Milwaukee's GOAT Mountain of Sports – Hank Aaron, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Giannis Antetokounmpo voted best of the best

The Sporting News GOAT Mountain project named four pro athletes from the nine cities that have had three of the following four leagues represented for at least 20 years – NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. Last summer, we looked at 13 four-sport cities. There were no hard-and-fast rules pertaining to the athletes selected. Our panels of experts considered individual resumes, team success and legacy within the sports landscape of each city. Not every franchise within a city needed to be represented. All sports fans have an opinion on this topic. This is ours.

The Green Bay Packers played their last home game at Milwaukee County Stadium on Dec. 18, 1994.

The Packers trailed Atlanta 17-14 with 19 seconds left and no timeouts remaining. That’s when Brett Favre scrambled toward the pylon for a diving touchdown and a week-before-Christmas present Green Bay fans are happy to unwrap to this day. They still might stretch their arms out and pretend to push Favre into the end zone. Green Bay and Milwaukee are separated by a little more than 100 miles, but their sports histories are attached by the Packers. The 13-time NFL champions are the most-recognizable brand in the state.

That is why we combined the two cities for this exercise.

“The tricky thing with Wisconsin is the Green Bay element,” Associated Press sports writer Steve Megargee told Sporting News. “You could have a really good one that is exclusively Milwaukee.”

This is true. Brewers legend Robin Yount – a two-time AL MVP who spent 20 years with the franchise – did not make the list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – who won three NBA MVP awards and a NBA championship in six seasons with the Bucks – did not make the list.

MORE: Why Bart Starr missed on Milwaukee/GreenBay’s mountaintop

Two spots went to Green Bay quarterbacks. Favre and Aaron Rodgers – the starting quarterbacks for the Packers for most of the last 31 seasons, are on the mountain. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hank Aaron, who played for the Braves and Brewers on the way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time, make up the rest. Each legend won one championship for either Green Bay or Milwaukee.

With those four icons, however, it is about more than the championships. It’s about the memories they left in America’s Dairyland.

MORE: See the GOAT Mountain selections for all nine cities

HANK AARON (Braves 1954-65, Brewers 1975-76)

Milwaukee Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson – who hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” for the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers to clinch the National League pennant on Oct. 3, 1951 – suffered a broken ankle in spring training in 1954.

This moment is less publicized than Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig, but it is every bit as significant. That injury forced the Braves to call up Henry Aaron, who hit .362 with 22 homers and 125 RBIs at Class-A Jacksonville the previous season. Bud Selig – a Milwaukee native who served as MLB commissioner from 1992-2015 – remembers that season.

“They called Henry up I think earlier than they liked and he had a wonderful year,” Selig told SN. “There is no doubt that he and Eddie Mathews were the heart and soul of the Milwaukee Braves.”

Aaron’s time with the Milwaukee Braves is by no means a forgotten chapter of a career that accumulated 755 home runs and a MLB-record 2,297 RBIs. Aaron hit 420 homers with 1,400 RBIs in a 14-year Milwaukee stint that included his final two seasons with the Brewers. That’s five more total seasons than his legendary run in Atlanta.

On Sept. 23, 1957 – Aaron hit a home run that helped Milwaukee clinch the NL pennant with an 11th-inning blast in a 4-2 victory against the Cardinals at Milwaukee County Stadium.

“Henry was carried off the field,” Selig said. “It’s one of those things if you were there and saw it, you never forget. You know from the day you saw him, there was greatness, although you still couldn’t believe he would become the really great player he became. There was always enormous affection both ways between Milwaukee and Henry Aaron.”

The brightest individual light of all as the pennant dream came true was Henry Aaron. He hit .500 in the seven-game string and on the night of September 23, hit the homer that put Milwaukee in the World’s Series at last. …

Aaron had thoughts of Bobby Thomson’s historic home run of 1951 as he jogged around the bases on his pennant-clinching homer for the Braves.

“I remember that day,” Aaron recalled. “I stayed out of school to listen to the game on the radio. When I was running around the bases, it suddenly struck me that this must be the way Thomson felt. It was quite a feeling, too.”

