The Sports Exchange - weekdays from 4-5pm
This year was great for the Badger basketball team. You didn't need me to tell you that. If you listen to the Sports Exchange from 5-6 on WKTY, you already know that I am anything but a Wisconsin homer. A Notre Dame homer? Yes, a Columbus Blue Jacket homer? Yes. But I have never been a Wisconsin homer........but this year was different. The Badger basketball team has never really "done it" for me, not sure if it is because I have always bought into the theory of it being boring basketball or what. 5 guys walking down the court and passing the ball for 30 seconds then shooting with time running out on the shot clock just has never been appealing to me. It is obviously effective, but so boring to watch. The Badgers have in my eyes always been behind in basketball because of their fear of offense.
Going into the season, I didn't expect anything different, seemed like a typical Badger basketball team. Then the first game happened, they put up 83 on St. John's it was impressive, but not really a reason to believe this team was "different" or "special". The second game of the season they played ranked Florida, they were down BIG early, but still found a way to come back and win the game. They just kept on rolling all the way into the new year, when you start a new year and you still haven't lost a single game, it is time to pay attention. Not only were they winning basketball games, but they were exciting to watch. They still played defense, but for some reason, Bo Ryan must have decided that it might be fun to play some offense too. Obviously as the season went on there were a few disappointing losses along the way, and the hopes of winning the Big Ten were gone, but still there was excitement going into the tournament.
When Wisconsin gets to the tournament no matter what seed they are, the feeling always is that there is going to be some school that we have barely heard of before, that has 1 star just dominate and end the badgers season. We knew it was going to happen, we were used to it by now. The strange thing this year was, that never happened, round after round, weekend after weekend, the Badgers stayed alive. And then Saturday night happened, I don't know where you were or your experience watching the game, but I know I was at a local watering hole and hanging out with a bunch of my good friends. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible, Saturday nights game was on the same level for me as waking up at 6:30 in the morning to watch the Americans play the Russians in hockey, it was special, it was different. Obviously the outcome of the game was not what anyone wanted, but that line about "it isn't about the goal at the end as much as it is about the journey".......I know that is supposed to be used for the "life lessons" you learn as an athlete or coach. But on a spring Saturday night in a town about 2 hours away from Madison in a bar filled with a sea of red, I have a hard time believing that anyone will forget "the journey" that this team allowed us to go on with them! They should be proud of themselves, I know on Saturday night at every bar in this state it was packed with fans that were proud of them..............including me!
These past few weeks have been a whirlwind for local sports. There is something about the phrase "tournament time" that just makes everything ten times more exciting. The winter sports tournaments have been great this year, they have had everything that you would hope would happen in a sports playoff, there has been dominating performances by athletes that were just better than anyone in the state, there have also been gutty performances of the underdog knocking off the "better" team. Not sure to me what scenario is more exciting to watch, but it is safe to say that these tournaments have had something for everyone.
It started with wrestling. All season long as far as the MVC goes there was 2 big names in wrestling, Ben Thornton from Central and Hunter Hauser from Holmen, and they both got the job done. The beauty of wrestling is that it is looked at as both a team and an individual sport. On the team side one athlete's strength can make up for the weakness of another one, but when it comes to the individual side it is just you and your competitor, there is no "star athlete" that can bail you out if you happen to make a mistake, you have nobody to count on or to rely on except yourself. If you fail it is because of you and if you win it is because of you. There were many wrestlers this season that made a name for themselves that we will be watching for years to come.
The hockey championships happened this last weekend for both the boys and girls. We had a lot of good teams around the area, but when it came to going to Madison there was 2 teams from 1 school, it was Onalaska. Getting to the state championship game for both schools was very similar, all hope looked to be gone going into the 3rd period of both games. For the girls, they had a superstar Theresa Knutson, she is the kind of player that other teams had to scheme against, that is what happens when you are named Ms. Hockey. They were down 3-0 and ended up tying the game and winning it in overtime, the boys were also down 3-0 going into the 3rd period they too tied the game, but they ended up getting the winning goal in regulation. Both teams went on to play for the state championship back to back the next afternoon, and in the end both came up on the short end. Both of them had excellent seasons and played 2 of the most exciting games of the season in Madison.
