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September 20, 2017

9/12/2017 7:31:00 AM
Shoutouts & Callouts
My sports birthday wish list

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor


Today marks the 34th anniversary of my birth. I already got a real nice birthday present over the weekend. A front row seat to watch the Green Bay Packers kick the tail feathers off the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field will certainly make anybody feel happier about their birthday.

But, I can't help but think of a few other things, as a Wisconsin sports fan, that would make excellent birthday presents as we push through the month of September and into October and November.

For instance, would it be so much to ask for the Milwaukee Brewers to hang on and a least earn a Wild Card spot, if not win the NL Central? Things certainly looked bleak last week when the Brewers were swept by the lowly, last-place Cincinnati Reds. And, to compound things, ace Jimmy Nelson went out of Friday's win over the Chicago Cubs with what turned out to be a season-ending shoulder injury.

Nelson has been one of the best, and most consistent, pitchers the Brewers have had so far this season. He was 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA, a career high for victories.

But the Brewers, as they have all season, don't seem to go away. The plucky Crew completed a three-game sweep of the Cubbies at Wrigley over the weekend, to stay alive in both the Wild Card and NL Central races. Going into Monday's play, the Brewers sat two games behind the Cubs in the Central and three games behind Colorado in the Wild Card. So certainly there's reason to be encouraged over the final three weeks of the regular season.

Even if it means a one-game showdown, likely against Zach Greinke and the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card game, who even thought the Brewers would more than 70 games this year with the lowest payroll in the Majors. They are already five games over that mark and heading toward a winning season. They're essentially playing with house money.

Alas, it's my birthday and I always could want more. A Brewers' spot in October would certainly fit the bill.

Also, could a guy ask for the Wisconsin Badgers not to flub up the incredibly easy schedule they have this year and make a run to the Big Ten championship game, if not push for the College Football Playoff? It's been a little tenuous the first couple of weeks of the regular season. A lackluster start in Week 1 against Utah State saw the Badgers down 10-0 before they regained their bearings and ended up thwomping Utah State 59-10. Even this past Saturday's win over Florida Atlantic wasn't anything to write home about. A 31-14 victory over an Owls team that, understandably, had other things on its mind as Hurricane Irma closed in on their Boca Raton campus didn't impress the pollsters, as Wisconsin dropped from No. 9 to 10 in the latest AP survey.

I just have a feeling that something's a little lacking in this Badger team, the defense especially. Certainly the season-ending injury suffered by potential All-American linebacker candidate Jack Cichy was a massive blow.

The Badgers certainly have an easy schedule in the Big Ten - no Ohio State, no Penn State, Michigan at home. Somehow, the Badgers need to find a way to take advantage of that schedule and make their way to the Big Ten title game.

Turning to NASCAR, as we enter the playoffs, there are 10 races left in the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr. who, to put it mildly, has had a dismal 2017 campaign. He currently sits 22nd in points, has not won a race and fell well outside of the NASCAR playoff picture as it begins this weekend in Joliet, Ill.

Yet, with 10 races left - one at the superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. where he's among the all-time best - would it be so much to ask for Junior to get one more win for his fans before he trades in the driving gloves and helmet for an NBC microphone? Junior has certainly done a lot for the sport of NASCAR, picking up the mantle after his father's untimely passing and carrying the sport forward. Now he'll pass the torch while his legion of fans ponder who they will support next. One more win will help ease that consternation, at least temporarily, going into the offseason.

Bucks basketball is just around the corner. It's hard to tell if they'll be able to compete with the elites of the NBA's Eastern Conference - Cleveland and Boston. But, how about a clean bill of health for the Bucks this season. That seems like a reasonable birthday wish. If so, who knows, maybe they will contend for at least a top four or five seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Jabari Parker hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last couple of seasons. Khris Middleton missed the start of last year and came back right as Parker was leaving with yet another knee injury. The Bucks bid farewell to the Bradley Center this year and certainly playoff basketball would be a great way to send the arena out in style. But they need to stay healthy first and, who knows, maybe they can push some of the NBA's upper echelon with that young talent.

Finally, with the annual playing of the Bell Game upon us, I wish for the Hodags to summon the strength to put up a fight and take back Gene Shepard's Bell from the rival Antigo Red Robins. I've been on the Hodag football beat since 2004, and only once during that time have the Hodags won the Bell. That was all the way back in 2006.

To be sure, it's going to be a difficult task for the Hodags, who allowed 389 rushing yards in a 36-7 loss at Medford this past Friday. It's no secret that the Hodags can expect to see a heavy dose of the run from Antigo this Friday at Mike Webster Stadium.

The last time the Bell Game was played in Rhinelander, the Hodags were driving to prehaps break the drought late in the fourth quarter, before a dropped pass inside the Antigo 30 on fourth down dashed Rhinelander's hopes.

Antigo has certainly dominated the series in recent years, but it's still a rivalry game and anything can happen.

Yes, my wish list is long. But, it's my birthday and, after all, a guy can dream, can he not?

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.





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