My son was sick on Monday. Wasn't the piggy flu, but enough to keep him home from school. By 4:00, though, he was feeling better and dying to join his friends for a mud football game down at the park. The parental response is automated in this situation - "Sick enough to stay home from school, sick enough to stay home from mud football". Making things worse for him, his friends walked past our house on their way to the park. Absolute torture. They're laughing, shoving each other into the street, tossing a football - and he's stuck leaving nose prints on the window.
That's me right now. So much so that I couldn't write about it for the last three days. The brief respite of the Michigan win and the Minnesota victory have faded away and I'm left staring at 3-7. A kid in an Iowa hoodie tosses a football to a kid in a Northwestern t-shirt as they walk down the street towards bowl season, and I'm leaving nose prints.
I think my emotions are nearly identical to his. My son was likely standing there trying to come up with a deal we might accept. "I'll do all of my brothers chores until Thanksgiving if you just let me go play for 20 minutes". I'm there, pal. I'd give my left kidney to toss on my Illini sweatshirt, burst out the door, and scream "hey fellas - wait up!" But I can't. And it's killing me.
I know this recurring whinefest is getting old, but it's where I'm at. I was more excited about this Illini football season than any season in 15 years. Like most of you, I was concerned that a poor defense might sabotage a great offense - never in a million years did I think we'd be 104th in scoring offense.
To make matters worse, I saw this today. Two possible first round picks on your offense, a 4-year starting QB, your easiest Big Ten schedule in a generation, and you're 3-7 (2-6)? George is gettin' upset.
Missouri lost at home to Baylor and is currently 2-4 in the Big 12. Ohio State lost at Purdue. Penn State needed a tipped pick-6 to beat Indiana at home. Michigan State has stumbled to 6-5. Indiana and Purdue won't be going bowling. Northwestern lost to Syracuse. If ever there was a Big Ten schedule for an Illinois team to take advantage of, it was this one. No Iowa, no Wisconsin, only one road game against a top-tier team. And all in a down year for the Big Ten.
Injuries to Tez, Miami, and Donsay? Meh. Everybody has injuries. And besides, the defense has been exactly what we needed them to be in order to go play on the beach in Florida on New Years Day. Two years ago we gave up 22 points at home to Northwestern and won 41-22. This year we gave up 21 points... and lost 21-16. The Purdue game should have been a 38-24 victory. Nope - 24-14 loss. We put up 55 points on Indiana last year. This year? 14. WITH THE SAME PLAYERS.
The worst part? We have a promising hoops team with a very promising future, and I can't enjoy it yet. Two games into his career and Brandon Paul is starting to show up in first round mock drafts on ESPN.com (yes, seriously), and yet here I am crying over spilled Juice. Shameful.
But it is what it is. Doesn't kill me so it makes me stronger and all that. It's random, but I often think of a Rutgers/Louisville Thursday night game in 2006. After 25+ years of absolute futility, Rutgers is finally ranked. They're tied 25-25 with less than a minute to go, and they line up to kick the winning field goal. I remember the crowd got really, really quiet, not wanting to get ahead of themselves. They'd been hurt a dozen times before when they got their hopes up. The Rutgers kicker lines up to kick it and... wide left. Tens of thousands of fans all thinking the same thing: "of COURSE he missed it - this is Rutgers football".
BUT WAIT. Louisville jumped offside. Re-kick, 5 yards closer. This time, right down the middle. And 45,000 New Jerseyans let out a lifetime of frustration in one loud, sustained roar. It remains the greatest field-rushing I've ever seen.
We've had some great moments in Champaign. David Williams down the east sideline. The comeback vs. Wisconsin to push us towards the Sugar Bowl. The back-to-back Penn State/Wisconsin wins in 2007 to propel us to the Rose Bowl. But we've never cleared the hump. Every time we get close, we run out of gas, lose our brakes, and fly backwards down the hill (with devastating consequences).
Since the re-kick and the field rush, Rutgers hasn't missed a bowl. They're currently 7-2 behind a stud freshman quarterback and likely headed to 9 or 10 wins (and their 4th consecutive bowl). I'm so jealous.
Will we ever get there? Yes. Will it feel great to finally let it all out? Yes. Will I rush the field? Absolutely. A thousand optic yellow coats won't be able to hold me back.