It was another year of pain and suffering in Wisconsin sports.
And that was just the players.
Indeed, injuries plagued most of the state's college and professional sports teams in 2017, in most cases preventing them from fulfilling their promise.
The Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker was having a breakout season in February when he tore up his left knee for the second time, ironically in the same game that Khris Middleton came back from hamstring surgery.
Jimmy Nelson had finally become the pitching ace for the upstart Milwaukee Brewers when he dove back into first base following a single and injured his right shoulder in early September, requiring surgery that will keep him out for a good portion of the 2018 season.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was off to a fast start and the Green Bay Packers had a 4-1 record when he broke his right collarbone in a game at Minnesota, keeping him out for seven games and giving him almost no chance to save the Packers' season when he returned in December.
The University of Wisconsin wasn't immune, either. The Badgers football team lost star linebacker Jack Cichy to knee surgery before the first game. And the men's basketball team, already struggling with extreme youth and a murderous early season schedule, took a double hit when guards Kobe King and D'Mitrik Trice were lost in the first week of December, King for the season and Trice for an undetermined length of time.
Despite the injuries and lack of championships, there were plenty of memorable moments — most good, a few bad — for state sports fans in 2017. What follows are the top 10, in chronological order:
Jan. 22: Packers' amazing run ends just short of Super Bowl
With the Packers floundering at 4-6 in late November of 2016, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (above) challenged them to run the table. So they did ... all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The eight-game winning streak ended abruptly, though, when Atlanta's pitch-and-catch combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones destroyed Green Bay's short-handed defense, eliminating the Packers 44-21 one game shy of the Super Bowl.
Coming off a 34-31 victory over top-seeded Dallas that included Rodgers' rolling-to-his-left, 36-yard strike to tight-roping Jared Cook that set up Mason Croby's game-winning, 50-yard field goal, the Packers had plenty of momentum but precious few cornerbacks for the NFC title game. With only LaDarius Gunter left to match up with Jones outside, the Packers were doomed. When Ryan hit Jones with a 73-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the second half, Atlanta held a 31-0 lead and Green Bay had fallen off the table. Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers' injury-riddled secondary.
DAVID GOLDMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 18: UW takes out No. 1 seed Villanova, reaches Sweet 16
When UW was mystifyingly downgraded to a No. 8 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, it looked like its run of Sweet 16 appearances would end against defending national champion and No. 1 overall seed Villanova in the second round. Instead, it was the Wildcats who paid for the selection committee's inability to correctly seed UW.
The Badgers' 65-62 victory over Villanova was in doubt until a hesitation reverse layup by Nigel Hayes (above) settled through the hoop with 11.4 seconds left, breaking a 62-62 tie. Then Vitto Brown stole the ball from Wildcats star Josh Hart and sank a free throw, capping UW's closing 15-5 run. It was the third time in four years the Badgers eliminated a No. 1 seed and it sent them to the tournament's second weekend for the fourth year in a row.
M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL
March 24: UW falls to Florida in battle of buzzer-beaters
Six days after knocking off Villanova, the Badgers thought they would do the same to fourth-seeded Florida when Zak Showalter (above) sank a running, off-balance 3-point shot between two defenders with 2 seconds left to tie the Gators at 72-72 and force overtime in a Sweet 16 game. Florida had a similar answer at the end of overtime, though, as Chris Chiozza dribbled through UW's pressure defense and sank a running, off-balance 3-point shot at the buzzer for an 84-83 Gators victory.
After draining his game-tying shot, Showalter looked over at Aaron Rodgers, seated courtside, and with a big grin on his face broke out Rodgers’ signature belt celebration, much to the delight of the Packers quarterback. After erasing a late eight-point deficit in regulation, the Badgers controlled the overtime and looked like they would reach the Elite Eight for the third time in four seasons when two Nigel Hayes free throws broke an 81-81 tie with 4 seconds left. However, the Badgers never got a defender in front of Chiozza on his coast-to-coast foray and he broke their hearts with a buzzer-beater of his own.
