The Wisconsin sports scene has been flipped on its head in 2018. The Packers and Badgers are no longer atop their respective divisions, while the Brewers and Bucks have emerged as dark horse title contenders with two young studs. The two major college basketball programs in the state, Marquette and Wisconsin, have also bounced around this year, as both emerged from disappointing 2017-18 campaigns with excellent starts to their 2018-19 seasons.
For years, fans knew exactly what to expect with the local organizations, but in 2018, unpredictability has ruled the day.
Still, no matter if a team rises to the occasion or fails to hit expectations, the beauty of sports lies in the ability of a team, player or coach to create unforgettable memories every day. Here are the top moments for all six Wisconsin teams in 2018.
Brewers: Scrolling through Twitter on Jan. 25
For a few hours on a random Thursday in January, the typically unassuming Brewers took over the baseball world and transformed their season, sending four prospects to Miami for Christian Yelich, then inking Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80M contract. Even though the offseason was already approaching its third month, the winter – specifically free agency – had been notoriously slow throughout the sport. So when news started to trickle in that the Brewers were ironing out a deal with the Marlins, followed by the official trade details, followed by even more news that the Brewers went out and signed another outfielder to a long-term deal, the Baseball Twitterverse broke out into a fevered frenzy over the upstart contender.
For Brewers fans, the night of Jan. 25 was also one of the few times they truly knew what it felt like to be a big-market player. "Wow, we got that guy? And now we have that guy?? Let’s goooooooooo!"
Of course, not only did Milwaukee’s acquisitions dominate the news cycle for a weekend, its two new pieces led the franchise to its finest season since 1982. Yelich and Cain both finished inside the top seven in the NL MVP race – with Yelich taking home the award – and combined to hit .317 with 208 runs, 46 home runs, 114 extra-base hits and 52 steals. Both were also Gold Glove finalists at their respective positions after totaling plus-24 defensive runs saved. Because general manager David Stearns took the baseball world by storm one night, Milwaukee now has two All-Stars locked up through 2022 on favorable deals.
Honorable Mentions: Brandon Woodruff’s NLCS home run off Clayton Kershaw, Yelich winning NL MVP, defeating the Cubs in Game 163 at Wrigley Field, Yelich’s two cycles
Bucks: Opening Fiserv Forum
The Milwaukee Bucks have been one of the more intriguing on-court teams in the NBA this year, but completing and opening the crown jewel is certainly the organization’s defining moment of 2018. The new arena is leaps and bounds above the final days of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and it has already seen its fair share of success. The Bucks are 13-3 at home (after starting 7-0), while Marquette basketball – a tenant in the new building too – is 8-0 inside the Forum’s friendly confines. Attendance is up for both teams, and hot entertainment acts are rolling in nearly once a week as well.
Of course, the Bucks’ fast start already has them well-positioned for a top seed come postseason time, so Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. should have the opportunity to create some playoff moments as the highlight of 2019.
Honorable Mentions: forcing a Game 7 against Boston, hiring head coach Mike Budenholzer, Giannis leaping over Tim Hardaway for a fastbreak dunk
Marquette Basketball: Defeating no. 12 Wisconsin in overtime
The annual December game against Wisconsin is always the highlight of Marquette’s non-conference season, but it seemed to take on additional meaning this season. The rivalry was shifting to the Fiserv Forum for the first time, the Golden Eagles had not defeated the Badgers at home since 2012, and the two teams could not have been more evenly matched despite their differing styles.
The pregame nail biter predictions came to fruition, as Marquette overcame Ethan Happ’s 34 points and 11 rebounds to pull out a 74-69 overtime victory in front of a roaring crowd. (Surprisingly, that OT game was the first MU-UW contest to surpass 40 minutes since 1989, and it was Marquette’s first OT win in the series since 1973.) The win propelled Marquette back into the AP Poll (MU is now ranked no. 20 in the nation) and cemented the Golden Eagles as the Big East favorite heading into conference play. The Golden Eagles have now won three of the last four against the Badgers – a fact MU fans are sure to remind their neighbors of for the next 350 days.
Honorable Mentions: defeating no. 12 Kansas State at home, Markus Howard’s 52-point performance at Providence
Packers: Rallying against the Bears in Week 1
Ah, Week 1. When everything was right in Titletown. Aaron Rodgers was still a god, Mike McCarthy was still the head coach and the Packers still owned the Bears.
After being carted off to the locker room in the second quarter with what looked like a season-ending knee injury, Rodgers hobbled back onto the field to lead the green and gold back from a 20-0 deficit midway through the third. Not only was no. 12 dropping dimes all over the place, the Bears seemingly folded following the re-emergence of the future Hall of Famer. Chicago’s vaunted defense was torched for long drives and chunk plays over the final quarter and a half. The offense became feeble and conservative, only managing three points over its final four drives. And even after all of that, the Bears still had a chance to win the game when a Davante Adams stumble led to a gift-wrapped interception opportunity for Kyle Fuller. Of course, he dropped it. Two plays later, Rodgers found Randall Cobb, who took it 75 yards for the game-winning score.
At the time, that game seemed like a springboard for Green Bay, even with health concerns around Rodgers’ knee. Instead, it turned out to be the high point, as the Packers won just four of their next 13 games, including an 0-5-1 record against opponents with winning records.
Honorable Mentions: solid results in Brian Gutekunst’s first draft, comeback win at San Francisco on Monday Night Football
Wisconsin Basketball: Brad Davison draws five charges against NC State
For the first few months of 2018, the injury-ravaged Badgers slogged through to the finish line of their worst season of the century (15-18, 7-11 in the Big Ten), missing the tournament for the first time since 1998. Wisconsin kicked off the 2018-19 season with a few solid wins (at Xavier and Iowa, home against North Carolina State, and neutral floor victories over Stanford and Oklahoma) and jumped to no. 16 in the AP Poll, but the Badgers also lost their two biggest games to date (neutral floor vs. Virginia and at Marquette).
However, the Badgers have already produced one game that may be remembered as one of the defining moments of the entire college basketball season: Davison taking a whopping five (!) charges in one game against NC State, including the game-winner with eight seconds remaining.
Now whether all of those plays are charges (hint: they aren’t) is up for debate, as is college basketball’s affinity for charge calls in general. But that is for a different day. This is about Brad Davison – who has quickly assumed a spot on Wisconsin’s Mount Rushmore as the most Wisconsin basketball player to ever Wisconsin – having maybe the most stereotypical Badger game in history. He scrapped his way to 12 points, played 34 minutes, hit a couple threes, limited his turnovers and, oh yeah, drew five charges! Barring a Big Ten title or Final Four run, Davison’s performance is already the Badgers’ moment of the season. Hang a banner in the rafters now.
Honorable Mentions: defeating no. 6 Purdue at home, watching Ethan Happ roast opposing big men with the same move over and over again
Wisconsin Football: Preseason no. 4 ranking
Not exactly a banner year for Wisconsin football. But before the Badgers stumbled to a disappointing 7-5 season (they still have a bowl game against Miami to push their streak of at least eight wins to a 10th season), there was plenty of hope.
Wisconsin was fourth in the preseason AP Poll, and even earned one first-place vote. Optimism was aplenty in Madison, especially with a relatively soft schedule on deck. Of course, things did not play out as expected from there – the Badgers capped their season of pain by losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe to Minnesota for the first time since 2003 – but at least at one point this year, Wisconsin fans had a reason to cheer. And if a program’s rock bottom moment is a 7-5 season with a bowl game, then things certainly are not as bad they seem, even with those preseason expectations. Fans should fully expect a resurgence in Madison next fall.
Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Taylor’s Doak Walker award