This time each year, the nearly impossible task of trying to sum up 12 months' worth of sports stories is attempted by any number of sports wags. They plow through archived video and back issues of newspapers in search of moments that had the biggest impact.
But how many of them, I wonder, sort through ticket stubs? How often have any of these people waded through the Regent Street revelry before a Badger football game or leaned on the bar at Lucky's after a basketball game, eavesdropping on the red-pants set.
If more of them took a turn every now and then being spectators, maybe they'd find that the best stories, and maybe even the most important stories, aren't always the most predictable and obvious ones.
The national championships won by the Badger men's and women's hockey teams are hard to ignore as the local sports story of the year. But whereas the men had substantially more hype and subsequent ticket demand, it's the women who might have more of an impact.
Go to a women's hockey game this season (Seriously, go! As soon as you can!) and see the young girls running up and down the aisles in their jerseys, having a great time. Women's hockey is the obvious beneficiary of Title IX, and it's a symbol of how many more opportunities women have to participate in sports and compete at a high level.
In Madison, the number of girls teams is growing every year. Will the women playing for the Badgers 10 years from now cite the 2006 title run as their inspiration to lace up a pair of skates?
And whereas the men suffered from their success by losing a handful of their top players to the NHL, the women are odds-on favorites to get back to the national title game, if not repeat as champions, in 2007.
A lot of local hoop-heads paid close attention to Memorial center Keaton Nankivil's decision to play college basketball at Wisconsin next year. But not many took a step back to realize how much of a basketball hotbed Madison has become in recent years.
Michael Flowers of La Follette High is starting at Wisconsin, and Michael Nelson and Wesley Matthews of Memorial are big contributors for North Dakota State and Marquette, respectively. Flowers' brother Jonte led Winona State, which features fellow La Follette alums Quincy Henderson and Curtrel Robinson, to the Division II national championship last season.
High school basketball continues to provide remarkable action. Nankivil has been dominant in his senior season at Memorial, with help from sophomore phenom Jeronne Maymon. But all the city teams play exciting basketball, which too few sports fans, or sports writers, pay attention to.
In the rest of the world, the image of France's Zinedine Zidane head-butting Italy's Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final was the story of the year. The European press dispatched lip readers to figure out what Materazzi said, and each player was parodied at length on the Internet. But that wasn't even the most interesting story of the World Cup.
Anyone who was, like me, fortunate enough to spend time in Germany during the tournament saw a country undergoing a remarkable transformation, spurred by the spirited play of its national team. Germans are understandably wary of enthusiastic patriotism, but as their team advanced in the tournament and tourists from around the world discovered their country's charms, out came the flags. By the end of the month-long event, which saw the German team finish a remarkable and unpredicted third, stores couldn't keep them in stock.
Also flying off the shelves in Berlin were replica jerseys for midfielder David Odonkor, who brilliantly connected with forward Oliver Neuville for a goal to beat Poland in an early-round match. Odonkor, the son of a Ghanaian father and German mother, is a symbolic figure in an increasingly multicultural Germany. His popularity has a tremendous effect on an entire generation of Germans who are the children of immigrants and neither blond nor blue-eyed.