Brad Davison is the proverbial player you love to have on your team but truly hate as an opponent.
That cliché often applies to guys who seek every possible advantage, including in some grey areas of the rulebook. For instance, Davison sacrifices any semblance of ability to stay vertical if he thinks he can draw a charge. If you’re a Badger fan, or Greg Gard, you say he’s savvy. Others say Davison is a flopper.
Davison’s advantage-seeking backfired Saturday. Marquette’s overtime victory against Wisconsin turned when Davison, coming around a Joey Hauser screen, appeared to swing his left arm at the area on Hauser’s body where Hauser probably wants to get hit the least. Whether Davison’s action was unintentional, trying to goad Hauser into a reaction, or an on-purpose shot at the Hauser brother’s Hauser brothers, so to speak, is subject to interpretation. In the officials’ opinion, there was intent, the foul was flagrant, and Davison got booted from the game. As an emotional and spiritual leader, losing him in OT was a different kind of punch to the, uh, gut, for UW, even though he was scoreless. Hauser, meanwhile, had only momentary discomfort and hit two free throws. MU never trailed again.
Given Davison’s penchant to flop, his zero points and the rivalry, it’s easy to believe his action may have had intent. Still, when you purposely do something against, and harshly punished by, the rules, it’s dirty. Those who find flopping unsavory may even choose to extend the dirty label to Davison himself.
I come here not to decry Davison as a dirty player, or dirty play in general. If anything, I’m here to defend it — when it’s done right. Davison’s problem, in my eyes, isn’t that he took a swing at Hauser, nor any aspect of what he tries to do. My problem is that Davison didn’t do dirty right.
To me, there are two cases where dirty play, looked at in a Machiavellian way, works:
- If you get away with it
- If you get your money’s worth and own what you did
Davison got neither.
Obviously Davison didn’t get away with it. In an era with cameras everywhere, it’s rare that will happen.
But let’s talk about point number two, remembering Marquette/Wisconsin is a rivalry. Not that Davison was paying attention, but during one timeout, the Golden Eagle mascot pie-faced a (presumably planted) Badger fan. We’ll discuss a postgame use of “Jump Around” next week. In a rivalry, acts of disrespect should be expected. It’s fair to say Marquette, even if moreso on an operational level than on the floor, was dissing the Badgers in many visible ways.
When there’s dirty play, it’s because there’s a potential benefit, and it should seek to maximize the benefit. Consider the simple case of a hard foul on a fast break to prevent an easy basket by a bad free-throw shooter. Ideally, on such a foul, you want to use as much force as possible without drawing the more-severe punishments of a technical or intentional call. You should make sure the guy misses, and if he “feels it” such that it affects his abilities the rest of the game, more power to the fouler.
Here, it’s important to re-emphasize: Hauser was perfectly fine after the play. All the results hurt UW. Against a rival — a team whose culture, colors, fans, game ops folks, you truly despise, and despise you — I would think you’d want to do as much damage as possible, if only to show you care about your side.
Some people call me crazy when I do this, but I’ve been known to defend the late Packers’ defensive end Charles Martin. For those who don’t know, Martin may have single-handedly kept the Chicago Bears from a dynasty in the mid-80s when he body-slammed cocky quarterback Jim McMahon well after an interception in a November 1986 game. McMahon’s shoulder was damaged so badly, he wouldn’t play again that year and would never be as effective. Even Buddy Ryan’s vaunted defense couldn’t overcome not having McMahon. The Bears slowly descended back to mediocrity during the following years.
After William “The Refrigerator” Perry scored then-laughable TDs against the Packers, and a bubbling hatred between coaches Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka nearly overflowed during a 1984 Milwaukee preseason game, Martin took matters into his own hands and sent a message he wholeheartedly meant: You’ve embarrassed me, my teammates, my team’s culture and fans, so I want to hurt you, accordingly and collectively. He followed through.
The Packers won two Super Bowls after that. The Bears haven’t returned to the top of the mountain since McMahon led them there. Search your soul: If I told you a single dirty action by a fairly disposable player (Martin was cut the following year) could potentially keep a rival from winning a tremendously disheartening title for nearly a third of a century, wouldn’t you be tempted to not only condone said action, but, perhaps with mixed emotions, even want it? In some way, after watching the Bears literally sing and dance about how much better they were than everyone else, treating others like Martin, Gregg and Packers fans with little respect in the process, didn’t stopping that have value?
Martin got, and gave Packers fans, what they wanted, whether they’ll admit it or not. Davison, meanwhile, caused more hurt for his team than to Hauser and got nothing more than a worse image.
Remember, we mentioned last week that most of Wisconsin, particularly the rural parts, consists of Badgers fans. Davison is from Fall River, Minn., so he’s not an in-state kid, but he embodies that scrappy, do-whatever-it-takes mentality many rural fans have bought into with Gard and Bo Ryan. For a lot of those fans, when a big-time, in-state recruit — Hauser, Henry Ellenson before him, etc. — chooses to not only forego Wisconsin, but pick Marquette, “that city school with the Chicago kids,” there’s a feeling the kid somehow betrayed the state’s culture. You can easily find proof on message boards and Twitter. As such, you can’t tell me there aren’t some who wish Davison would’ve done his best Samuel L. Jackson “A Time to Kill” impression postgame: “Yeah I swung, and my only regret is I didn’t swing harder.” There’s a reason people like good wrestling heels. They own their villainy.
But Davison’s on-court “What did I do?” reaction wasn’t that. He didn’t get away with it, he didn’t affect Hauser, and he tried to act innocent. The result: The only folks Davison made happy were his haters.
I think the game leaves Davison, and a lesser extent the Badgers, at a crossroad: What do you want to be? Do you want to win the right way? Or do you just want to win? How much do you care about doing what’s right? Or do you just want to be bad guys, and not even be good at that?
It’s not an easy spot for any individual or team after a tough loss. In a single moment, Davison chose an action. Now he must deal with the repercussions. He, and the Badgers, have more choices to make.
FINISHING OUT NON-CON: Marquette will take a week off for finals before facing North Dakota at 8 p.m. on Tues., Dec. 18 at Fiserv Forum.
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