Smile Politely

Illini Football, you’re killing me

Can you feel it? Soon, the warm humid weather that holds Champaign-Urbana hostage will be a thing of the past, and the world will once again start to become populated with the amber-colored leaves that accompany autumn. Of course, as a college town, C-U will soon become buzzing with a population that has been on break for the past couple of months, and all of a sudden it will be impossible to drive down Green Street, again.

Growing up in nearby Monticello, I have fond memories of the fall here in Central Illinois.  Perhaps one of the most integral parts of that season, at least in my memory, was football – more specifically, Illini football. I’m never sure I’ll be able to forget the famed away victory at Michigan when I was a child, nor the runs of Rocky Harvey, the throws of Kurt Kittner or the tackles of J Leman. Going to games growing up was monumental; as a resident of Central Illinois, the Illini are like our professional team.

Back then, we had teams that competed regularly on a national scale. The basketball team was constantly nationally relevant under the leadership of Bill Self and the beginning of Bruce Weber’s term, and the Ron’s (Turner and Zook) both had at least marginal success making Illinois’ football team part of the national conversation. Under both Rons, we went to multiple BCS bowls, something that seems so far out of the realm of possibility this offseason that I’d be comfortable betting my left leg on it not happening.

During this time, Illinois was exciting. No, they didn’t sell out every game like their SEC counterparts, but they consistently had players going to the NFL, and games were marginally exciting. I mean, shit, we went to the Rose Bowl less than 10 years ago. Remember how cool that was?

Lately, however, these memories have faded and the taste of the Illini Football program has soured. Maybe it’s the fact that our student section’s low attendance has (justifiably) been made a national laughing stock, and as a result, student morale is extremely low. Perhaps it’s our current head coach, who was caught chewing tobacco on the sideline, has been penalized for interfering with the refs multiple times, and is currently embroiled in accusations of athlete abuse. As a student during all of Beckman’s tenure, I can safely attest that he has lost the faith of the vast majority of the student body, and probably the community, as well.

Late summer is the time when no sports are going on, save the occasional Olympic year, and I usually try to find something to be excited about for the next fall – but this year, I’m finding it harder than ever to find excitement in Illini football. I don’t really care about Camp Rantoul, and the shine that accompanied Wes Lunt’s central Illinois debut has seemed to wear off. Now it just feels like he’ll probably crumble behind a cardboard offensive line, and never have a chance to show his true potential against skilled opponents.

I hate being a negative fan – I really do. I hope nothing more than to be proven wrong, and for Timmy B and the Illini squad to go out there and get us to the College Football Playoff (or maybe even just a decent bowl game), but you and I both know that a Red-Grange-Shaped ice sculpture stands a better chance in the desert than we do in the grand scheme of college football this year.

Sports are fun because they’re so exciting. The fact that a game can captivate so much of popular culture shows that there is at least some inate human value to be placed in spectatorship, but when Illinois’ entire recent history has been filled with disappointment and scandal, it sure makes it hard to get excited about the next football season. I’ve been a fan all my life, and I’ll never stop, but it sure would be easier if it were more enticing. I guess I’ll just buy my horseshoe tickets and hope for an upset.

(Photo of Memorial Stadium courtesy of USA Today, Photo of Tim Beckman courtesy of ESPN, Photo of Tim Beckman courtesy of

More Articles