In order to understand the shift in Wisconsin sports, we must go back and take a quick history lesson, recapping the last 25 years of pro and major college sports in the Badger State.
Since the emergence of Brett Favre in the early 90’s the Green Bay Packers have been at the forefront when it came to successful sports franchises in Wisconsin. Winning hasn’t let up when the Packers transitioned from Favre to Aaron Rodgers either. For over 25 years, the Packers have been the best Wisconsin sports team and it’s not even close. Three Super Bowl appearances, numerous playoff appearances, and one Hall of Fame quarterback (with another on the way.)
In Madison, the University of Wisconsin emerged as a powerhouse in football under the direction of Barry Alvarez and in basketball with Bo Ryan. The fantastic duo of coaches accomplished a lot during their respective tenures in Mad Town.
During the same time frame, Milwaukee sports were almost irrelevant when it came to team success. The Brewers went 26 years between playoff appearances and the Bucks couldn’t sustain winning for more than a year or so at a time. Marquette University’s Basketball team also had success here and there, including a Final Four appearance in 2003, but that’s just about it.
There has been a dramatic shift in power over the last three or four years, however.
The summer of 2013 saw the Bucks make the riskiest move in franchise history; Drafting an unknown, raw talent from Greece, Giannis Antetokounmpo. His rise to superstardom has been nothing short of amazing. Watching him grow into an MVP candidate in 2018 has been quite the journey to watch.
Then, new ownership took over in the Spring of 2014. With that came a rebranding of the team, and back to back playoff appearances in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and a third straight likely to come in 2018-19.
Two signings accelerated the Bucks success over the last couple of years, GM Jon Horst and Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. Both have made the Bucks a significantly better team this year. As Giannis continues to grow and become a much better basketball player, the Bucks will continue to become one of the NBA’s best teams, and hopefully, contend for an NBA Championship.
Milwaukee’s baseball team has recently gone through a similar sequence of events. After some unsustained success earlier in the decade, the Brewers fired Ron Roenicke and brought in a new GM.
After a couple years of rebuilding and making some fantastic trades, the Brewers were one game short of a playoff appearance in 2017. Needing one last piece to get over the top, Stearns made the biggest trade and biggest free agent signing to date. He brought in Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and signed former Brewer Lorenzo Cain. Signing Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley did wonders for the rotation as well. By the end of the year, the Brewers took the division and were the NL’s best team.
Both the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is on the upswing too. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1998-99 season, Badgers basketball looks to be a sure lock for the tournament this year. Ethan Happ is having a terrific senior season. While, Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Kobe King, and D’Mitrik Trice lead a promising group of underclassmen that will only continue to grow and be the future of Badgers basketball. They have brought in some great recruits like Tai Strickland and have more on the way as well.
The Packers, on the other hand, haven’t fared well over the last couple of seasons. Their incredible run of eight straight playoff appearances came to an end last year, albeit without Aaron Rodgers for most of the season.
Even though he was back for 2018, the Packers weren’t able to get it done and will miss the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2005 and 2006 seasons. With a mediocre record of 6-9-1, they will also post back to back losing records since the 1990 and 1991 seasons. After a pitiful performance against the abysmal Arizona Cardinals in early December, the front office made the move everyone was waiting for and fired longtime head coach Mike McCarthy.
The Packers stock is down but there is hope for improvement. However, it has to come quick as Aaron Rodgers is 35 years old and isn’t getting any younger. At best, he has five years left as the Packers quarterback. Rodgers is not Tom Brady. He’s dealt with a couple of injuries over the last five seasons. Aaron’s body is nowhere near his. He is going to try to play as long as he can, but injuries have already set him back and his body is not going to get any better. After the next five years, it will be all rebuilding for the Packers.
Finding the right head coach, signing the necessary free agents, and drafting well is key to having any hope for getting Rodgers one more Super Bowl before he retires. The odds of finding another Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, the third in a row, are very slim. Even if the Packers turn it around, there will be a time when the Green and Gold are not the best team in Wisconsin. With the Brewers and Bucks on the rise, it will only be a matter of time before we see a true changing of the guard.