Aaron said this was the most important home run he ever hit. Then he added, “I don’t just think so, I know it.”

—The Sporting News, Oct. 2, 1957

Milwaukee beat the New York Yankees in seven games in the World Series. Aaron hit .393 with three homers and seven RBIs in the series.

Selig would become friends with Aaron a year later – a friendship that would ultimately lead to Aaron returning to Milwaukee for his final act.

Selig was the Brewers’ owner at that point. He convinced Aaron to come back for his final two seasons.

Aaron became a mentor for Yount – who emerged as a star for “Harvey’s Wallbangers” in leading the Brewers to the 1982 World Series. Selig recalled opening his email the day after Aaron died on Jan. 22, 2021. The first message was from Yount. It read: “He helped more than any person I ever played with.”

Selig recalled when Milwaukee County Stadium closed on Sept. 28, 2000. Braves legend Warren Spahn threw out the first pitch. Yount was in attendance along with several Lombardi-era Packers including Willie Davis.

Yet Aaron was the centerpiece.

“We had a phenomenal ceremony,” Selig said. “All the ex-Packers and Brewers, Braves, everybody, and I remember when Henry was introduced it was just extraordinary. He hit a lot of home runs here and did a lot of wonderful things, and he just fit in here. I want to emphasize here the places he could have gone because of race. He always told me how lucky he was that it was Milwaukee. Milwaukee clearly felt the same way.”

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Aaron – a Mobile, Ala., native – made his home Milwaukee during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement. Aaron’s activism was more publicized during his time in Atlanta while chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Aaron, of course, caught Ruth while enduring death threats.

Aaron’s experiences in Milwaukee were different. Selig said that is why Aaron returned so much for obligations, perhaps so fans could relive their experience of watching him play.

“It was everything,” Selig said. “The way he swung the bat. He hit balls. I’ve often said I wish there were people who would have seen him in the 50s. When he came up, I never saw a guy hit a ball as hard as Hank Aaron did. Never, and he hit balls to right field, right-center field, center field, and you just knew then you were watching real greatness”

For Selig, that is why it can be said – that those Milwaukee years were some of the best individual seasons in baseball history.

“He played the game with respect,” Selig said. “He played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He never embarrassed himself or baseball. He was an extraordinary talent. I happen to think he was the greatest player of my generation, but I’ll admit to you I’m partial. I do believe that. Once you saw Henry Aaron play, you never forgot it.”

Hank Aaron By The Numbers Seasons in Milwaukee 14 World Series titles 1 All-Star Games 12 Batting titles 2 Home runs 420

BRETT FAVRE (Packers, 1992-2007)

Aaron Nagler, co-founder of Cheesehead TV, can pinpoint the first time he felt like Green Bay would win it all in his lifetime. That was courtesy of Brett Favre in a Monday Night Football matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 9, 1996, after a pass to Edgar Bennett that led to a touchdown in a 39-13 blowout.

“I just remember distinctly knowing in that moment that the Packers were going to win the Super Bowl,” Nagler told SN. “They were so good. He was so good. He could do anything he wanted with the football. No one was going to stop them.”

That winning feeling – more than the rocket throws, improv play-making skills or the fun-loving Ironman who took over the 90s – is why the quarterback will always have a place in Green Bay for his 16-year playing career. The trade to the New York Jets, two-year stint with rival Minnesota and present-day controversy have made those moments admittedly tougher to celebrate.

Early in the day when the boy would do it, his father reached him on the telephone. “Go out and win and play hard.” Irvin Favre said. He had said it a hundred times and more. He’d said it on Friday nights in the piney woods of Mississippi. He’d said it because it’s what a coach says to his quarterback, especially if the boy is his son. …

Brett Favre is America’s newest sports hero. The Packers’ quarterback now has done what Dan Marino and Jim Kelly have never done. He has won a Super Bowl. The second play of the game. a Favre improvisation, produced a 54-yard touchdown pass. He threw another for 81 yards. And he ran for a third.

