WISCONSIN SPORTS ROUND-UP: Rodgers cleared to play Sunday
GREEN BAY - Aaron Rodgers will be back in the saddle on Sunday, leading the Green Bay Packers in a winner-take-all game at Chicago for the NFC North Division title. Coach Mike McCarthy said this afternoon that his MVP quarterback had been medically-cleared to play against the Bears, after he suffered a broken left collarbone against that same Chicago team on November fourth.
McCarthy said the decision was made on Christmas Eve -- but he didn't want to make it public until after his teammates were told this morning. Rodgers has practiced for the last three weeks. McCarthy says he hopes it will shake off some of the rust you'd expect after he missed the better part of eight games. The Packers were 2-5-1 without Rodgers -- and only in the last three weeks did they feel any kind of comfort in playing well, and winning without him. By all accounts, Rodgers looked good throwing the ball -- but questions remained about whether he could take a hard hit to his left shoulder without re-injuring the collarbone. McCarthy said Rodgers accepted the risk factor involved -- but the coach noted that all 46 players on Green Bay's game-day roster will be at some risk of injuries. McCarthy added, quote, "We've done our due diligence. We've got through all the evaluations, and feel it is time. Aaron is ready to play." If the Packers win on Sunday, they'll host a playoff game the following weekend. If not, they'll miss the post-season for the first time in five years.
The Green Bay Packers are back at work today, getting ready for their Sunday showdown in Chicago that will determine the NFC North Division champion. The Packer defense got some bad news yesterday, when linebacker Clay Matthews was ruled for out for the Bear game with a recurrence of his right thumb injury. Meanwhile, one of the bright spots is the improved play of corner Tramon Williams. He's clearly back to 100-percent after a prolonged shoulder injury from almost three seasons ago. Williams is now 30 -- and the Green Bay Press-Gazette said he was given advice last off-season from Terrell Owens on how to prolong his career. T.O. credits yoga for being able to play 15 seasons in the NFL. Williams had previously done yoga in the off-season -- but after getting help from Owens about aging gracefully in football, Williams is now doing his exercises twice a week during the season. Williams says he can feel the difference -- and it's so good, that about a dozen other Packers have been joining him on-and-off. Corners coach Joe Whitt tells players they always have to work for their success -- and they're destined for failure once they ease up. Whitt said he's never had to give that speech to Williams.
University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen freely admits the Badgers' recent inability to make long pass plays down-field. He says opposing defenses have literally dared the Badgers to throw the long bomb -- and it has worked out for those opponents. In 12 games this season, the Badgers have made 34 passes of 20-yards-or-more -- but only nine have come in Wisconsin's last five games. Senior receiver Jared Abbrederis has seven catches of 30-yards-or-more this year -- but none came in the Badgers' last six contests. His last catch in that department came during Week-Six, a 63-yarder for a touchdown against Northwestern. Quarterback Joel Stave has seen his share of dropped passes -- including a 49-yarder to Abbrederis against Minnesota, and some over-throws during the regular season finale loss to Penn State. Wisconsin plays South Carolina next Wednesday in the Capital One Bowl. The Gamecocks give up an average of 203 passing yards per game. They've allowed 13 touchdowns, while throwing 15 interceptions.
A key receiver for South Carolina will miss next Wednesday's Capital One Bowl against Wisconsin. Sophomore Damiere Byrd recently injured a knee at practice. He was second on his team with 33 catches for 575 yards this season. Byrd caught four touchdown passes. Gamecocks' quarterback Connor Shaw said the Badgers remind him of the Nebraska team from 2011 -- tough, physical, and fast. Shaw told reporters quote, "We're going to have to show up and play." Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said he's looking forward to finishing the season "the right way" and then going to work next month to building the 2014 edition of the Badgers. After arriving in Orlando yesterday, Andersen shoved aside reports that he's a possible candidate for the head coaching job at the University of Texas. He giggled when asked about that. He said he's happy in Madison after one season there, and he has no desire to look anywhere else.
The U.S. won its opening game of the World Junior hockey championships today, 5-1 over the Czech Republic. Sun Prairie native Will Butcher scored the Americans' second goal on a shot over the glove of Czech goaltender Daniel Dolejs. Butcher was the only Wisconsinite involved in the scoring. Five different players scored for Team USA, and goal-tender Jon Gilles turned away 23 shots. Today's contest was the first-of-four for the Americans in the tournament's preliminary round in Sweden. Their next game is on Saturday against Slovakia.
