Brewers success, Packers hopes portend alluring fall

For the better part of this decade, July was a notable month for pro sports fans here because it signaled the beginning of football training camp.

There was little done by the Milwaukee Brewers to change that perspective. Continually lacking the various components required to be competitive, they looked like every other struggling franchise mired in small-market purgatory.

The exception was 2011, a rare year of success for multiple Wisconsin pro teams. The Central Division-winning Brewers advanced to the National League championship series, and the Green Bay Packers went 15-1 in one of the most dominant regular-season performance in NFL history.

Apart from 2011, though, the Brewers had been reliable only from the standpoint that by July 4 they were out of the picture.

Surprisingly, that changed for a while last year, as the Brewers – at the bottom of the league in both payroll and expectations – led the division for most of the first half, including by five and a half games at the All-Star break.

Not surprisingly, they faded, finishing second to defending champion Chicago and one game behind Colorado for the final wild card playoff spot.

The baseball tease was nice while it lasted, but soon the attention turned to the Packers, a pre-season favorite who broke out of the gates looking like the genuine article. An injury to their big horse put an end to that, and those high hopes turned into crashing disappointment. If 2017 was a fish, it would get thrown back.

One year removed from their second-half sputter, the Brewers are at it again. As the All-Star break approaches, they’re on top of the division, looking more like a legitimate contender than a team having a nice, but futile bounce-back season.

Whether their division-title push falls short to the Cubs again is irrelevant because the National League has seldom before looked as up for grabs. Getting to the playoffs is the thing, which, with more than half of the league still alive in the wild card hunt, makes even the most nondescript July game important.

Just when you feel ready to jump into the Brewers’ pennant drive with both feet, here comes Tony Romo and his juicy distractions.

Romo is the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback who drew as many accolades in his first year as a game analyst as he did as a player throughout a respectable 13-year career. Asked recently about the Packers’ chances this year, Romo said he considers them the favorite to win not only their division, but the Super Bowl, too. He cited a healthy quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the main reason, plus the addition of free agent tight end Jimmy Graham.

He’s right about Graham. Watch for he and Rodgers to develop a good chemistry, and for Graham to have a monster season. If the other big free agent signee also pans out – defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson – the bedlam will exceed normal levels at Lambeau Field.

It’s a pleasant dilemma to imagine flipping channels between the Packers driving in the fourth quarter of a tie game and the Brewers batting with the bases loaded in a Game 7.

Fantastic as that scenario sounds, it’s not out of the question. Concurrent championship runs by the Packers and Brewers come around less often than cicada locusts, but so far, 2018 has had an auspicious feel.

The Brewers have spent 65 days in first place, including every day but one since May 13.

The Pack is back with a fully mended Hall of Fame quarterback is in his prime, an improved roster and growing confidence in their new offensive and defensive coordinators.

It’s hard to identify the best times of your life while they’re happening, as it’s nigh impossible to know in the middle of a season that something special is around the corner. The state of the Brewers and Packers today does make for some pleasant mid-summer dreaming of how we might look back at 2018.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.