Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved Illinois athletics AND contrary to how I write about our athletic programs, I still do. Also before you ask, yes, that is me (as well as my Dad and Brother) at an Illinois football game, circa 2008… when Illinois was actually watchable… shoutout the GOAT ‘Juice’ Williams. This having been said, I can’t say it’s been that great of a ride so far. Most of U of I’s athletic programs have been a dumpster fire the last 3-4 ish years. 2013: Illinois basketball makes the tournament, beats Colorado, subsequently loses to Miami (FL). Typical. 2014: Illinois football makes the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, subsequently gets merked by LOUISIANA TECH. Again, typical. Since around then, not much has happened. I guess one could argue the NIT, but lets be honest, nobody gives a shit about that. Really the only bright spots Illinois has had over the past decade have been Illini Baseball, Golf, Women’s Volleyball, and that one guy on Wrestling who I swear has on Illinois POY for the past decade straight. In this blog I hope to give you, most likely a U of I student, some relatable points about Illini sports over the years. Just a disclaimer, the sports I’m referring to in this blog are primarily football and basketball, as well as a bit of golf. Lemme know your thoughts: if you agree, disagree, or have anything you’d add or subtract from this list.
1. BRING BACK THE CHIEF
Some people are under the impression that the Chief is cultural appropriation and what not. To me, that’s complete and utter bullshit, usually coming from people who a. have never seen a game with a Chief performance or b. people who just want to pick fights because they think they’re some sort of modern-day Braveheart for the Native American community. The Chief’s actions were always meant to honor the people of the Illini tribe, not belittle them. Whether its yelling ‘CHIEF’ while the band performs at football and basketball games or wearing relatives’ old t-shirts, the legend of Chief Illiniwek will never die in the hearts of the Illini faithful.
I understand the tremendous impact this statement/hashtag has had on alums and current students, but I’m still not its biggest fan as I’d love to see at least one bowl or tournament run before I leave the college ranks forever in a year and a half, and I don’t think thats too much to ask. On the flip side, it is true that good 18-year-olds will get thrown down by average 22-year-olds on a football field, thats just the nature of the game. Patience is a virtue, and our football program is testing it. EOD, I’ll give Josh Whitman the benefit of the doubt as he’s already a GOAT AD, and he’s already pushed some great moves that are starting to come together and look good at the end of the tunnel.
3. Golf is King
Look at our school. Champaign, IL, middle of the cornfields, hours away from civilization, and yet, we’re somehow a top program. Personally, I suck at golf. But, I respect the hell out of these kids who drive 300+ and sink 100 foot putts, that shit is damn near impossible. Mad props to whoever actually designs (not Nike) these polos every year are they’re absolute fire.
4. Illinois football… Yikes
Going to Illinois football games as a student makes me want to drink until I pass out. I get that thats a horrible thing to say, but if you’ve ever been to a game, you know why I say that. Throws into double coverage, blown routes, blown coverages, shitty attendance, horrible coaching (Beckman/Cubit) and atmosphere, the Illinois football program is a clusterfuck. All we can do is either a. go to block or b. pregame the living shit out of the games so we can chirp our own teams (lack of) ability. In many fan’s eyes’ Lovie can walk on water and lead Illinois football back to the promised land of god knows when we were last actually good. People forget that a. Bears fans wanted Lovie way the fuck away from their team and b. that he was was awful in his closing seasons with the Bucs. The only thing I gave him the benefit of the doubt on was recruiting as he has a recognizable name, so we’ll see on that.
5. “Who is our football team playing this week?”
Unless you’re an Illinois football hardo and you believe in all that trust the process stuff even after our 2-10 szn, the majority of students have no idea (and frankly no interest in knowing) who their football team is playing that particular week. If it’s not some garbage non-conference team, who we can’t seem to beat as of late, or Rutgers, who we couldn’t even beat at home this year, it’s not we’ll win any close contests anyway. Hell, we couldn’t even beat Purdue this year. Their mascot is some imaginary creature or something… but seriously what the fuck is a “Boilermaker”.
6. Trust the Process
It’s hard to be optimistic when you’re teams go 3-9 one season and then 2-10 the next. I get on Lovie a lot, a lot for some of the wild shit he says, but mostly for the things he forgets to say. However, actions speak louder than words, and the play of these freshman: Dorsey, Hayes, Hobbs, Roundtree, and Williams as well as major contributions from Mike Epstein and Ricky Smalling has the future looking much brighter than previously expected. Now all we need is a quarterback who can throw more than 3 passes before getting the 4th picked off or actually make decisions, hit holes, and act as “dual-threat” without getting tackled for a loss every other designed run.
