The Brew Crew, Big Red vs. Big Red, and the Green and Gold

Some enterprising individual designed a logo for this weekend and possibly longer:

It seems like Wisconsinites are being blessed by big sports weekends more and more these days.

Our sports cornucopia begins with the Brewers’ second appearance in the National League Division Series in four years, after their first division title since their American League East title in 1982. That season, of course, went farther than 2008, when the Brewers lost their first playoff series:

The 2008 Brewers’ postseason was disappointing as are all that don’t end in a World Series win. But the 2008 Brewers seemed on the cusp of big things, even though they didn’t play like that in September and had to win their playoff berth on the last day of the season.

This postseason seems as if it’s the Brewers’ last, best hope for a title. The round mound of pound, Prince Fielder, seems to be on his way out to an American League team where he can be their designated hitter, with no obvious replacement on the roster. The Brewers traded away most of their minor-league prospects to dramatically improve their pitching. And they did improve their pitching, so it’s ironic that their best starter (Yovani Gallardo, who starts game 1 against Arizona Saturday afternoon) and closer (John Axford) are homegrown products. (Sort of, in Axford’s case; he was in the Reds’ and Yankees’ minor leagues, but never pitched in the majors before signing with the Brewers in 2008 and arriving in Milwaukee barely a year later.)

One thing the Brewers haven’t improved is their defense, which statistically isn’t very good. Baseball experts scowled earlier this year that the Brewers were trying to win with poor defense. And the Brewers finished 24th out of 30 in fielding percentage, though their Defense Efficiency Package was 16th. One could wonder how important defense is, however, given that there are as many teams in the playoffs that finished in the top eight in fielding (Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Arizona) as in the bottom eight (St. Louis, Milwaukee and Texas).

This team compares mostly favorably to the 1982 Brewers in terms of team color. The ’82 Brewers had Robin Yount; the ’11 Brewers have Ryan Braun. The ’82 Brewers had Rollie Fingers and his handlebar mustache until his late-season injury; the ’11 Brewers have John Axford and his Zappa mustache. (Read here for facial hair definitions.) The out-there personality of Nyjer Morgan (loved by his teammates, close to hated by their opposition) lacks a match in ’82,  but the ’11 Brewers have no one as, well, ugly as Gorman Thomas and Pete Vuckovich. (A book about the ’82 Brewers chronicled an insult contest between Thomas and Vuckovich with one claiming the other’s face looked as if it had lost an acid fight.)

The ’82 Brewers’ power (216 home runs) was better distributed than the ’11 Brewers (185 home runs), whose biggest sticks (not to mention providers of the most majestic home runs you’ll ever see, homers where drinks should be served after the Fasten Seat Belt lights go out) are Braun and Fielder. Then again, few teams today have a 6-foot-6 leadoff hitter with some power (26 home runs) and a second baseman who hit his share of home runs before his ankle injury (20). Yuniesky Betancourt appeared to be the worst shortstop in baseball to begin the season, but he became at least serviceable by the end.

The ’82 Brewers were a veteran team, and the ’11 Brewers are still relatively young. This year’s team is slightly more home-grown:
1982 starters: 3B Paul Molitor (Brewers), SS Robin Yount (Brewers), 1B Cecil Cooper (traded from the Red Sox), C Ted Simmons (traded from the Cardinals), LF Ben Oglivie (formerly with the Tigers), CF Gorman Thomas (traded from and to the Brewers), DHs Don Money (Brewers) and Roy Howell (formerly with the Blue Jays), RF Charlie Moore (Brewers) and 2B Jim Gantner (Brewers).
1982 pitchers: Starters Mike Caldwell (formerly with the Reds), Don Sutton (formerly with the Astros and Dodgers), Pete Vuckovich (traded from the Cardinals) and Moose  Haas (Brewers); reliever/starter Jim Slaton (traded to and from the Tigers), closer Rollie Fingers (free agent formerly with the Athletics and Padres).
2011 starters: RF Corey Hart (Brewers), CFs Nyjer Morgan (traded from the Nationals) and Carlos Gomez (traded from the Twins), LF Ryan Braun (Brewers), 1B Prince Fielder (Brewers), 2B Rickie Weeks (Brewers), SS Yuniesky Betancourt (traded from the Royals) and C Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers).
2011 pitchers: Starters Yovani Gallardo (Brewers), Zack Greinke (traded from the Royals), Randy Wolf (in order, Phillies, Dodgers, Padres, Astros and Dodgers again) and Shawn Marcum (Blue Jays); eighth-inning pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (started with the Angels, traded from the Mets), and closer John Axford (Brewers after getting cut by the Reds and Yankees).

