“If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. It’s up to you, Milwaukee … Milwaukee.”
Okay, so the city of Milwaukee, Wis., may not evoke the aura and mystique of New York City, Los Angeles, or even Salt Lake City. For many, “Milwaukee’s best” only conjures memories of bad fraternity parties.
Nonetheless, the NCAA has conferred upon it the honor of its Division I men’s hockey championship this week. Therefore, as the city prepares to welcome the Frozen Four faithful with open arms, it bears asking just what championship pride can it lend whoever emerges from the weekend victorious.
After an exhaustive search, it turns out that Milwaukee does have a tradition beyond being located in the same state as the Green Bay Packers. So take this as a little history lesson of this fair city. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to walk into any municipal pub — and there are many — and be able to talk sports like a local, provided you can fake the accent.
An easy icebreaker for bar conversation is to lament Barry Bonds’ juiced-up threat to Hank Aaron’s home-run record. Aaron led the then-Milwaukee Braves to the 1957 World Series. The Brewers can only boast a 1982 American League pennant.
Once you’ve expressed hope that this year, the Brew Crew will finally break through, tell your compatriot how your father used to regale you with stories of the old-time Milwaukee Brewers, three-time winners of the Junior World Series.
The legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar honed his hook shot with the Milwaukee Bucks before becoming part of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. He left the Bucks the 1971 NBA title. Basketball, for better or for worse, has seen a fair amount of success here. Marquette won the 1977 NCAA champion and returned to the Final Four in 2003. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has busted people’s brackets for the past couple of seasons.
Yet, you’ll really impress people by faking stories of the great Dave Durepos, who averaged 19.5 points per game in leading the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks to the 2002 National Wheelchair Basketball title.
Of course, Milwaukee is no stranger to hockey. The local Milwaukee Admirals captured the Calder Cup in 2004. From hockey, turn the conversation to soccer and celebrate the Milwaukee Bavarian Soccer Club, founded by German immigrants at the turn of the century. Bavarian S.C. claimed the National Amateur Cup in 1976 with a 3-1 win over Trenton, N.J., and recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of that momentous win with its second championship in 2001.
The city not only has a rich German tradition, but also a Polish one. Tell the by-now astounded Milwaukeean that you plan on returning to the Cream City on June 23 for the Polish Fest, the largest Polish-American celebration in the United States. Lament that you only wish Louis Bashell, the Milwaukee Polka King, was still around to “get this party started right” on the accordion.
After, unveiling all of this trivia on some bar patron, he or she may offer to buy you a beer. For such a championship city, insist on championship brew. Pabst Blue Ribbon won the gold medal in the 2005 beer championship for American-style lager. Don’t want so many calories? Old Milwaukee Light took home the gold medal in American-style light beer.
Actually, any Miller product will also do if you consider that its brewmaster, Dr. David Ryder, was named the 2004 Brewmaster of the Year at the World Beer Cup.
So maybe this list doesn’t merit an elegy crooned by Sinatra, or even Bo Bice. But for Boston College, Maine, North Dakota, or Wisconsin (Madison), a polka-filled Milwaukee championship will sound just fine.