M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL
June 15-18: Koepka wins first U.S. Open held in Wisconsin
Tiger Woods was injured and Phil Mickelson was attending his daughter's graduation, leaving golf's young guns to battle for the title at the 117th U.S. Open and the first played on Wisconsin soil. The drama began early for state golf fans. After being turned down for a special exemption into the field, Madison's Steve Stricker won a sectional qualifer the week before to finally secure a spot in the Open. Stricker did well, too, finishing 16th, but in this Open all eyes were on the long-hitting 20-somethings on the PGA Tour.
Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day failed to make the cut, Jordan Spieth was never a factor and Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas took turns blistering par and lighting up the leaderboard in the early rounds, but it was Brooks Koepka (above), the forgotten man among golf's new wave of power hitters, who ran away from the field with a 5-under-par 67 on Sunday to win his first major. Koepka, not known for his work on the greens, staged a putting clinic at stunning Erin Hills, a 12-year-old course 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
CHRIS CARLSON, ASSOCIATED PRESS
June 23-25: Couples rallies to win AmFam Championship
The PGA Tour Champions event at University Ridge was in its second year, but the pre-tournament buzz was all about Madison 50-year-olds Steve Stricker (above right) and Jerry Kelly, who were making their debut in the senior tour event that is hosted by Stricker. Both local golfers gave it the old college try in front of large, appreciative crowds, but neither one came out on top, with Stricker finishing third and Kelly 13th.
That didn't diminish the AmFam one bit, though, because oft-injured golf legend Fred Couples (above left), playing in the tournament only because of his friendship with Stricker, came out of the pack to win on Sunday, using his sweet swing and some excellent putting to shoot a 6-under-par 66 and edge Scott Verplank by 2 shots. If Stricker or Kelly couldn't win, having the immensely popular Couples accept the trophy was the next-best outcome in an event that raised more than $1.6 million for local charities.
STEVE APPS, STATE JOURNAL
July 6: Brewers pay back Cubs, take control of first place
With their bullpen severely taxed from the night before, the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs practically invented a rain delay to postpone a game against the rebuilding Brewers on May 20 at Wrigley Field, likely figuring their pitching would be in better shape on the July 6 makeup date against a surprisingly powerful Brewers lineup. Turned out the joke was on the Cubs.
In the makeup game, the Brewers pounded Cubs pitching, chasing starter Mike Montgomery with a seven-run third inning and posting an 11-2 victory that gave them a 4.5-game lead in the National League Central Division, a surprising advantage they pushed to a season-high 5.5 games heading into the All-Star break three days later. Best of all, the angry Brewers battered Cubs pitching so badly that Chicago manager Joe Maddon had to call on outfielder John Jay to pitch the ninth inning.
NAM Y. HUH, ASSOCIATED PRESS
September: Brewers' gallant try falls just short
They were supposed to be in year two of a five-year rebuild, but the Brewers moved up the timetable with a power-hitting lineup and solid pitching, starters and relievers alike. Expertly guided by home-grown manager Craig Counsell, the Brewers led the division from mid-May to late-July and weren't eliminated from playoff contention until the 161st game of the season.
Not even their own fans thought the Brewers would be playing meaningful games in September, but they went toe-to-toe with the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs troughout the month. The Brewers swept the Cubs in early September in Milwaukee, winning three games by a combined score of 20-3 behind the stellar starting pitching of Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Zach Davies. That pulled Milwaukee to within 2 games of Chicago in the National League Central Division race. The Brewers' last gasp came against the Cubs on Sept. 23 at Miller Park, when Orlando Arcia led off the ninth with a game-tying home run off elite Cubs closer Wade Davis and Travis Shaw (above) erased a 3-2 Cubs lead in the 10th with a two-run, walk-off home run, also off Davis. The dramatic victory trimmed Chicago's lead to 4.5 games with a week to go, but that was as close as Milwaukee would get.