The 1982 approach was the brainchild of general manager Harry Dalton, who traded for or signed as free agents Cooper, Simmons, Oglivie, Thomas, Caldwell, Sutton, Vuckovich and Fingers. The 1977 Brewers weren’t very good, but after Dalton arrived, the ’78 through ’83 Brewers were suddenly contenders every season. In an era when salaries weren’t so insane, Dalton found the small core  of his team and augmented it with trades that nearly always benefited the Brewers more. (Only Brewers fans probably remember that they gave up outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitcher Lary Sorenson, a pitcher and a prospect to get Simmons, Vuckovich and Fingers, or that they traded first baseman George Scott to get Cooper.)

The 2011 approach was the brainchild of general manager Doug Melvin, who developed more position players than Dalton, but who put together a pitching staff largely by acquisition.

The NLDS starts Saturday at 1 p.m. Six hours later on the other end of Interstate 94, the undefeated Badgers host Nebraska in the Cornhuskers’ first game in the 12-team Big Ten Conference.

The last time the Badgers played the Cornhuskers was in 1974, when a late touchdown pass from Eau Claire native Gregg Bohlig to wide receiver Jeff Mack (whose son later played for the Badgers) beat the mighty Cornhuskers 21–20, a win sealed by a late interception by safety Steve Wagner of Green Bay. My grandfather, a longtime Badgers season-ticket-holder, invited his sister, an ardent Cornhuskers fan from Lincoln. Great Aunt Mildred was, I’m told, mortified at the postgame conduct of the uncouth Badger fans.

And of those still-uncouth Badger fans, one commentor at HuskerExtra says:

Madtown is a great place for a game…festive atmosphere. However, if you’re going, be prepared for some interesting fan traditions. Besides the “Jump Around”, there is the cheer when an opposing player gets hurt, “Shoot him like a horse!” That is one of the nicer cheers. There are others that wouldn’t make it through the LITR profanity filter. Having sat in the student section at Memorial Stadium in recent years, it makes me realize how true it is, “There’s no place like Nebraska.” Stay classy Husker fans.

Another has a traditional view of the Badgers that omits their scintillating new quarterback:

The nature of our offense is ‘the big play’. We run 65 plays, and 58 of them are ‘duds’. No big deal. We still score 4 touchdowns and 3 field goals.

The Badgers are boring, like Nebraska used to be back when they won consistently.

New age technology offense vs. old school.

Nebraska: 37
Badgers: 21

This game will look like an intersquad game (the “scarlet” and “cream” Cornhuskers and the “cardinal” and white  Badgers), and not just because of their uniforms and white helmets, reports the Lincoln Journal Star:

Barry Alvarez can’t wait to show off to his Nebraska football friends what he’s helped build at Wisconsin.

They’ll certainly notice similarities to what they’ve become accustomed to in Lincoln. Not just the fan support and electric gameday atmosphere, but also the big, burly linemen in red jerseys, some of whom joined the program as walk-ons.

That’s how they did it at Nebraska, where Alvarez played linebacker from 1965 to 1967, and it’s the model Alvarez followed to pull Badger football out of the doldrums. …

“We were able to build a program and sustain it,” Alvarez said.

Much like Bob Devaney did at Nebraska. Alvarez played for Devaney, who also took a lethargic program and turned it into a consistent winner.

Would Alvarez consider himself the Bob Devaney of Wisconsin football?

“I would be flattered if anybody would consider that,” Alvarez said. “We did some very similar things here that Bob did.

“I felt fortunate to play for a great coach in Bob Devaney. He had a tremendous staff. As far as fundamentals, physical play, sound play, all those things are things I took with me and took to this program.”

Alvarez, who began his career as an assistant coach at Lincoln Northeast and head coach at Lexington, said he “stole” the walk-on program from Nebraska.

Wisconsin, like Nebraska, is the only NCAA Division I football school in the state.

“I really felt there were a lot of players that were borderline — guys that you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger on that we would actively recruit,” Alvarez said.

“Quite frankly, they’ve been our savior. I call them our erasers. They make up for any mistakes you make in recruiting.”

The least important game in the scheme of things is the Packers’ game against Denver Sunday during NLDS Game 2 (or vice versa). That’s because it’s an interconference game, which, as we learned last year, counts less in getting a playoff berth than, in order, overall record, divisional record and record in your conference.

Nevertheless, the Packers and Broncos have an interesting history, independent of the abomination that is Super Bowl XXXII. One of the Packers’ most impressive wins in their Super Bowl XXXI season was their 41–3 win over Denver, a game that looked like a Super Bowl preview given that the Packers and Broncos ended up as their conference’s number one seeds. (The Broncos’ path to Super Bowl XXXI was rudely interrupted by a home playoff loss to Jacksonville. We won’t mention what happened the next season.)

In the 2003 season, the Packers needed to beat Denver and, more unlikely, to have the Vikings lose to the Cardinals to clinch the NFC North title; had either of those not happened, the Packers would have missed the playoffs. The Packers handled Denver easily, and then during Lambeau Field’s two-minute warning:

And then in 2007 in Denver:

This weekend once again is why TV remote controls were invented.


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