for some joy, rather than heartbreak. Right?
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.