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Bearing Up Nicely

The Fairly Detached Observers

Nov. 19, 2008
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The state’s football fans have endured some unpleasant weekends this fall, but not this time. The Wisconsin Badgers rallied to beat Minnesota, 35-32, raising their record to 6-5 and making them eligible for a bowl game. And the Packers shook off two straight narrow defeats and demolished the hated Chicago Bears, 37-3. No way Artie could stay detached from that.

Frank: Feeling pretty good, my friend?

Artie: A win over the Bears is always a sweet thing. But to crush them like this!

Frank: A couple of current sportsspeak terms that apply are “drilled” or “smoked.”

Artie: I’d hesitate to use “smoked” in connection with pro athletes. Some of those guys have been suspended for that.

Frank: If we were writing for the oh-sodignified New York Times, we’d have to say it was “a definitive triumph.”

Artie: For you young readers, that means we smoked ‘em.

Frank: Everything that was ailing for Green Bay got well Sunday.

Artie: The way it began, with three penalties in the first few minutes, I thought, “Here we go. We’ll have to hear Mike McCarthy say after the game, ‘We’ll get that fixed.’” But then everything went right.

Frank: The offensive line made holes for a strong running game and didn’t allow a single sack of Aaron Rodgers.

Artie: That’s pretty much all you ask of an O-line. The false starts they throw in for free.

Frank: And when the Bears did get near Rodgers, he either danced away or got rid of the ball. He threw one interception, but through 10 games he has 15 touchdown passes and only six INTs.

Artie: That’s half the interceptions that a certain guy in Jets green has thrown, although Mr. Favre does have 18 TD passes.

Frank: Two other things about the Bears game. First, I think it may have been the first NFL game in 10 years that actually ended in three hours.

Artie: Very considerate. It was a “Gold Package” game for Milwaukee seasonticket folks, so they got back on the road a little earlier.

Frank: And the second thing involves Jason Hunter, who went 54 yards with a fumble for the last touchdown. His Lambeau Leap was the first I’ve seen where the guy almost disappeared completely into the crowd.

Artie: Enveloped in love, he was. He might have thought he’d grab a beer and they wouldn’t miss him for the final minutes. Or maybe he was telling people, “I’m so gassed I can’t get out of here.”

Frank: So now the Pack is tied for first place with the Bears and Minnesota, who lost to Tampa Bay.

Artie: It’s kind of jolting to be so elated and then realize, “Hey, they’re 5-5.”

Frank: Remember how I speculated about the ultimate NFL parity, with every single team at 8-8? Maybe some of that will come true in the NFC North, with three teams at 8-8 and eight tie-breakers needed to find a division winner.

Artie: Over the final six games, Minnesota has the toughest schedule mathematically. Their opponents are 31- 29, the Bears’ are 24-36 and the Packers’ are 25-35. Everyone has three games away and three at home.

Frank: The way the Packers played Sunday, you’re tempted to think they could run the table. But playing at New Orleans and at Jacksonville will be tougher tests than the Bears provided.

Artie: If it comes down to the last week, the Packers will be hosting Detroit while the Vikings host the mighty Giants and the Bears play at Houston.

Frank: The Lions might actually have some incentive on that final day—avoiding an 0-16 record.

Artie: They’ll need more than incentive. They’ll need a new roster. But hey, did you notice some funky Wisconsin- Minnesota karma the last couple of weeks? The Packers go to Minneapolis and are on the wrong end of two safeties. Then the Golden Gophers come to Madison and surrender two deuces.

Frank: Very symmetrical.

Artie: So the Badgers kept their mitts on Paul Bunyan’s Axe—which created the Mississippi River, you know.

Frank: We didn’t learn that one growing up in the East. The Badgers also gained the lofty status of “bowl eligible.”

Since there are 34, count ‘em, 34 bowl games, I guess they can brag that they’re one of the 68 best college teams.

Artie: Man oh manischewitz, why do we need all those bowl movements? Ten times out of nine, they’re really bad games. The teams are off forever before they play and the games are totally without meaning unless they’re at the BCS level.

Frank: And even then, we know that the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta bowls are reduced to deciding the order of the also-rans.

Artie: It looks like the Badgers might play in the “third cousin of them all,” the Insight Bowl on Dec. 31. Which means they’ll be off for almost six weeks after that final big showdown against Cal Poly—and by the way, why the heck are they wasting their time with that?

Frank: Hate to break it to you again, but the NCAA allowed teams a 12th game for the same reason there are 34 bowls. Cold, hard cash. So the Badgers can beat up a lower-division school and go bowling at 7-5—even though they were only 3-5 in their conference. Whoop-dee-doo!

Artie: There oughta be a law, ain’a?

Frank: Absolutely. Instead of just needing six wins to get to a bowl, a team ought to be no worse than .500 in its conference.

Yes, the Badgers should have beaten Michigan and Michigan State and could have beaten Ohio State. But they didn’t. Winning the Insight Bowl won’t make up for that.

Artie: There really ought to be a playoff system instead of the BCS. I know the NCAA says it would take too much time away from classes for the alleged student-athletes...

Frank: Please! Spare us the pieties about concern for academics. The NCAA lets football teams play on any weeknights ESPN wants, and they add a 12th game even if it’s against a Cal Poly. And players certainly miss a lot of classes during the playoffs that almost every other NCAA sport has—including the other football divisions.

Artie: They could easily chop off one of the non-conference games at the start of the season and have eight-team, threeweek playoffs. The top bowls would become do-or-die games, and it wouldn’t have to run any longer than the bowl season does now.

Frank: Start the playoffs the third week of December and they’ll end at the same time as the BCS title game is held now.

Artie: Why they don’t do it just has me baffled—the way Doug Melvin was “baffled” that the Yankees would raise the bidding so high for CC Sabathia.

Frank: You know who advocates a football playoff system? The guy who edged you in the U.S. presidential vote, by 66 million or so. Talk about a drilling.

Artie: Hey, Obama got that from me! He must have read my manifesto.

Frank: Maybe he’ll name you the playoff czar.

Artie: If the bowls are so great, why not have them in basketball, too? The regular season would end and then every bowl could try to get Duke to play UCLA or whatever. And speaking of basketball, those brand-new Milwaukee Bucks are playing better than I expected, especially with their brutal early schedule. But more about that next time.

Frank Clines labored almost 20 years in the sports department at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and covered the Brewers part-time for most of those years. Art Kumbalek wonders if universities had big-time bowling teams, would they choose a tournament system to determine the champ or go with a bowl system?

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