In the American Hockey League, the Milwaukee Admirals have home games the next two nights. They'll take on Grand Rapids tonight and Charlotte tomorrow night, both at the Bradley Center. Grand Rapids leads the Midwest Division with 44 points and a record of 21-6-1-1. Tomas Jurco of the Griffins is tied for eighth in total scoring in the AHL with 27 points, including 12 goals. Milwaukee is 10 points back in second place, with 34 points and a mark of 14-7-5-1. Miikka Solomaki is the Admirals' top scorer with 20 points, including six goals.
Milwaukee Brewers' starter Chris Narveson will pitch in Japan next season. The 32-year-old left-hander has signed a one-year contract with the Yakult Swallows of Tokyo. That's the same team on which former Brewers' outfielder Norichika Aoki played for eight years. Media reports said Narveson will get $850,000, with the possibility of making more with performance incentives. He won 23 games for Milwaukee as a starter in 2010-and-2011, but had injury problems after that. He missed most of the 2012 season with a rotator cuff injury suffered after just two starts. After surgery, Narveson returned to Milwaukee as a reliever this past season. Again, he lasted only two games before he sprained his middle throwing finger. Narveson was never the same after that. He had an ERA of seven while going on 0-1 on a minor league rehab assignment. Narveson was out-righted to Triple-"A" later in the year, and he finished 2013 with a 4-and-7 record for the Sounds with a 5.14 ERA. To show that he was healthy, Narveson pitched in the Dominican Winter League. He went 2-1 in five starts with a 1.98 ERA.
Wisconsin high school basketball resumes today with 22 boys' games and 10 girls' contests on the docket. Nine of the boys' games are at Concordia University in Mequon, in the WBBY Shootout from nine this morning through late tonight. The Sentry Classic in Stevens Point is a major tournament for both the boys' and girls' teams. Three girls' contests are on top today at the Christine Rathke Memorial Tournament in the Milwaukee suburb of Franklin. Other tournaments are being hosted at Wisconsin Dells, Carthage, Mineral Point, and West De Pere. The Madison Memorial boys are competing at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Milwaukee South boys are in a holiday tourney in Battle Creek, Michigan. Meanwhile, there are no Wisconsin college basketball games today or tomorrow. That play resumes Saturday.
Team USA is playing the Czech Republic today, as the World Junior hockey championship begins in Malmo Sweden. Wisconsin forward Nic Kerdiles is one of 23 players on the U.S. roster, along with two who are natives of the Badger State -- Boston College defenseman Ian McCoshen from Hudson, and Denver defenseman Will Butcher from Sun Prairie. Kerdiles, who's from Irvine California, is no stranger to international hockey. He played on the Under-18 teams in 2011-and-'12, and he helped the U-S win a gold medal for his squad a year ago. Kerdiles leads Wisconsin in points this season with 17, including eight goals. He said he knows the expectations are high for the U-S to repeat its World Junior title from a year ago. The U.S. will also play Slovakia, Germany, and Canada in the preliminary round. Quarter-finals begin a week from today, and the champion will be determined on January fifth. Today's opening face-off was set for 10:30, shown on NHL.com and the NHL Network.
Brian Hansen and Shani Davis, who both train in Milwaukee, are expected to lead the U.S. speed-skaters at their Olympic Trials in Salt Lake City. Those auditions begin tomorrow and run through January fifth. The top finishers will be a part of Team USA for the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The 31-year-old Davis is the world record holder in both the one-thousand and 1500 meters. He'll skate for his third straight gold medal in the one-thousand, and will try to win gold in the 1500 after finishing second in the last two Olympics. Davis missed two of this fall's four World Cup events to concentrate on his training at the Pettit National Ice Center in suburban Milwaukee. Hansen, who's 23, will also compete in both the one-thousand and 1500. He was the youngest U.S. Olympic speed-skater four years ago at Vancouver. Hansen placed 18th in the 1500, and he helped the Americans take the silver medal in the team pursuit event. Hansen never trained with the national team, saying he gets more consistent training under the constant leadership of his coach Nancy Swider-Peltz. After the 2010 Vancouver Games, Hansen went to college at Marquette for a year-and-a-half. Since then, he has put his schooling on hold to train for Sochi.