7. FUCK NORTH CAROLINA
Am I still triggered over 2005? You bet your ass I am. Is this petty? Yep. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest. Fuck all North Carolina sports teams, I don’t care if I have to cheer for Ohio State, UNC will always have a special place of hatred in my heart. Roy Williams can honest to god fuck off with his tacky suit coats and crybaby antics on the sideline. Nut up dude, you’re almost 70 years old and you’re still throwing temper tantrums on the sideline like a pansy. You’re coaching one of the most historic teams in college basketball history, making over $2 million/year and yet you’ve still got to resort to recruiting and implementing dirty players and tactics. Key example: Tyler Hansbrough. And yes, I know he wasn’t on that 05′ UNC team, but he’s still muppet scum.
8. De-commits & Transfers
It’s an aggravating time to be an Illini basketball fan. Yes, getting Mark Smith was big for the program but those traitors Jeremiah Tilmon and Javon Pickett leaving hurts. Just when you thought our big man problem was fixed. On top of it all, former 4-star recruits DJ Williams and Jalen Coleman-Lands have also announced their intent to transfer, and that’s only for basketball. Since the end of the season two weeks ago in a miserable blowout to those nerds up north, star linebacker Tre Watson, offensive lineman Gabe Megginson, safety Patrick Nelson and defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo have all announced their intent to transfer, with more rumored. As much as I hate to see guys like Tre and Tito leave, can you really blame them? Of course from the outside looking in its easy to say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but for these young men, the sport is their life, and they’re going to do whatever they believe it takes for them to achieve their end goal if the professional football somewhere.
9. That fucker Bill Self
This guy…When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In the cases of Bill Self, this “going” meant leaving to new, better basketball schools. As much as I understand the grind of college coaching and using one job to get to the next, fuck that noise. The University of Kansas I can more understand but I still hate that traitor Bill Self more than 99% of people (e.g. Roy Williams, Tyler Hansbrough). I still don’t understand why you’d want to live in Lawrence, Kansas, a place even god couldn’t find on a map. In his case, for me, it’s kinda like that Batman quote from the Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, (stay at Illinois and become a legend) or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain (moving away to another team and leaving a trail of hate-filled fans from your old team)”. Fuck Kansas basketball.
10. That fucker Cliff Alexander
Words cannot describe how pissed off I was in this moment, which i’d probably note as the most steamed in my life as an Illinois basketball fan (minus the ’05 Nat’l Championship obviously). 1. Why the fuck would you do this, and 2. We lost the dude (5-star recruit mind you) to Bill fucking Self. End of the day, jokes on you bud. Bet Uncle Bill didn’t promise ya the D-League when he came to Curie that fateful day did he? I hear Wisconsin is a hell of a basketball state… but, what goes around comes around you sneaky cock.
11. The ‘U’ II: Illinois Edition
All I have to say is, how stupid can you possibly be. You tried to rob a room in Bromley and actually got recognized. For a bunch of nobodies on the football team, thats really a testament to your obviously horrible disguises/masks. Bad PR for the street smarts of Illinois football players as a whole.
12. Never-ending renovations to Assembly Hall (SFC/”The Farm”)
I’ve ranted about this before, and I get that they really did change a lot in their most recent renovation, but really Illinois? Closing the stadium for renovations in the middle of an NIT run so you can add a couple thousand seats? It’s not even like this was a one time deal. While I may be exaggerating, I feel like this has happened for the last five years in a row. Also, what is the text “New feature: Air conditioning” insinuating? Did we not have A/C? Name another D1 flagship state schools’ basketball arena that doesn’t have basic necessities for something that makes obscene amounts of money for the school.
13. Scalped tickets
Wanna sit at the 50 yard line for $10? Park two blocks away from the stadium for free because nobody gives a shit? Coupled this with an in-stadium atmosphere comparable to a Junior College and you’ve described scalped Illinois football tickets in a nutshell. Really though, why would you ever pay full price to go see an abysmal team that’s probably got as many people outside tailgating as there are inside watching. As sketchy as it sometimes may be, thank god for scalpers.
