The Packers had a 135-85-2 record and won a Super Bowl under coach Mike McCarthy, but his 13-year run ended late in the 2018 season. His replacement was Matt LaFleur (above), a 39-year-old, cutting-edge offensive whiz who most recently was the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. LaFleur was charged with getting Rodgers — and the team — back on track after a 6-9-1 season.
It was a very good year to be a sports fan in Wisconsin.
In 2019, almost every major sports team in the state was in contention for a championship, most teams had at least one nationally known star and many athletes in individual sports made us proud.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers made the postseason again and the Green Bay Packers got back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The University of Wisconsin football team made it to the Big Ten Conference Championship Game and the Rose Bowl. UW and Marquette returned to the NCAA men's basketball tournament after a one-year absence. The UW women won the NCAA title in hockey and reached the final in volleyball.
The Bucks, Brewers and Packers were all fronted by players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Christian Yelich and Aaron Rodgers — who had recently won most valuable player awards. Jonathan Taylor was a two-time Doak Walker Award winner for UW football and UW's Ethan Happ and Marquette's Markus Howard were second-team all-Americans in basketball. Madison's Jerry Kelly won two of the last four PGA Tour Champions events and almost chased down Scott McCarron for the Charles Schwab Cup.
With that in mind, here are 20 moments that shaped sports in Wisconsin in 2019:
Jan. 9: LaFleur named 15th head coach of Packers
Jan. 19: UW upsets Michigan, rejuvenates season
The UW men's basketball team was 10-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten when Michigan came to Madison sporting a 17-0 record and No. 2 national ranking. The Badgers used relentless defense to grind down the high-scoring Wolverines and got 26 points and 10 rebounds from Ethan Happ (above) in a 65-54 victory. Including the win, UW went 11-3 down the stretch to finish fourth in the Big Ten regular season.
March 13: Packers create splash in free agency
After virtually ignoring free agency under former general manager Ted Thompson, the Packers reversed field in a big way. General manager Brian Gutekunst signed four players — linebackers Za'Darius Smith (above) and Preston Smith, safety Adrian Amos and guard Billy Turner — to long-term contracts totaling $183 million on the same day. The acquisitions gave an immediate boost to a seriously depleted roster.
March 16: UW-Oshkosh men claim first NCAA title
After losing in the final the year before, UW-Oshkosh rebounded to win its first NCAA Division III men's basketball title with a 96-82 victory over Swarthmore College. Center Jack Flynn (above, rear), named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, paced five Titans in double figures with a career-best 33 points.
March 24: UW women's hockey earns fifth NCAA title
Led by Annie Pankowski (above, second from right) and Kristen Campbell, UW beat Minnesota 2-0 in the NCAA final to claim the program's fifth national title and first since 2011. Sophia Shaver (above left) gave UW a 1-0 lead in the first period and a goal by Pankowski, her third in two Frozen Four games, sealed the deal in the second. Campbell, named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, made 27 saves as the Badgers became the first team in tournament history to shut out all three of its opponents. Earlier in the season, UW's Mark Johnson became the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey.
March 24: UW's Nelson swims her way to the top
UW's Beata Nelson (above) finally lived up to her promise as she was named women's swimmer of the year at the NCAA women's swimming and diving championships. A junior, Nelson closed the meet with a win in the 200-yard backstroke, giving her three individual titles in three days. She began with a stunning defeat of the reigning national title-holder, Stanford's Ella Eastin, in the 200 individual medley and also won the 100 backstroke, joining Maggie Meyer (2011) as the only national champions in UW women's swimming history.
April 2: Happ, Howard earn all-American honors
Ethan Happ, UW's senior forward, and Markus Howard (above), Marquette's junior guard, were named second-team all-Americans by the AP. Happ finished his career ranked first in rebounds and blocked shots, second in steals and third in scoring and assists in UW history. He was a three-time all-Big Ten pick. Howard would become Marquette's all-time leading scorer later in the year.
May 19: Double-overtime loss haunts Bucks in playoffs
After compiling the best record in the NBA, the Bucks held a 2-0 edge over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. When the series went to Toronto for Game 3, however, the wheels fell off. The Raptors held Giannis Antetokounmpo (above right) to 12 points and the Bucks squandered several opportunities in a 118-112 double-overtime loss. The Raptors' Kawhi Leonard (above left) scored eight of his 36 points in the second overtime and the Bucks never recovered, shooting poorly while losing the next three games and the series to the eventual NBA champions.
June 7: UW's McDonald completes distance sweep
Badgers senior Morgan McDonald (above) won the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships to complete a historic season. The Australian became only the third man in NCAA history to win the cross country, indoor 3,000, indoor 5,000 and outdoor 5,000 titles in the same season, joining Oregon's Edward Cheserek and Galen Rupp. Among men’s distance runners at UW, only Chris Solinsky (5) has more NCAA titles than McDonald (4).
