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Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

Achieving a State of Utter Bliss

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The greatest sports weekend ever in Wisconsin? It's hard to imagine anything better than what took place as October opened. The Brewers began their quest for the World Series by beating Arizona twice at Miller Park. The Badgers welcomed Nebraska to Big Ten football with a 48-17 pounding at Camp Randall. And the Packers maintained their NFL dominance with a 49-23 demolition of Denver at Lambeau Field.

The Observers were high above the third-base line Saturday and Frank was there again Sunday while Artie and his TV had a grueling two-sport workout.

Frank
: Nothing like some autumn sunshine and a 4-0 record for the Dairyland.

Artie
: My weekend record was really 6-0 because the despised Vikings and Cowboys lost.

Frank
: But the Bears won.

Artie
: After deep contemplation on my couch I realized I've come to savor the Vikings losing more than the Bears. But I was glad Chicago almost choked against the Panthers, so I'll call it 6-0-1. The Lions get a pass because they beat Dallas.

Frank
: Miller Park was so noisy Sunday that it was hard to detect any distinct “Packer cheers” from people monitoring them through some hand-held wizardry. But they had plenty of opportunities.

Artie
: Once again, a workmanlike dismantling of a clearly inferior opponent. Aaron Rodgers accounted for a mere six touchdowns, four by throwing and two by running. He must have watched the Badgers and said, “Hey, this Russell Wilson is starting to steal some of my thunder.”

Frank
: That makes sense. Even allowing for ABC's “Musburger factor”—Brent's gush-o-meter is always set on high—Wilson was Rodgers-like against Nebraska.

Artie
: He has great composure, he throws a nice ball—witness two perfect “bombs” for touchdowns—and he can get out of trouble in the pocket.

Frank
: Three qualities Rodgers displays in abundance. Thanks to the prime-time exposure, Wilson has to be a major Heisman Trophy candidate.

Artie
: Midway through the second half I was thinking, “Jeez, this kid is NFL-ready right now.” He's certainly got the goods in terms of running, but it was clear to me that the running is definitely a last resort.

Frank
: In the third quarter he scrambled around for what seemed like 10 seconds, then got a little lob to someone for a short gain. Musburger invoked the hallowed name of Fran Tarkenton.

Artie
: Pure Tarkenton, absolutely. And that can really take something out of a defense. How infuriating it used to be when Frantic Fran did it for the Vikings against Lombardi's Packers.

Frank
: It's hard to believe the Badgers were losing, 14-13, after about 20 minutes.

Artie
: They've done this before, getting off to a start that's… I don't want to say sluggish, but kind of slow. The fumble on a punt return led to Nebraska's second touchdown, but after that it was pretty much all red—the right kind of red.

Frank
: They just ground down a team that tries to do just that themselves. It didn't hurt that the Huskers' quarterback, Taylor Martinez, was nowhere near Wilson's quality.

Artie
: And he was in the “Heisman Watch” mix before the season because he's one of those “running quarterbacks” like Denard Robinson of Michigan.

Frank
: But it was obvious from his three interceptions that he's a runner first. Now the only question is who can beat the Badgers, at least in the Big Ten?

Artie
: I've been a Badger Backer since the days when the QBs were Dale Hackbart and Ron Vander Kelen, but being as objective as I can, I can't see it happening.

Frank
: Ohio State is in the same division, but the Buckeyes managed just seven points at home against Michigan State. Looks like UW's road game Oct. 22 against the Spartans is the biggest challenge.

Raising a Joyful Noise

Artie: We saw Yovani Gallardo at his best in Game 1, but because I was watching the Brew Crew “picture in picture” during the Packers game, it was hard to tell how Zack Greinke looked in Game 2.

Frank
: He struggled, with a lot of three-ball counts besides the three homers he gave up in five innings. But it was his second straight outing on three days' rest instead of four.

Artie
: They can set him up better for the next round, assuming the Crew finishes off Arizona.

Frank
: Saturday was all about Gallardo and the 1-2 punch nailing things down in the seventh inning—Ryan Braun's two-out double and Prince Fielder's laser-beam homer. Sunday was about the offense and bullpen picking up Greinke.

Artie
: Gallardo gave up 27 homers during the season and Arizona was fourth in the league in long balls. I was worried we'd see “Gone-yard-o,” but he only gave up the one late homer.

Frank
: You think Kirk Gibson will figure out that it's probably better to pitch around Prince when he can? Sunday in the third it was the same situation, as Braun doubled with two out. And Prince came through with a hard single. But Rickie Weeks showed why walking Prince might not work either, blasting a triple to dead center.

Artie
: It's hard to see the Crew losing this series. But things can happen.

Frank
: The Brewers themselves made up a two-game deficit in a five-game series.

Artie
: Ah yes, in '82 against the Angels. I was there for the start of that comeback on a bright, sunny day at County Stadium.

Frank
: I was there too, in seats a lot worse than we had Saturday—right field upper deck, next-to-last section, next-to-last row. We were young then, of course, but I wonder if you remember your '82 fan experience as being a lot less, um, hectic?

Artie
: You betcha. Saturday was fun, but nowadays there's so much noise that pounds you at every game, and there's only so much of the incessant “Woo! Woo!” I can take. The ballgame as rock concert: It's too much with the “schmutz,” the yelling and towel-waving and jumping up whenever you feel like it.

Frank
: It's probably—make that definitely—attributable to our transition from youthful vibrancy to geezerhood. I guess younger folks don't care if someone in front decides to show their fanhood by standing up any old time. Let's have a rule, folks: Everyone stands when the Brewers are hitting and sits when they're on defense, except when it's two out and two strikes.

Artie
: Another big difference from '82 is the telecasts are much better—so many cameras and angles and replays.

Frank
: But all those commercials—30 seconds more of them between innings than in the regular season.

Artie
: Hey, the ballpark is no escape from commercials! And the refreshments cost a lot less on my couch.

Frank
: Which brings us, readers, to the Observers' big consumer tip. On Saturday we went to our usual beer-buying site, the Terrace-level bar where we've paid $7.75 for our Miller High Life—what they call the “large beer” at the concession stands.

Artie
: But not for the playoffs.

Frank
: Nope. This time the High Life came in souvenir cups marked “N.L. Central Champions.” And, gee, somehow the price was $8.50 a cup.

Artie
: And the cups were clearly smaller!

Frank
: I know because I did a “pour test” comparison at home between the playoff cup and the usual size. On Sunday I went to one of the regular concession stands and got a large Genuine Draft at the usual price in the generic cup.

Artie
: So readers, be warned. For the rest of the postseason, a keepsake cup is not your best beer value.