The winter is already feeling long, dark and cold with the Packers falling to 4-6-1 on Sunday night and looking at long odds to make the playoffs. One day earlier, the Badgers football team lost hold of Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time since 2003 in a 37-15 shellacking administered by the Minnesota Golden Gophers, leaving the Badgers at 7-5 in a season that started with aspirations of a top-four finish in college football.
It should rank among the most deflating Wisconsin football weekends in Wisconsin. Is this the worst football season we’ve had in Wisconsin?
There was a time when neither the Badgers nor Packers shouldered high expectations on a regular basis, so it’d be easy to say there were many, many bleak years before the early 1990s. But in the time since both teams emerged from the dark days of the ’70s and 80s, this certainly ranks among the worst years for Wisconsin football. You be the judge if it’s truly the gloomiest Wisconsin winter in the current era.
2008 – Favre gone and the Cal Poly game
For the Badgers, it was a similar experience to 2018. Wisconsin started the year ranked No. 13 and moved up as high as No. 9 before a 27-25 loss to Michigan in the fourth game of the year (after a close call against Fresno State one week earlier). It was the first of four straight losses and five of six. Wisconsin closed the year barely retaining the Axe in a 35-32 win over Minnesota and then escaped by the skin of their teeth in a near-disaster to Cal Poly at Camp Randall Stadium, a 36-35 win that fans will remember for a long time. It took a missed extra point in OT for the Badgers to survive against the non-major conference foe. On Dec. 27, Wisconsin got drubbed in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, 42-13, at the hands of Florida State.
The Packers, meanwhile, endured a 6-10 season and finished third in the NFC North. While that campaign at least brought a glimmer of hope in the first year of Aaron Rodgers, it was a contentious season in the aftermath of the franchise moving on from superstar quarterback Brett Favre.
2000 – Sherman’s debut and from top-four ranking to the Sun Bowl
In the first year with Mike Sherman as head coach, the Packers won their final four games of the season to make things interesting, but a 9-7 finish wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. A pair of 10-6 teams took the last playoff spots. The team lost games against the Jets, Bills, Bears, Lions and Panthers – none of whom made the playoffs.
The Badgers were coming off back-to-back Rose Bowls and had designs of winning a national title in 2000. This may sound familiar, but Bucky began the year ranked No. 4 and stayed there after three weeks even though three uninspiring wins over unranked Western Michigan (19-7), Oregon (27-23) and Cincinnati (28-25). Then came three straight losses, starting with a 47-44 heartbreaker against Northwestern. Wisconsin finished 9-4 and wound up facing UCLA in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, where it eked out a 21-20 win.
2005 – Packers start 1-7 and Northwestern foils the Badgers again
The final year of the Mike Sherman era yielded the Packers worst season since 1991, a 4-12 debacle that landed the Packers last in the NFC North. Green Bay started the year 0-4 and 1-7.
Wisconsin won its first five games and got as high as No. 14 in the rankings, but it’s easy to wonder how high the Badgers could have gotten were it not for a 51-48 loss to Northwestern in early October. Losses to Penn State and Iowa landed Bucky in the Capital One Bowl, where it upset Auburn in an uplifting finish, 24-10.
2017 – An injured star and heartbreak for Bucky
Last year was no peach, either. The Packers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with a 7-9 record, hamstrung by an injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Badgers, meanwhile, came achingly close to a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff, reaching the Big Ten Championship Game undefeated – only to lose to Ohio State, 27-21, before appearing in the Orange Bowl (an excellent 34-24 win over Miami). The Badgers were obviously fun to watch all year, but the disappointment at the end might be just as bad to bear for football fans.
1990-92 – End of an era (and good riddance)
This was really the last time the Packers and Badgers were both also-rans.
The Badgers brought in Barry Alvarez in 1990, and though he built the program into a nationally respected brand, there were some early growing pains, going 1-10 in 1990 and 5-6 each of the next two years (before bouncing back with a thrilling 10-1-1 season and Rose Bowl title in 1993).
The Packers weren’t much better, going 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991 in the final two years of Lindy Infante. Like the University of Wisconsin, the Packers found their architects in Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, and they led the Packers to a 9-7 record in 1992 – not good enough for the playoffs, but a good omen for the run that was to come (six straight playoff appearances, two Super Bowls and one championship).
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