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Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

Mettle Earns the Petals

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Call it a bloomin' shame. The Wisconsin football team finished a magical 11-1 regular season that earned the Badgers a share of the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth for the first time in 11 seasons. UW is fourth in the AP and coaches' polls and fifth in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. But top-level football is the only collegiate sport that doesn't have a playoff system, so the Badgers have virtually no shot at the national crown. The finalists will be lucky to miss Bucky.

Artie: The Badgers used up some of the points the Packers should have had in Atlanta.

Frank
: Seventy or more three times, twice in the conference. Thirty-one as the low in their seven Big Ten wins. And a zillion yards on the ground every week!

Artie
: I wish the Pack could sneak Montee Ball into Brandon Jackson's jersey; these days Ball is three times the running back Jackson is. That's my Christmas wish.

Frank
: But you'd like it fulfilled early. After all, the Badgers won't play until January.

Artie
: Probably against TCU in the Rose Bowl, or possibly Stanford. The Palo Alto boys have an excellent quarterback in Andrew Luck.

Frank
: TCU's league is the lowly Mountain West, but they pile up points like UW. Forty or better in eight of their 12 games, including a 47-7 pasting of Utah, which was No. 5 at the time. But has anyone in the country played better than UW for the last seven weeks?

Artie
: No one has played as well as Bucky! SEC, my butt: Florida is a mess, Alabama and LSU are down, Auburn barely beat the Crimson Tide and South freakin' Carolina is in the conference title game.

Frank
: Think of where the Badgers were two months ago. They'd been a little lucky to beat Arizona State, had lost the Big Ten opener to Michigan State and had Ohio State and Iowa coming up.

Artie
: They weren't looking good, even with all those returning starters. But after Michigan State, some kind of switch went on. They trampled the Buckeyes, outlasted the Hawkeyes and demolished everyone else. They're just like the 1993 team...

Frank
: Which achieved the first Rose Bowl in three decades.

Artie
: Or the juggernaut ’99 team in Ron Dayne's Heisman year. There's the same "you're not gonna beat us" intensity. So bring on the Horned Frogs, the Cardinal—hell, bring on anybody!

Frank
: But because of the BCS, the national championship game is almost certainly off-limits to UW.

Artie
: The top two in the BCS, Oregon and Auburn, could lose their final games, but TCU and Stanford are still ahead of UW with their regular seasons finished.

Frank
: An eight- or 16-team playoff could decide the title using the current bowl system, but the six BCS conferences are more concerned with keeping a stranglehold on the money from the top bowls.

Artie: Even in a year when there could be two or even three Big Ten teams in a playoff!

This One's on You, Mike

Frank: The Packers have been improving in two key areas—kick coverage and penalties. But in Atlanta, after that terrific game-tying drive, they gave up a long kickoff return and a face-mask penalty.

Artie
: When I saw there was about a minute left I said, "A good return will get them the field-goal shot." And voila, 20-17. But I say the game was lost in the second quarter on two bonehead decisions by Mike McCarthy.

Frank
: Those being...

Artie
: First, they're on the goal line and McCarthy calls two quarterback sneaks, and Aaron Rodgers fumbles. Why do that with the risk of injury and with John Kuhn available, who I've never seen lose yardage?

Frank
: So that's either three or seven points lost.

Artie
: Then the Falcons score a TD after McCarthy doesn't throw the challenge flag on a fourth-down catch that clearly wasn't a catch. They showed two replays and Atlanta wasn't rushing to get the next play off. On a fourth down and that late in the half, just throw the red flag!

Frank
: The Pack's four losses have all been by just three points. But they're a game behind the Bears for the NFC North title and home-field in the playoffs.

Artie
: Ugh. For now, my focus is just on "Boardwalk Empire" in a couple of hours.

Derek and Robin and Paul

Artie: So, Mr. Yankee Fan, how do you like your team dumping on its captain as a contract-negotiating tactic?

Frank
: You'd think that even guys named Steinbrenner would show some class in dealing with Derek Jeter, the face and heart of the franchise for 15 years. And if Daddy George was still running things, this wouldn't be happening. The Boss was a sucker for Yankee tradition and sentimentality. But his heirs, Hal and especially the designated blowhard Hank, apparently need to show Jeter who's in charge.

Artie
: Even the general manager, Brian Cashman, is piping up, essentially telling Jeter, "You think you have leverage? See if anyone else wants you."

Frank
: Geez, hasn't Jeter earned the right to have one "bad" year—in which he scored 111 runs, four more than in ’09? I guess he was on base sometime.

Artie
: Makes you wonder what's been going on between Jeter and the Steinbrenner kids before this.

Frank
: Hank's message to Jeter and Mariano Rivera was, "We've already made these guys very, very rich." That's great, coming from two guys who got very, very rich by doing nothing. And what, Jeter and Rivera haven't helped make the Yankees rich?

Artie
: Jeter's coming off a 10-year, $189 million contract. The Yanks reportedly are offering three years and $45 million. Jeter's people denied a report that he wants six years and $150 million, but if that's anywhere near the truth...

Frank
: I'd like to think Jeter has enough character to say, "I know I'll be 37 next June, so I'm willing to give a little." But we don't know what Jeter thinks because he's such a private guy.

Artie
: Unlike the guy the Yankees will pay through his 42nd birthday as part of a 10-year, $275 million deal.

Frank
: And what's A-Rod, who's only 13 months younger than Jeter, done as a Yankee? Mostly choke in October.

Artie
: Still, I doubt Jeter can get $15 million a year from anyone else.

Frank
: But why the need to rub his nose in it? The team should be focusing on how to celebrate Jeter's 3,000th hit, which should happen in June. He's 74 away from becoming the only Yankee to do it.

Artie
: If the unthinkable happens, we cheeseheads know the world doesn't end when a longtime hero changes teams.

Frank
: Maybe Jeter will call Mr. Favre for advice. And Brewer fans remember that in December 1989 there was a chance Robin Yount might depart.

Artie
: Yount had a little more gas in the tank than Jeter has, ain'a?

Frank
: He was 34 and coming off his second MVP season (.318, 21 homers, 103 RBIs). But after he got a three-year, $9.6 million contract—how quaint!—he never hit better than .264 or drove in more than 77 runs.

Artie
: As I recall, Yount never took any offers from other teams. But I know the Angels were interested.

Frank
: The Yount-Brewers relationship was as close as Jeter-Yankees seemed. Now the situation looks like the one the Brewers faced three years later.

Artie
: The Paul Molitor mess.

Frank
: In December ’92 Molitor was 36 and coming off a .320 season, but his runs (89) and hits (195) were down from 133 and 216. The GM, Sal Bando, offered only a one-year deal for $2.5 million, a $500,000 cut. Bando was quoted as saying Molitor was "only" a designated hitter.

Artie
: So he went to Toronto for three years and $13 million, won a World Series in ’93 and got his 3,000th hit as a Twin in ’96.

Frank
: No one believes the Steinbrenners can't afford Jeter, even if they're going after Cliff Lee. When has the payroll ever bothered them?

Artie
: Hell, the Yankees print money. They should fund a national stimulus package!

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