He told the story of his father Irwin’s telephone call. He told it because his father shaped his life and for father and son this Super Bowl came at such a curious time. So much had gone wrong in their lives. And now, as if to light the darkness, came the beauty of a Super Bowl.

—The Sporting News, Feb. 3, 1997

Yet that winning feeling wasn’t taken for granted at the time. From 1975-91, Green Bay had a 101-153-4 record – a .403 winning percentage. That’s a time period that would be comparable to the last 17 seasons in Washington. All it took was a Don Majkowski injury against Cincinnati on Sept. 20, 1992, and a late-game TD from Favre to Kitrick Taylor to change the entire trajectory of a classic NFL franchise.

Favre took the NFL one gun-slinging throw at a time. He broke the NFL record for TD passes with 508 – which now ranks fourth – and he still holds the league record for career interceptions with 336. Favre, however, was an adrenaline rush for anybody that watched.

“That feeling only kind of grew as his career went on, like, ‘OK, he’s rising. He’s firing. The camera is panning. Is it going to be our guy?'” Nagler said. “It was the clench your body went through as a Packer fan every time he threw it. Obviously, the years he was winning MVPs that equation changed somewhat. There was always a real, never-ending sense of danger when Brett was playing.”

Favre won three NFL MVP awards and catapulted the Packers back into the NFC royal rumble with Dallas and San Francisco. Favre’s 40-yard TD pass to Sterling Sharpe gave the Packers a 28-24 victory against Detroit in the NFC Wild Card on Jan. 8, 1994. That was a “OK, this is different” moment for Peter Butkowski, co-founder of The Leap and the co-host of the Locked On Packers podcast.

“You can see that the ability that he has – that the arm talent he has – is just different than what everyone else in the NFL is working with, and that was at a time when you had Dan Marino and you had John Elway,” Butkowski told SN. “They could throw these fireballs. There were other guys who had big arms, but it was Favre’s ability to fearlessly and in ways that some of the other guys weren’t, to control the game the way he felt like he needed to.”

Sure enough, the Packers became one of the NFL’s most-stable franchises. Favre led Green Bay to nine seasons with 10 or more wins and a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, often with the never-ending praise from John Madden that would later become a parody in itself. Above that, Favre made Lambeau Field the place to be for most of those moments. The Packers were 96-31 at home after Favre took over in 1992, and that included a 29-game win streak at one point. The Frozen Tundra regained its fame because of Favre.

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“He basically never lost at Lambeau when it was cold,” Butkowski said. “He always said, ‘I hated doing it, but I felt like we had an advantage.’ That helped make up for any uncomfortable feeling he was experiencing at that moment.”

Those winning experiences have mitigated some of the damage from Favre’s exit to New York then Minnesota and the off-field mis-steps with Favre being named in a Mississippi civil lawsuit in May. It’s part of the story – and it’s one that Nagler – like most Green Bay fans – will have to compartmentalize for many years to come.

Favre changed the Packers organization by winning.

“Without Brett Favre, there is a very good chance that not only do the Packers as we know them today not exist in the exact same way, but there is a chance that they are playing in Milwaukee or shuttered away,” Nagler said. “You can’t overstate Brett’s importance to where the Packers are now, especially considering where they were when he arrived.”

Brett Favre By The Numbers Super Bowl titles 1 MVP awards 3 Pro Bowls 9 Touchdown passes 442

AARON RODGERS (Packers, 2005-22)

The Favre-Rodgers debate often comes down to two questions. The first one is simple: “Who is better?”

“Aaron is the better quarterback,” Nagler said. “There is zero doubt about that, but he also didn’t have to take a program or step into a program that had been abysmal for decades and help lead them out of that. Brett did that, and he did that in his very-own unique way.”

The second is tougher: “Who is more beloved?”

Rodgers succeeded Favre, won four NFL MVP awards and earned Super Bowl MVP honors after leading Green Bay to a 31-25 victory against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. Yet a prolonged and public divorce from Green Bay after 18 seasons, which led to a trade to the New York Jets this offseason, might change that perception in the future.