JEFFREY PHELPS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Oct. 15: Rodgers' injury derails Packers season
The Packers were sailing along with a 4-1 record when the Minnesota Vikings' Anthony Barr dumped quarterback Aaron Rodgers (above) on his right shoulder after he released a pass, breaking Rodgers' right collarbone and causing him to miss the next seven games. Just like in 2013, when Rodgers broke his other collarbone, the Packers were left scrambling at football's most important position.
Rather than signing an experienced veteran like he did with Matt Flynn in 2013, coach Mike McCarthy said he liked his quarterback room and handed the ball to backup Brett Hundley. Seeing the first real action of his 3-year NFL career, Hundley was up and down -- occasionally up, mostly down -- as he guided the Packers to a 3-4 record as a starter. Rodgers returned in mid-December with the Packers needing to win their final three games to have any chance of making the playoffs, but it was too little, too late. Rust from the two-month layoff and a too-early return from the injury led to a rare three-interception game for Rodgers in a loss at Carolina and the Packers were eliminated, ending their eight-year playoff streak with two games left in the season.
BRUCE KLUCKHOHN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Oct. 18-29: Bucks' Antetokounmpo reaches NBA stardom
In the first six games of his fifth professional season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (above) finally ascended to superstar status in the NBA. Just short of his 23rd birthday, the 6-foot-11 "Greek Freak" averaged 34.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2 steals per game while shooting 63.1 percent from the field during the Bucks' 4-2 start, including a career-best 44-point game against Portland.
Antetokounmpo, who was discovered at age 18 playing in Greece's obscure second division, was such a long-shot as the 15th pick in the 2013 draft that some didn't know how to spell his name. Sports Illustrated's draft wrapup called him "Giannis Adetokunbo." Then-Bucks general manager John Hammond knew how to spell it, though, and just six games into his fifth season Antetokounmpo thrust himself into the NBA's MVP discussion as the undisputed leader of a dangerous, on-the-rise Bucks team. Antetokounmpo drew comparisons to the greatest player in franchise history when his 166 points through the first five games broke Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's mark. Abdul-Jabbar, of course, is the NBA's all-time leading scorer.
TOM LYNN, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Nov. 25: UW football goes 12-0 in regular season
The UW football team methodically wore down opponent after opponent before beating Minnesota 31-0 in the regular-season finale to finish with the first 12-0 record in school history and earn a No. 4 ranking in the College Football Playoff standings. Behind sensational freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor and a defense ranked No. 1 in the nation in multiple statistical categories, the Badgers plowed their way through a schedule that was called soft by college football pundits but ended up being tougher than anyone thought.
When UW's perfect regular season concluded, only Ohio State stood between the Badgers and a shot at winning a national championship. A victory over the No. 8 Buckeyes would have protected UW's No. 4 ranking and likely landed it in a CFP semifinal game against defending national champion Clemson. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be as the Badgers couldn't get past the lightning-fast Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game. After falling behind 21-7 in the first half, UW clawed back into the game and had the ball with a chance to win at the end, only to drop a 27-21 decision that sent them to a date with Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.
M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL
UW won its third consecutive bowl game with a 24-16 victory (above) over Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. ... The UW men's hockey team won 20 games, eight more than in the previous two seasons combined. ... The UW women's hockey team reached the NCAA title game before falling to Clarkson. ... The Bucks won 21 of their last 31 games to make the NBA playoffs in April. ... Cambridge's Matt Kenseth won his next-to-last NASCAR race before the sport's shaky finances pushed him out the door after 20 years, one championship and two Daytona 500 victories. ... Madison's Jerry Kelly caught a five-tournament hot streak where he won twice, was second once and never finished worse that sixth on the PGA Tour Champions circuit. ... The UW men's soccer team won its first Big Ten Conference title in 23 years by knocking off Indiana in penalty kicks.
Contact Tom Oates at
M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL