Tracks of Life: Was it the end of an era or foundation for the future

Published 2012-01-02

Note: It’s interesting to look back at this now, some six years since I wrote it. First, I was finally able to see — and boo Favre — in person the second time he came back to Lambeau Field as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.

But more importantly, to me at least, is knowing that today — Jan. 2, 2012 — the Badgers are appearing in their second straight Rose Bowl game and fifth since the 1993 season.

And yesterday — Jan. 1, 2012 — the defending Super Bowl champion Packers finished a 15-1 season and had a backup quarterback throw for the most yards in a single game and most touchdowns in a single game in team history.

Not bad Wisco… Not Bad at all.

JANUARY 2006: The first two days of 2006 brought fans of Wisconsin sports such a combination of emotions. While wins for the Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers rung in the New Year, there’s an unmistakable feeling that the victories signal a changing of the guard and the end of two legendary eras.

Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who likely played his final game for the Green and Gold, and Badgers coach Barry Alvarez, who coached his last game in the Capital One Bowl, didn’t just resurrect their respective teams.

The provided a resurgence in the state. They instilled pride in the state’s fans and inspired countless others across the nation. And while losing both of them in consecutive days would seem like a heartless twist of fate, perhaps it was simply fate.

I was at Alvarez’s first game against California in 1990. I watched his final game on television. In between, I saw and listened to countless others. As a fan, I always had a sense as though we had an unfair advantage over our opponents – the man roaming the sidelines.

I never saw Favre play in person, but I do know his play on the field has been recreated in sandlots and backyards from Ashland to Janesville – never mind from New York to L.A.

Both teams’ rise to prominence coincided with my coming of age – my years in high school when I would clip out articles from the local papers’ sports sections and offer my opinions on the Badgers sniffing roses in 1993, or Brett “the Human Turnover” Favre in a sophomoric sports column.

Those glory years intensified when I was in college, when I began to learn the craft of journalism.

Sitting now in my Chicago apartment, having watched Favre and Alvarez leave the field, I realized they and their teams were as much an inspiration for my career choice as anything.

Poring over those old papers, I learned how to spin a tale, craft a lede and offer connections between seemingly random events. Today, as fans of the Badgers and Packers got to see two legends leave the field with their heads held high, I realize nothing is truly random.

I also realize that in something so dominated by stats – Alvarez’s 118 wins or Favre’s 396 touchdown passes – sports isn’t just about competition.

It’s about self-realization, inspiration and motivation. It’s about memories and looking back at the journey. And it’s about the next legends that not only transform a state, but also transcend the field and allow us in on the ride – the smiles and heartaches that go along with it.