Wisconsin Sports Scene
About two months ago I wrote this piece for my school newspaper, and thought it would be appropriate to put up here as well. The Packers had just lost in the NFC Championship Game to complete the cycle of all three of Wisconsin’s professional sports teams losing before the chance to bring home a championship. After this game, I realized I needed to capture an avid sports fans thoughts and feelings.
A week ago, the San Francisco 49ers punched their ticket to the Super Bowl by beating the Green Bay Packers 37-20, in the NFC Championship Game. This scene is all too familiar for Wisconsin sports fans, among the most passionate in the world. In the past several years, all 3 of the major Wisconsin sports teams have fallen right on the brink of a championship. It has been a common theme for local teams to have special seasons, to advance a round or two in the postseason, and then to fall on the doorstep of competing for a championship, leaving fans heartbroken.
Even though fans have endured plenty of heartbreak, excitement for Wisconsin sports have never been higher, especially in Milwaukee. Think about it, the Brewers and Bucks aren’t exactly model franchises. The Brewers one World Series appearance, in which they lost in seven games, ( 1982) is the franchise’s high point. Only three times since has the club been back in the postseason. Brewers fans suffered through 26 years of no playoff baseball, and legendary careers were unable to win, despite outstanding stat lines. Meanwhile, the Bucks’ one championship (1971) nobody seems to remember, and it wasn’t that significant at the time, as the franchise was only three years old. From the mid-1970s to now, the Bucks truly can be considered the NBA’s worst franchise. Now, both franchises are competing and have advanced in the playoffs in the past years.
The Bucks are now arguably in the best position they have ever been in. Led by MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, they have the best record in the NBA. They play in a brand new, state-of-the-art arena, Fiserv Forum. With the emergence of the new arena, so has the birth of bars, restaurants, and nightlife surrounding the area.
Last season the Bucks won a franchise-best 60 games, cruising through the regular season. However, with winning comes high expectations, and with fans picturing a Finals appearance, the Bucks fell flat. They rolled through the first round of the playoffs by sweeping the Detroit Pistons. Then after losing the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics, the Bucks won the next four games, advancing to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2001. In this series, the Bucks went up 2-0 on the Raptors in front of a raucous home crowd. With only two more wins before the NBA Finals, the Bucks then lost four straight games, including an overtime loss in a pivotal Game 3. In the series-clinching Game 6, Kawhi Leonard led Toronto to a come-from-behind, heartbreaking loss for Bucks fans. Milwaukee fans knew this feeling was all too familiar, as they had experienced the same feeling just months earlier when the Brewers fell in Game 7 of the NLCS.
After a surprising 2017 campaign, in which the Brewers won 86 games, Milwaukee’s front office took a gamble, trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain. As we know now, the deals worked out, but at the time there was skepticism involving the signings, as top prospects were given up. However, these moves showed the fans that the team was ready to win, and enthusiasm for the season was through the roof. In a roller-coaster season, the Brewers finished 96-66 and had to play an extra game against the rival Chicago Cubs in order to decide the NL Central division. Playing at historical Wrigley Field, the Brewers won their second division title, making it especially sweet coming against the Cubs. Now, the excitement was truly brewing in Milwaukee, as the club had the National League’s best record. Riding an 8 game win streak, the Brewers won three more games, sweeping the Colorado Rockies. With the win streak at 11, the Brewers welcomed the Los Angeles Dodgers into town for a seven game series for a trip to the World Series. The Brewers extended their win streak in Game 1, as Corey Knebel survived a late-inning scare.
Game 2 of the NLCS was the turning point in the series and the whole Brewers season. Leading by three runs with just nine outs to go, the Brewers bullpen – which had been dominant all year – finally collapsed. Jeremy Jeffress gave up two runs in the 7th inning, and two more in the eighth, helping the Dodgers tie the series and send it back to Los Angeles. If the Brewers would have won, they would have gone up 2-0 in the series, putting themselves in perfect shape for a World Series berth.
After stealing Game 3, the Brewers lost two straight, putting them in a do-or-die position as the series shifted back to Milwaukee. If they lost just one game, their season would be over. Game 6 was exactly what the Brewers and their nervous fan base needed. A four-run first inning got the Miller Park crowd to an ear-splitting volume, and the Brew Crew rolled to a 7-2 victory. A fanbase eager for another World Series appearance awoke the next day with an opportunity to achieve it; Game 7 of the NLCS was to be played that night in Milwaukee. That was the night that the Brewers could finally put their then 36 year Fall Classic drought to bed; but sadly, it didn’t occur. Christian Yelich homered in the first inning, but the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig answered with a 2-run shot of his own, quieting the crowd for seemingly the rest of the game. This blow was tough to take, as the whole state could practically taste a World Series.
The question remains, why do our teams keep leaving fans heartbroken, and what does it say about the fanbases? First of all, I say all teams competing is a great thing for the state. For example, the Bucks are in perfect position, playing in a new arena, selling out every game, and most of all: winning. If teams are getting to and winning in the playoffs, that is never a bad thing, even if they fall in the end. After all of this, the state’s three professional teams still stand in remarkable positions.
From the Bucks 2-0 collapse at the expense of Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, to the Brewers being on the cusp of their first World Series appearance since 1982, we’ve endured a lot these past years. However, I don’t think any of us would trade watching these special teams for the world, especially after years of mediocrity. All of our teams competing at the same time is very special and has never really happened before. One day, the state’s decade long championship drought will end, making it all worth it.