The biggest names in Wisconsin sports over the last year were Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Jimmy Nelson of the Milwaukee Brewers, Jabari Parker of the Milwaukee Bucks, Jack Cichy of the University of Wisconsin football team and D'Mitrik Trice and Kobe King of the UW men's basketball team.
What did they have in common?
All missed significant portions of their seasons due to injuries and, in almost every case, their teams suffered the consequences. The UW football team had the talent to overcome the loss of Cichy, but the rest of the injuries had a negative impact on the fortunes of their teams, leading to a year in which most state teams came up well short of expectations.
Hopefully, the next 12 months will bring better health. For now, though, it's time for a look back at the last year via the 13th annual Tommy Awards. Selected by yours truly, the Tommys recap the exploits − good and bad − of Wisconsin’s athletes and teams over the past 12 months. Why now? Because this is the one time of year where there is litte overlap among sports.
Without further ado, the Tommys go to:
BEST COACHING JOB
Seldom flashy, all the UW football team did was win, making it a perfect reflection of low-key coach
Paul Chryst (above). Honorable mention goes to Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who won 86 games with a team thought to be in a rebuilding mode, and Steve Stricker, captain of the American team that dominated the President's Cup competition like never before.
WORST COACHING JOB
Jason Kidd (above) and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers were fired in January, but since Capers won the award last year, it's Kidd's turn now. He began the season saying the Bucks were finally ready to contend for home-court advantage in the playoffs, then watched the no-longer-young team tread water until he was ousted with a 23-22 record.
BEST SEASON − INDIVIDUAL
Still only 23, Bucks forward
Giannis Antetokounmpo (above) made the jump to NBA superstardom. He started right from the opening tip, averaging 34.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the first six games, and cemented his status by jumping over New York's Tim Hardaway Jr. to complete a lob dunk in February. Tennis great John McEnroe, sitting courtside, still can't believe his eyes. Apologies to UW tailback Jonathan Taylor, who broke Adrian Peterson's FBS freshman record by rushing for 1,977 yards.
BEST SEASON − TEAM
The Brewers' revival was a great story while it lasted, but no one dominated the opposition all season long like the UW football team. The Badgers got off to a 12-0 start before losing to Ohio State by six in the Big Ten championship game, then rallied in the Orange Bowl (above) to beat Miami (Fla.) handily on its home field, giving UW a school-record 13th win.
WORST SEASON − INDIVIDUAL
There were no off-the-charts expectations for third-year Packers quarterback
Brett Hundley (above) after Minnesota's Anthony Barr broke Rodgers' collarbone, but Hundley never once gave the impression he was a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. With Hundley as the primary signal caller, the Packers were 3-7 and he threw more interceptions (12) and touchdown passes (9). Amazingly, none of his touchdown passes came at Lambeau Field.
WORST SEASON − TEAM
With the departure of four stellar seniors, it figured to be a transition season for the UW men's basketball team anyway. But extreme youth and season-ending injuries to Trice and King, two of the four scholarship guards on the roster, landed UW in the Big Ten's second division and snapped its NCAA tournament streak at 19 years. Dishonorable mention goes to the UW men's hockey team, which couldn't keep the opponents' puck out of the net and faded to sixth in the Big Ten, and the Packers, whose flimsy roster was exposed once Rodgers went down.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
With Milwaukee making a last-ditch attempt to catch Chicago in the National League Central Division race, the Cubs were about to throw a final-week knockout punch when the Brewers'
Orlando Arcia hit a home run off closer Wade Davis in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game. After the Cubs again took the lead in the top of the 10th, Travis Shaw's two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning, also off Davis, gave the Brewers a 4-3 win.
MOST DISAPPOINTING MOMENT
The Packers were 4-1 when Rodgers went down and 7-6 when he returned − probably too early − from injured-reserve. Rodgers' return gave people hope that the Packers could run the table and get a playoff berth, but it wasn't to be as they dropped a 31-24 decision at Carolina with a rusty Rodgers throwing three touchdown passes and three interceptions. Also considered was UW's inability to move the ball against Ohio State when it was near midfield trailing by six late in the Big Ten title game.
BEST COMEBACK − GAME
Long before their season unraveled, the Packers trailed Cincinnati 21-7 at Lambeau Field after a dismal first half. In the second half, however, Rodgers threw two touchdown passes to
Jordy Nelson, the last one (above) with 17 seconds left to send the game into overtime. He later connected with Geronimo Allison for 72 yards, setting up Mason's Crosby's game-winning field goal.
BEST COMEBACK − PLAYER
Eric Thames (above) flunked his first test in the major leagues and was exiled to the Korean League for three seasons. The Brewers brought Thames back at age 30 and he had the baseball world buzzing in April with 11 home runs and 28 RBIs. Apologies to Parker, who came back in February from a second surgery on his left knee and is on a roll entering the playoffs.
BIGGEST SURPRISE − PLAYER
The Brewers had several candidates, none more impressive than Shaw. Considered a platoon player in Boston, the third baseman was traded to Milwaukee for pitcher
Tyler Thornburg and anchored the Brewers lineup from the clean-up spot all season. Shaw got the nod over teammate Corey Knebel, who didn't take over as closer until mid-May but still had 39 saves.
BIGGEST SURPRISE − TEAM
Everyone thought the Brewers were in for a long, painful rebuild, but they led the division for a good portion of the 2017 season and fell one game short of the playoffs. They had power and pitching, with only an inconsistent offense keeping them out of the postseason.
MOST IMPRESSIVE GAME − INDIVIDUAL
Markus Howard (above) scored 42 of his school-record 52 points after halftime as Marquette upended NCAA-bound Providence 95-90 in overtime at Providence. Howard was 17-for-29 shooting, including 11-for-19 from 3-point range. Honorable mention goes to UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook, either for his 18-for-19, four-touchdown, no-interception game against BYU or his 23-for-34, four-touchdown, no-interception game against Miami. Ethan Happ's line in UW's victory over Indiana − 28 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots − was noteworthy as well.
MOST IMPRESSIVE GAME − TEAM
The Tommy has been split between two American gold-medal teams at the Winter Olympics − the Wisconsin-infused women's hockey team that upset arch rival Canada 3-2 on penalty shots in the final and the U.S. men's curling team, led by social-media sensation
Matt Hamilton (above right) of McFarland, that scored five points in the eighth end to put away heavily favored Sweden in a title match no one thought it could even reach.
Taylor and Nick Nelson in football, Brad Davison in men's basketball and middle blocker Dana Rettke in volleyball made huge impressions in their first seasons at UW, with Rettke being named national freshman of the year. However, no one came close to the mark Steve Stricker (above left) and Jerry Kelly (above right) left on the PGA Tour Champions. The good friends turned 50 just months apart and within 13 months of their birthdays Kelly won three tournaments and Stricker two. Stricker and Kelly currently rank first and second, respectively, in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, so they can share this award.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Chase Anderson went from a bottom-of-the-rotation innings-eater to the Brewers' best starter during the 2017 season, earning him the opening-day start in 2018. Honorable mention goes to Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark, Marquette forward Sam Hauser and UW wide receiver Quintez Cephus.