For Wisconsin sports fans, 2015 was a tough year.
Sure, there were some great seasons, teams, people and moments. But two of those great teams’ seasons ended in heartbreaking fashion (Packers, Badgers basketball), a couple were up-and-down and still trying to figure themselves out (Bucks, Marquette basketball), one had a relatively disappointing campaign (Badgers football) and another was very disappointing (Brewers). Additionally, a few prominent sports figures bid farewell, of their own accord and not, during the year (Ron Roenicke, Jordy Nelson, Bo Ryan).
I mean, heck, even dynastically dominant Division-III UW-Whitewater, arguably one of the most successful schools in sports at any level and the first in NCAA history to win national championships in football, basketball and baseball in the same year (2014), couldn’t win one in 2015. (Gentle jab, Warhawks fans, your teams are unbelievable.)
But anyway, that’s not why we’re here, to recall the bad stuff. We’re here to remember the good things that happened in 2015, because a lot of really good, memorable, non-NFC-Championship-Game things did happen.
Let us then reminisce about the “auld lang syne” of last year, before we look to 2016 and change for the better. Here is the best from Wisconsin sports in 2015:
Wisconsin beats Kentucky in the Final Four: The Badgers’ magical, “Make ’em Believe” season climaxed with a 71-64 win over the undefeated Wildcats in the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament on April 4. Future NBA first-round picks Frank Kaminsky (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Sam Dekker (16 points) led Wisconsin’s comeback down the stretch to hand Kentucky its first loss and advance to the title game. Of course, the Badgers lost to Duke in the final, but it was still a wonderful ride that charismatic, captivating team took us on last year.
Runner-up: Bucks beat undefeated Warriors 108-95 at home on Dec. 12. The Cream City Clash fan section wore prophetic 24-1 t-shirts (this writer was prophetic, too) and Milwaukee ended the defending NBA champ’s various winning streaks, as the game was incredible both on and off the court.
Honorable mention: UWM beats Wisconsin, 68-67, in Madison for the first time in 23 years. The Dec. 9 victory was the signature win of the Panthers’ best start to a season in years.
Packers’ Hail Mary against the Lions: Green Bay had lost four of five games, its season looking precarious, and was down 23-21 with literally no time remaining. After a Lions penalty gave the Packers one final play with zero seconds on the clock, Aaron Rodgers took the snap, rolled right and heaved a Hail Mary prayer 61 yards into the end zone, where tight end Richard Rodgers – channeling his father – leapt up, caught the ball and came down with it for the victory, the Miracle in Motown on Dec. 4.
Runner-up: Bucks beat Bulls in Game 4 of their playoff series at home. Jerryd Bayless made the buzzer-beating layup on April 26 and his strut afterward was priceless.
Honorable mention: Brett Favre’s jersey unveiled at Lambeau Field on Nov. 26. At halftime of the Thanksgiving Night loss to the Bears, Favre’s name and number were added to the stadium’s façade, he was hugged by Bart Starr and finally, fully embraced by the Packers and their fans.
Best individual performance
Aaron Rodgers’ playoff game against the Cowboys: Before the Packers choked away a trip to the Super Bowl in their NFC Championship Game loss to the Seahawks, they faced the Cowboys at home in the divisional round. In a 26-21 Green Bay win on Jan. 11, Rodgers played like the MVP, completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, good for a 125.4 rating that was reminiscent of his postseason brilliance four years earlier.
Runner-up: Sam Dekker’s Elite Eight clutchness against Arizona. If Kaminsky was the star of the Final Four, it was the Dekker show against those other Wildcats in the West Regional Final of the NCAA tournament. He scored a career-high 27 points and hit 5 second-half 3-pointers in the March 28 win.
Honorable mention: Khris Davis’ double smashes against the Padres. In an otherwise forgettable season for the Brewers, Davis’ second-half power surge was a bright spot, highlighted by an Aug. 6 game against San Diego when he went 3 for 5 with two home runs (his sixth two-homer game of the year) and a career-high six RBI.
Bucks arena plan approved: For area basketball fans, at least, the $250 million public financing package agreed upon by the team and state and local officials (including $47 million in city spending) was a major victory. While not a universal slam dunk among politicians or the populace, the $500 million arena deal – the private half is being funded by the Bucks’ new and previous owners – ensures the team will remain in Milwaukee, with their new home expected to be completed in 2018.
Runner-up: Craig Counsell named Brewers manager. On May 4, after Milwaukee stumbled out to a 7-18 start, the team fired Ron Roenicke and replaced him with hometown-hero Counsell. The 45-year-old Whitefish Bay native didn’t exactly right the sinking ship (the Brewers finished 68-94), but he’s young and popular and embraces the new sabermetric approach to baseball.
Honorable mention: Admirals awarded best new logo for 2015. Milwaukee’s AHL team is typically a middling club (though currently it’s in first place in the Western Conference Central Division) that doesn’t attract much attention outside of its avid fans. But in July, the Admirals revealed a cool new look and in December won SportsLogos.net’s annual award for best new logo.
Marquette freshman Henry Ellenson: With their 2015 class rated one of the best in school history, the Golden Eagles jumped out to 10-3 start to the 2015-16 season. Ellenson, a 6-foot-10 forward from Rice Lake, Wis., is their highest-ranked recruit in decades, averaging 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game and considered a likely NBA lottery pick if and when he decides to go pro.
Runner-up: David Stearns named Brewers general manager. In October, the 30-year-old Stearns officially replaced 63-year-old Doug Melvin as Milwaukee’s top personnel man. Like the hiring of Counsell, Stearns signifies the Brewers’ aim to be on baseball’s cutting edge as they undergo a total organizational rebuild.
Honorable mention: Bucks sign Greg Monroe to a maximum contract. In July, coming off its surprisingly successful 2014-15 season, Milwaukee beat out the Knicks and Lakers to land the free-agent center with a three-year, $50 million deal. While Monroe’s fit on the Bucks has been questioned, especially on defense, he’s averaged an impressive 15.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Best social media
Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone: Among other awesome things, the stocky Brazilian kicked a ball off his holder’s nose in practice, did a hilarious shimmy after nailing a 51-yard field goal and apologized for putting Wisconsin fans on an emotional roller coaster by almost blowing and a minute later winning the game against Nebraska in October.
— Rafael Gaglianone (@rafagaglianone) June 3, 2015
Runner-up: John Henson is amazing at Twitter. The big man, who re-signed with the Bucks in early October (and a few weeks later endured an ugly racial-profiling incident at a local jewelry store), has a must-follow Twitter account. When he wasn’t posting funny pictures or tweeting about fast-food restaurants he loves, he was killing teammate Michael Carter-Williams for his awful first pitch at a Brewers game over the summer.
— John Henson (@Johnhenson31) September 19, 2015
Honorable mention: A couple of Lions players had the most Lions reaction to the Packers’ game-winning Hail Mary in Detroit and it was terrific.
Well, that’s it. Happy New Year, Wisconsin sports fans!
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