Braggin’ Rights

Normally when I sit down to write something that I know will be published, I do my best to leave my emotions out of it. This isn’t going to be one of those times. This might not even make sense to anyone but I don’t care. I just need to get some words off my chest.

It took me awhile, but I finally came to grips with it at roughly 2am central European time. The Braggin’ Rights game had just ended, my grainy internet feed that took up 4×4 inches of my laptop screen had just went out, and the emotional rollercoaster I was on had come to a stop at an Illini victory.

It was a night of emotions I’ve never felt before. It was the night that the dreaded epiphany finally came, and that I was finally in a mindset to accept it.

My evolution from Illini player to Illini fan was complete.

Maybe I should have realized it sooner, but I was in denial. The pushups I was doing last night in-between breaks of play to calm my nerves should have been a telltale sign. If not that, then definitely when I was resolved to bringing my computer outside in the below freezing temperature because I couldn’t handle the heat that was radiating from my own body.

In the span of a couple of hours, I came to grips that being an Illini fan is as good as it gets from here on out AND that I’m completely okay with it.

Here’s my night explained in the 5 stages of grief:

Denial – This feeling came as I was anxiously awaiting tip-off. This was the biggest game of the year for me. Always. The one I had circled on my calendar every year. And I was not there. I couldn’t believe I would be missing my first Braggin’ Rights game in 10 years, let alone not suiting up for it.

Anger – This came next. I’m not normally a jealous person, but that’s exactly what I felt – an overwhelming sense of jealousy as I saw everyone I knew at the game. I should be there! I should be in the locker room. I should be hearing coach Groce’s pregame speech. I was so jealous it made me not want to text one of my best friends after I saw him sitting courtside!

Bargaining – I thought that, maybe if we win, my feelings of anger would be forgiven. The anger from losing to them for four straight years would hurt a little bit less. I actually did the math in my head that if I continue my professional career for just five more years, I’d get to go to the game in 2018! That doesn’t seem too far away. At least I have my faithful Illini contingent on Twitter that I can share my feelings with during the tough times.

Depression – It feels weird to say this after we had won the game, but as I sat in my apartment, in the dark, all alone, 5,000 miles away, all I thought about were the celebrations taking place without me. I wanted to be there. Again, I should be there. I felt forgotten. The realization that I’m not a part of the team anymore had finally set in. I was now just another fan that wears his emotions on his twitter feed.

Acceptance – The craziest part of this whole thing may be that I had forgot what I had been told my entire Illini career – once you’re an Illini, you’re a part of the Illini family for life. I don’t know what made me forget that. I don’t know why. But when I woke up the next day after only a few miserable hours of sleep, a text from my former head coach made everything right in the world.

“This one was for you Griff.”

All it took was six words to make me feel included again. I wasn’t forgotten. I was a part of the family. How could I have forgotten that? Those words meant everything to me. There’s no way he could have known the type of night I was having. All of a sudden, I felt like I WAS in that locker room celebrating with the guys. I WAS in that arena last night. When I get back to Champaign this summer, that trophy sitting in Ubben WILL be held by me. I’m not just a fan, I’m family and I always will be. I’ll always be in those locker rooms. I’ll always be sitting courtside. I’ll always be just as emotionally attached to these games now as I was when I was playing.

Because of this realization, it will be an extra special holiday season for me.

Here’s to the many more Illini victories to come and a Merry Christmas to all that is Illini.

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Thanks to Joe for making me feel included as well. The tweet he sent along with this photo read, “U mad bro?”

Comments

  1. Great post Griff, we’re lucky to have guys like you in the Illini family. I-L-L!

    • Amen to Kes1154′s comments!!!! Guys like Griff are what we need more of….true and dedicated to Illinios!!!! I’ll take a TEAM of those over the “One and Done” any day :)

  2. Thanks for sharing, good stuff. and man, love that Groce reached out. Great night.

  3. Hoops McCann says:

    Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great stuff Tyler. You will always be an Illini

    Merry Christmas to you too

  5. Thank you Tyler for many great Illini moments. You were fun to watch. And great post.

  6. Thank you Mr. Griffey for a very good post. As an Illini fan, Tracy’s two cool as ice free throws to win this game are going to be a sweet memory for a long time Scoring the game winning points to upset a nationally ranked team is a rare feat that tends to be well remembered over time. They are highly treasured moments for the fans. But then maybe you know something about that, eh?

  7. Griffinator says:

    There may be only one thing better than being an Illini fan on days like these, and that is being an Illini player and an Illini fan. It really has to be sweet. Thanks for your special insights, Griff.

  8. Thanks for all memories griff , especially the Indiana game , go illini !

  9. lucasmeducas says:

    I thought of you when I watched the horn sound. I wish you could have won one of these but in reality you did last night. I appreciate all of the hard work you put in over the years. You will always be a part of the Illini family. You’ll never be alone because of that. I’m proud to have a coach like John Groce who took the time to remind you of that. God bless you in your career in Austria!

  10. Illinigrad says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

    “Two cool” written in a post above is really so cool — winning with two free throws.

  11. Illini fandom – you may do one million pushups over the course of this journey. Welcome aboard! In Groce we trust.

    And continued good luck overseas.

  12. Thanks TG for posting for us.

    Welcome to the Fandom. I understand pushups during timeouts, running a laps around the building during halftime or after the game, staying awake for hours after wins and losses, waiting for postgame videos to post.

    I can’t explain it. Why can I turn on a Maryland vs. Boston U game and mute it while I wrap Christmas gifts, but in a 3 hour window of an Illini game (and most of the day of the Braggin Rights game, I’m from Missouri too) my heart is pounding out of my chest? At tip, I have more energy than at any other time in my adult life.

    It can’t be explained. You will feel like this every year, for every game. It doesn’t fade, nor should you want it to.

    Go Illini, and best of luck TG. Keep posting.

  13. HiggsBoson says:

    Thanks for sharing , Tyler. Your articles are always interesting and enjoyable. Have a Merry Christmas!

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