Rodgers, as Green Bay president Mark Murphy said in 2021, can be a “complicated fella.”

This speaks to the greatness of Rodgers no matter what the answers to those questions are. How many quarterbacks can follow a Hall of Fame quarterback, play for more seasons, put up better numbers and still be compared to Favre 18 years later? Rodgers did that.

“There are Packers’ fans who didn’t think Rodgers was willing to take the same sorts of risks as Favre,” Butkowski said. “That, ‘OK, we’re either going to win this game or we are going to go down absolutely throwing haymakers.'”

Those stats always get pinned next to each other. Favre reached the NFC championship game four times with the Packers and had a 2-2 record. Rodgers was 1-4 in NFC championship games. Favre was 12-10 with the Packers in the postseason. Rodgers was 11-10.

Rodgers left his own collection of can’t-forget moments during those 15 seasons as a starter. Start with the Hail Mary trio. The one against Detroit. The one against the Cardinals. The one against the Giants. All three happened within three seasons.

“They would have the ball at the 50-yard line with one play left and he was able to pull that out,” Mergargee said. “His percentage seemed to be rivaled only if you watched ‘Friday Night Lights’ on TV.”

Then, there is a back-against-the-wall-moment that marks arguably the most unforgettable stretch of Rodgers’ career outside of Super Bowl XLV. The Packers dropped to 4-6 after an embarrassing loss to Washington on Nov. 20, 2016. What was Rodgers’ response?

“I feel like we can run the table, I really do,” he told reporters.

Rodgers led Green Bay to six straight victories. He averaged 277.8 passing yards with 15 TDs and no interceptions through that run, which was capped with a 31-24 victory against Detroit on Sunday Night Football. The Packers finished 10-6 and won the NFC North.

“In terms of play-making – that ‘run the table’ stretch – is the greatest play-making stretch of quarterbacking I’ve ever seen, including anything we’ve seen from Patrick Mahomes. Anything we’ve seen from John Elway, Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson,” Butkowski said. “His ability to manipulate space and time seemingly, to navigate the pocket and have that preternatural feel of the guys around him, I’ve never seen anyone before or since play like that.”

Yet Rodgers’ wasn’t done. The Packers beat the Giants in the NFC Wild Card round and took out Dallas in thrilling fashion in the NFC divisional playoffs. Nagler felt that when Rodgers connected with Jared Cook on third-and-20 to set up a game-winning field goal.

Aaron Rodgers to Jared Cook will forever be one of the greatest moments in NFL Playoff history… pic.twitter.com/mDs97gbZN0

“It is the most kind of high level, sustained quarterback play week to week that I’ve ever seen,” Nagler said. “Especially when you consider all the problems of the team and how beat up they were and just a dude absolutely willing them to victory.”

Most Packers’ fans see the loss to Atlanta the following week in the NFC championship game not as a failure, but more of Rodgers carrying the team – much like he did through MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021 after Jordan Love was drafted.

Yet judgment from outside Green Bay comes in the form of a question: How can a team who had Rodgers and Favre only win two Super Bowls? Rodgers feels that more than Favre. The answer isn’t easy.

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Yes, Green Bay dominated the NFC Central and later NFC North with Favre and Rodgers. But Nagler likes to say, “You can’t frame yourself as Titletown and be celebrating getting close.”

“A lot of Rodgers’ time in Green Bay post that Super Bowl in 2010 is going to be about missed chances and missed opportunities, and that’s fair,” Nagler said. “That’s not, of course, all on Aaron. I think a lot of that is on the organization. A lot of that is on, possibly, depending on which game you are talking about, some of it yes, on the defense, some of it is on dumb luck and some of it is on Aaron.”

“Rodgers is a Rorschach test no matter what,” Butkowski said. “There are fans that were always going to cape and will go, ‘This is what this team always could have been, and the front office messed that up.’ Then there will be fans that will be like, ‘That’s cool for Aaron Rodgers. I’m glad he got that other ring.’ That’s as far as it goes.”

For Nagler, it will always circle back to appreciation in the end.