14. No night games
It sucks that night games are a rarity at Memorial, but honestly, to have a night game, it would have to be on TV somewhere and who would in their right mind would ever think putting Illinois football on primetime is a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, they’re the best atmosphere we’ll get and a lot of fun, but getting doubled up v. USF at night was not the greatest moment ever. Aside from Illinois and whatever team is luckily selected to beat the Illini senseless, that scheduling benefits no one. From a student’s perspective, keeping in mind that many students have to be at least buzzed to enjoy a football game at 11am in the sweltering heat, night games are key. Allowing students time to wake up and drink (probably) has a direct correlation with student fan attendance. Key example: 2016, Illinois v. North Carolina night game = full student section.
15. Card “stunts”…
This point isn’t to rag on the Block I blockheads. I mean, someone’s gotta try to encourage students to yell chants that do nothing to help the team and make them look like complete amateurs in the process. More to the card stunt portion. While they’re cool for the thousand seven-ten year-olds in attendance, they’re meaningless to everyone else in the stadium. This would be a major problem at a school that draws a decent audience to games but thankfully, Illinois football averaged 39,000 fans/game in 2017, so nobody is really even seeing it. Off topic, that number seems way too high for an average Illinois football game. You’re telling me Memorial was 75% filled for a game v. Rutgers? Purdue? Murray State? Not a chance in hell. Numbers guy must have been in Laska’s STAT 100 class where, if you’re not from U of I, you could go to class once every two weeks and get an ‘A’. Never change U of I.
16. Alums bragging about “the good ol’ days”
My Dad attended U of I from 1984-1988. During that time, Illini basketball qualified for March Madness four times, and Illini football went to three bowl games, including the Peach and Rose bowls. Even though they never won anything in that time, I’ve never heard the end of how much Illinois sports have changed and how much it was in the 80’s. Honestly, I don’t blame him. There’s a pretty good chance of me not seeing any bowl games or tournament appearances in my four years at UIUC. I’m sure many 2nd/3rd generation Illinois students can relate to this.
While I am excited for the Illinois v. Mizzou football series in 2026-2029? Yeah, definitely, but at that point, I’ll be working a full-time job and busy. The people who’ll see those games aren’t even out of high school yet, and I’m pretty sure I speak for most students when I say nobody really gives a shit about the supposed rivalries UIUC has with Northwestern (for Chicago’s team I think?) and Mizzou with basketball. Couple things. A. Northwestern has won 5/6 of the last football matchups. This idea, that Northwestern will just demolish us in football, has really just become common knowledge amongst students, who, because of this, really don’t seem to care about that rivalry. B. Mizzou BLOWS at basketball. Unlike U of I’s football matchups with Northwestern, students have come to realize we’re just going to beat Mizzou when we play them in basketball, so why go, or for that matter, even watch. I’m going to directly contradict myself right now as I’m looking forward to heckling that traitor Jeremiah Tilmon when the Braggin’ Rights basketball game comes around. Overall, I’m pretty surprised teams don’t want to start rivalries with us because a. we’re basically a substitute for a shitty non-conference team and b. well there is no b, we just suck and it’s an easy win (at least in football).
18. Brad “Mad” Underwood
I know it’s not an official nickname, but the man smashed his clipboard within the first 5 minutes of Sunday’s game v. Maryland, a power move if I’ve even seen one. As I’ve alluded to, we’re not experiencing our best stretch ever, but at least Big Brad keeps it close, if it were that MAC reject Groce, it we would’ve quit when we were down 20 at half. never-say-die attitude coupled with players who look like they know to play as a unit and not just Kicking and Screaming feed the ball to one star player and bank on his play and also actually give a fuck about playing hard and putting on a show for the fans will benefit recruiting, publicity, and our overall record/tourney chances in the near future.
19. Ayo IS the future
His snapchat may be dominated by shoes, pictures of orange juice, and NBA 2K scores, but don’t let that fool you. The Big Ten’s going to need some divine intervention to keep him down next year… this boy can drive, shoot, distribute, break ankles, play defense… he’s truly got it all like a modern-day Chris Paul (I’m sorry, I hate myself for that). Next winter, we are coming back with a vengeance not seen since the days of Brown – Williams – Head. Oh and that Ballislife mixtape? It’s from his Junior year.
(*Disclaimer* I don’t watch Parks & Rec) In the words of U of I alum Nick Offerman, “I regret nothing. The end.” I hope you enjoyed this installment of “(insert number here) things you know if you’re (insert school or area of living)”.
Long live the Chief + Viva.