June 23: Hometown hero wins AmFam Championship
Jerry Kelly (above) won the AmFam Championship after a thrilling finish, beating fellow Madison resident Steve Stricker and World Golf Hall of Famer Retief Goosen in a playoff to claim the PGA Tour Champions event. Kelly had opened the door for Stricker and Goosen by bogeying the 18th hole, but both of them also missed potential winning birdie putts on 18 and Kelly eventually won with a birdie on the third extra hole, becoming the first state golfer to win a PGA Tour-sanctioned event on Wisconsin soil.
June 24: Antetokoumpo named NBA MVP
Giannis Antetokounmpo (above), an unknown teenager from Greece when the Bucks made him the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft, became the league's most valuable player after averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists. He was also named to the all-defensive team. Antetokounmpo joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in franchise history to win the MVP award. He received 78 first-place votes; Houston's James Harden had the other 23.
July 7: Lavelle stars as USA women win World Cup
Rose Lavelle (above right) was an All-American at UW, but the midfielder emerged as a star in the U.S. National Team's run to the world championship in women's soccer. Lavelle started six games at the World Cup, scored three goals and was awarded the Bronze Ball as the tournament's third-most outstanding player. She scored the second goal in the final against the Netherlands, helping Team USA win 2–0.
Sept. 5: LaFleur triumphs in debut against Bears
Thank you, NFL. All Matt LaFleur had to do in his NFL coaching debut was beat defending NFC North Division champion Chicago at Solider Field in the league's season-opening, Thursday night extravaganza. Mission accomplished. With a 10-3 victory, LaFleur joined Vince Lombardi as the only Packers coaches to beat the Bears in their regular-season debut.
Sept. 15: Braun's slam propels another late run by Brewers
The Brewers' chances of challenging St. Louis in the National League Central Division were on life support until Ryan Braun (above) blasted a grand slam on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, giving Milwaukee a dramatic 7-6 victory. The blast was the highlight of a 21-4, bullpen-fueled September run for the Brewers, who fell just short of catching the Cardinals but chased down the Chicago Cubs for a wild-card playoff spot. Unfortunately, they lost the wild-card game to eventual World Series champion Washington when ace closer Josh Hader gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 4-3 loss.
Sept. 21: UW routs Michigan, sets tone for season
There was considerable skepticism surrounding the UW football team coming off an 8-5 season, doubts that not even a 110-0 scoring advantage in its first two non-conference games could erase. However, a 35-14 victory over No. 11 Michigan in game three opened everyone's eyes. Jonathan Taylor (above) made an early Heisman Trophy statement with 203 yards on 23 carries, but it was UW's domination of Michigan that surprised everyone. The Badgers had a 35-0 lead late in the third quarter before taking their foot off the gas pedal and outgained the Wolverines 359-40 on the ground.
Nov. 5: Howard becomes Marquette's scoring leader
Markus Howard (above) opened his senior season with 38 points in Marquette's 88-53 victory over Loyola (Md.), moving him past Jerel McNeal to become the school's all-time scoring leader. Howard entered the season 30 points behind McNeal's 1,985. Three weeks later, Howard scored 51 in a 101-79 win over USC, giving him one 50-plus game in each of his final three seasons, including a career-best 53-point game against Creighton in January.
Nov. 30: Badgers take back Axe, win division title
After losing Paul Bunyan's Axe to Minnesota for the first time since 2005, UW went to Minneapolis determined to get it back, only this time the Big Ten West Division title was also on the line. No problem. The Badgers routed the Gophers 38-17 behind a balanced offense and a rugged run defense, clinching a spot in the Big Ten title game and, eventually, the Rose Bowl.
Dec. 19: UW volleyball team stuns No. 1 Baylor
After winning the Big Ten title, the fourth-seeded Badgers stormed through the NCAA tournament, never dropping a set in their first four matches. The Badgers had a tall task against top-seeded Baylor in the national semifinals, but they dominated the Bears 25-27, 25-21, 25-17, 25-19 behind junior all-American Dana Rettke (above), who had 19 kills and hit .484 with eight blocks and three service aces. That was as far as UW would go this year, though, as it was swept by third-seeded Stanford in the final.
Dec. 19: Bucks follow winning streak with win over Lakers
Despite their disappointing playoff departure, Giannis Antetokounmpo (above) and the Bucks came back better than ever this season. They split their first four games and soon afterward took off on an 18-game winning streak. One game after Dallas broke the streak, the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers met in a battle of 24-4 teams. Behind Antetokounmpo's 34 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, the Bucks beat the Lakers 125-108 to establish themselves as the team to beat in the NBA.
Dec. 23: Packers crush Vikings, win division title
A game at Minnesota's glass house with the NFC North Division title on the line figured to be a difficult chore for a Packers team that seemed to be winning in spite of itself. But Green Bay overcame three first-half turnovers and limited Minnesota to 129 total yards in an impressive 23-10 victory, one that clinched the outright division title and emphatically ended the Packers' two-year playoff drought.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org.