“You can’t take away the championships and you can’t take away the MVPs,” Nagler said. “There is zero doubt how amazing the time was with Aaron under center in Green Bay. That will never be diminished no matter what gets talked about.”

Aaron Rodgers By The Numbers Super Bowl titles 1 MVP awards 4 Pro Bowls 10 Career passer rating 103.6 (2nd all-time)

GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO (Bucks, 2013-present)

“Do you view this season as a failure?”

Antetokounmpo gave a two-minute response to that question in the aftermath of Milwaukee’s Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs on April 27, 2023. The Bucks were the No. 1 seed, and that question brought out the best of Giannis.

For Megargee – who has covered the Bucks for the AP since 2020 – this is the separator from the other NBA superstars. The thesis of Antetokounmpo’s answer to the question: “There’s no failure in sports.”

“It’s his philosophical and cerebral nature,” Megargee told SN. “The comment surprised me, but if you would have told me someone had said something like this after a playoff loss, he would probably be the first guy I would have predicted he said something like that. He’s a much more interesting interview than just about any other athlete around.”

Milwaukee’s unpredictable joyride with Giannis will enter its 11th season in 2023 – one that began with the “Greek Freak” being selected one pick outside the 2013 NBA Draft lottery at No. 15.

“If you look at pictures of him on draft day and pictures of him now he would pass for his nephew,” Megareee said. “They are two different people in terms of how he was able to transform his body, how he had the fortune of growing – my recollection is he was 6-9 when he was drafted. He just looks like a completely different person.”

As Giannis grew in the NBA, so did the Bucks’ NBA championship chances – and perhaps this is why Antetokounmpo takes a year-to-year approach to this day. Milwaukee did not advance past the first round of the NBA playoffs in his first five seasons. The Bucks had the best record in the NBA in 2019-20 before COVID-19 interrupted the season. Milwaukee lost to the Heat in five games in the second round.

It wasn’t until 2020-21 that the Bucks had their breakthrough season, and it almost didn’t happen. Remember, Antetokounmpo suffered a left knee injury in the Eastern Conference Finals and was a game-time decision for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Phoenix took a 2-0 lead in the series before Giannis took over. In Game 4, Antetokounmpo sealed a Milwaukee victory with a block on an alley-oop dunk attempt by Deandre Ayton. In Game 5, Jrue Holiday had a chance to run down more time in the final minute. Instead, he threw an alley-oop to Giannis for a dunk.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s incredible block on DeAndre Ayton, live + replays pic.twitter.com/MvC7l678Hd

“Those were the two signature plays of that series, and really two of the signature plays of the playoffs when you really think about it,” Megargee said.

Antetokounmpo saved the best for Game 6 – when he scored 50 points with 14 rebounds in the Bucks’ 105-98 victory that closed out the series. It is on the short list of best performances in NBA Finals history.

“It’s certainly up there,” Megargee said. “Magic Johnson played center against the Sixers that rookie year when Kareem was hurt. That is one that is always going to take on legendary proportions because he was playing out of position. That certainly ranked right up there. The one knock on Giannis has been his free-throw shooting which cropped up in the playoffs again this year, but in that clincher he was 17 of 19. He was amazing from the line that night.”

That gave Milwaukee its first pro sports championship since that 1957 World Series. It’s why a large Giannis mural on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee was completed ahead of the playoffs the following season. Megargee attended the event and remembers hearing several Bucks fans say: “He is the guy who stayed.”

Antetokounmpo signed a Super Max extension in 2020 that has a player option for 2025-26. Abdul-Jabbar played six seasons in Milwaukee, but he spent 14 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

That is another separator. Antetokounmpo has stuck with Milwaukee through success and failure.

“Giannis might not finish his career in Milwaukee, time will tell on that,” Megargee said. “The fact is he’s spent a decade here at a small market team that he signed a Super Max with when he could have left a few years ago, I think that speaks volumes and gives him the edge.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo By The Numbers NBA titles 1 MVP awards 2 First-team All-NBA 5 All-Star Games 7

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