College football is supposed to be played on Saturdays, and NFL football is supposed to be played on Sundays.
So, of course, the Badgers and Packers are both playing Thursday, and at the same time, with UW against UNLV on ESPN and the Packers hosting Kansas City on a Packers preseason TV station near you. The Brewers are also playing Thursday, but they take on St. Louis at 3 p.m.
Thursday is the first time since 1981 that the Badgers and the Packers have been playing at the same time. The difference is that, while Thursday’s game against Kansas City will be forgotten as soon as the regular season starts Sept. 8, the two games Dec. 13, 1981, counted. While the Packers were beating New Orleans 35–7 (thanks to Lynn Dickey, who was 19 of 21 for 218 yards and five touchdown passes), the Badgers were playing in their first bowl game since the 1963 Rose Bowl, the 1981 Garden State Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J.:
The Packers missed the playoffs in 1981, but 1981 turned out to be a prelude for their first post-Vince Lombardi playoff season, 1982, as well as the immensely entertaining 1983 season (as in 10 of 16 games decided by a touchdown or less), in which the Packers went to the final minute of the final game of the season before having their playoff hopes dashed by Da Bears. 1982 was good to the Badgers too, with their first bowl win in program history, 14–3 over Kansas State in the Independence Bowl (known by UW Band members as the Inconvenience Bowl since it was played the night before finals were to start).
(We interrupt this football with a baseball bulletin: 1981 and 1982 were also the years the Brewers were playoff participants for the first time. The Brewers won the second half of the American League East in 1981 and took the first-half champion Yankees to five games before losing the first AL Division Series. One season later, the Brewers w0n the AL East on the last day of the regular season. The following Saturday, while Wisconsin was winning at Ohio State, the Brewers were on the way to overcoming a 2–0 deficit to win the five-game ALCS, before losing the World Series to St. Louis in seven games. There were no Badger/Brewer/Packer conflicts, because the NFL was on strike.)
This Badger–Packer simulheader (another made-up word of mine) is appropriate because this week former Badger coach Dave McClain is being inducted into the UW Athletic Hall of Fame. McClain turned the Badgers from occasionally exciting but mediocre into at least respectable — four consecutive winning seasons, three bowl berths and one bowl win between 1981 and 1984, including wins over (preseason number one) Michigan and Ohio State (three times), two schools for whom Wisconsin had served as a punching bag for more than a decade. The Badgers slipped backward to 5–6 in 1985, but with most starters returning, there was a good deal of optimism about 1986.
And then McClain died of a heart attack two days after the UW spring game. Defensive coordinator and interim coach Jim Hilles could lead the Badgers to only a 3–9 record, and then his non-interim replacement, Don Morton, “led” UW into three years of football that was so bad that Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter Vic Feuerherd used the term “BADgers” through one entire game story. (For some reason, when I spell “Morton” I usually leave out the T.)
Meanwhile, up U.S. 151 and U.S. 41 at Lambeau Field, the Packers had finally lost patience with coach Bart Starr and fired him after the just-missed 1983 season. Forrest Gregg, Starr’s right tackle, was a popular choice with the fans, especially because, unlike Starr, he came in with head coaching experience, having led Cincinnati to Super Bowl XVI. Gregg, however, proved worse than Starr as a general manager and coach; after back-to-back 8–8 seasons, Gregg decided to blow up the roster and start over, with the result being two terrible seasons, Packer players making as many bad headlines off the field as on the field (see Cade, Mossy), and then Gregg’s departure for his alma mater, Southern Methodist University. The Packers finally hired a separate general manager and coach after Gregg left, but they didn’t hire the right general manager and coach until 1991, when they hired Ron Wolf, who hired Mike Holmgren.
This could be quite a year for two obvious reasons. The Badgers finished as Big Ten champions and lost the Rose Bowl, which is preferable to not getting to the Rose Bowl, in 2010. That was not predicted this time last year.
And the Packers, needing to win six in a row, the last three on the road, just to get to the Super Bowl, did just that, and capped off the state of Wisconsin’s best football year ever by winning Super Bowl XLV.
Since the Packers won the Super Bowl despite significant injuries and the unprecedented (in the NFC) three-playoff-game route, one assumes fewer injuries will take place this year, meaning potentially more wins. The Badgers, meanwhile, are ranked 11th and even have, believe it or don’t, national championship whispers because of their new quarterback, Russell Wilson, the transfer from North Carolina State.
The Badger game, since it counts, is more important than the Packer game, which is the last preseason game. Nevertheless, this is why TV remote controls were invented.