Boy's basketball didn't take a back seat to anything though. Going into the season my thoughts and feelings were that after losing 2 big time division 1 players I didn't think that there would be a way to generate the excitement we had when those players played against each other. I was very wrong. Going into the season the team that was looked at as the best team was Holmen, they were cruising along until one night at home Central beat them by a point, they played again during the regular season and Holmen had little problems with Central. Thankfully they played a 3rd time, this time it was in the playoffs, it took 2 overtimes to get a winner and when the game was over it was Central that had come out on top. The next game Central played a very good Rice Lake team, they were in control of the game but let it slip, ended up going into overtime when they finally lost. It was a much more exciting basketball season than I thought was possible, and a great showing by the local boys basketball teams.
In girl's basketball all season long there was one team that was above all the others, Onalaska was ranked 3rd in the state and hadn't lost a single game. Again in the playoffs it was a familiar opponent, they played against a Central team that they had already beaten twice, but not this time, Central was down by 2 with time running out, they hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer and ended up ending Onalaska's dream season, and making a dream season of their own. The playoffs are still going on and Central is still alive. They are our only MVC team left, and are doing a great job representing the region.
In the end it doesn't matter what level the competition when the phrase "tournament time" is used, and there might not be another game there is something special about it.
Not sure that the greatest sports moment in this countries history could ever be duplicated, but there are many similarities between the game last Saturday and the game in 1980. Here are some similarities and differences:
The state of the country: In 1980, Iranian revolutionaries were holding 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The nation was still reeling from the Vietnam War, Watergate, an economic recession and a scarcity of gasoline leading to the infamous gas rationing. In a televised speech, President Jimmy Carter declared that America was experiencing a "crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will." Right now we are still fighting a lingering war in the middle east that the public doesn't seem to care about anymore, the economy is in the toilet, our national leaders can't be trusted, and it has been far too long since Americans as a whole have had anything to really be proud of. Advantage: Tie
Rosters: No it is not the same as a Soviet team that can beat NHL all stars (pretty much because it is made up of NHL all stars), but there are some of the best players in the world on their roster, including in goal just like in 1980. The makeup of the US roster is nothing like it was in 1980, and this fact alone is maybe what makes the 1980 game one that can never be duplicated. Advantage: 1980
Odds: In the 1980 game the Soviet Union was +1750 favorites (for you non-gamblers that means that if you bet 100 dollars, you would win 1750), the game on Saturday Russia was +130 favorites (meaning if you bet 100, you would win only 130). Advantage: 1980
The Game: The actual games both lived up to the hype and they boath ended up with a 1 goal difference, but the difference is that the game on Saturday went into overtime, and not just an overtime but an extremely dramatic overtime that will be talked about for years to come. Advantage: 2014
The controversy: Both of these games had a moment of controversy, not nearly as much in 1980 though as this past Saturday. The game in 1980 had a goal scored with 1 second to go that had to be reviewed, while the game on Saturday had a goal disallowed because the net had moved. The goal was put on the board and then eventually taken off. Advantage: 2014
The Conspiracy: There has been a conspiracy that the USSR "took a dive" in 1980 when they pulled the best goalie in the world and allowed the USA to win. Since the game on Saturday the ref has been accused of fixing the game by not only the president, but also people have been protesting at the US embassy. Advantage: 2014
The Hero: I hate using the term hero in sports because I believe the same as TJ Oshie that the real heroes wear camo, but the term is somewhat fitting when you represent your country in my opinion. In 1980 it was a kid that barely made the cut, and most people had never heard of. He ended up scoring the game winning goal against the Soviet Union. On Saturday TJ Oshie, a kid that barely made the cut, basically put the country on his back and scored 1 shootout goal after another keeping the game alive, until he finally scored the game winner after an extended shootout period. Advantage: 2014
The End: The 1980 game ended with Jim Craig turning back 1 shot after another, standing tall in the goal crushing the spirit of the soviets, the call of "Do you believe in miracles" still goes down as the best call in sports history. The 2014 game ended with a kid that a lot of people didn't even think should have been on the team finally winning the game as mentioned above. Advantage: Tie
After the 1980 game the Soviet Union eventually fell apart and our country rebounded and found much better times. At this moment the impact of this game on Saturday and what it did for this country doesn't even look close to what the game in 1980 did, but then again there is still a few games left in this Olympics. We are far from favorites to win the gold, but on Saturday there were 6.4 million people that watched a kid refuse to lose time after time at about 6:30 in the morning. This hockey team might not give people the hope or reason to believe like the 1980 team did, but on Saturday morning for a short time, all that mattered was that the United States beat Russia, and when it happened, it felt good, isn't that the purpose of sports anyways?