19 Point Plan - #14: Build On Our History

Apr 6, 2010

Red's statue was a start.  Why it took 85 years to erect a statue to The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game we may never know, but at least it's there now.  And it's glorious.

That's a start.  But we need to do so, so much more.  We need to implant in the psyche of every coach, player, and fan in the entire country that Illinois Football should, can, and will be one of the top-30 programs in the entire country.  It must happen.  If no one else will take the mantle, I will.  I'll make it my life's work.

RedWe're Illinois.  Home of The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game. In this day and age, there's absolutely no reason we're not a perennial bowl team. History demands it.

The public needs to know. Recruits need to know. Most importantly, our players need to know. If I were in charge, the very moment the freshmen arrive on campus, the very first day, I would put them through the following 4-step program:

Step 1: Listen to the Ray Eliot "Proper State Of Mind" speech

Wait, what? You've never heard the Proper State Of Mind speech? Seriously? It's my ringtone (not really). I can't tell you how many calls I've missed because I waited to answer until after I heard "you've got a winner - YOU'VE GOT A WINNER" (seriously, this isn't true - but it should be).

If you haven't heard the speech, carve out 27 minutes tonight and listen to the speech. By the time he says the word "courage" in the very first minute, I already have goosebumps. By the time he gets to the Alan Ameche story, I'm ready to throw on some shoulder pads.

I would teach the freshman that this, first and foremost, is what Illinois Football is about. That this is the mindset that is expected from them if they want to play for this historic - yes, historic - program.

Step 2: Review the Big Ten Stadiums

I would hand out a list of the current stadium capacities:

Penn State: 107,282
Michigan: 106,201
Ohio State: 102,329
Wisconsin: 80,321
Michigan State: 75,025
Iowa: 70,585
Illinois: 62,872
Purdue: 62,500
Minnesota: 50,805
Indiana: 50,180
Northwestern: 49,256

I would tell them that Illinois was once the fourth largest stadium in the Big Ten (before Camp Randall added the upper deck), with as many as 78,000 fans attending games in Champaign. I would emphasize that hard times led to building campaigns that actually reduced seats, and that the current arrangement makes it the seventh largest stadium in the conference. I would show them expansion plans for a larger north endzone and a two-deck expanded permanent horseshoe, and let them know that their hard work and dedication would make it happen.  If you build (the program), they will come.

I would also discuss my Stadium Capacities Theory, which states that the preseason goal for each team in the conference is to finish close to their stadium capacity ranking. The seats were added because their predecessors were successful, and it is up to them to build on that. I would passionately emphasize that the current stadium capacity is 7th largest in the Big Ten, and that the 7th place team in the Big Ten nearly always makes a minor bowl, and the fancy PowerPoint slide I made would warp to reveal the words "Always Make A Bowl". We're Illinois Football. The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game played here. There's no excuse - none - not to be a perennial bowl team.  We have the facilities, recruiting base, and fan support that many others don't.  It's time to act like it.

Step 3: Review the recently released ESPN Top-25 College Football Players Of All Time list.

The programs on that list with more than one representative? USC, Texas, Stanford, Michigan, Pitt, Georgia, and ILLINOIS.  Dick Butkus at #19 and Red Grange at #1.  Yes, #1. The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game. Illini. Red Grange. Illinois.

I would take them through Red's entire career. I would have a large block of ice delivered to the room, and I'd call up the big defensive lineman from Joliet Catholic (we've locked up the State of Illinois by this point, you see) and have him hoist the block of ice on his shoulder. I'd tell the story of Red strengthening his legs by delivering ice for iceboxes. I would show them film of the famous Michigan game. I would show them trophies and newspaper articles from the 1923 National Championship. I would remind them that The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game played in the exact same stadium and on the exact same field.

At this point, I flip on the lights, and there stands Dick Butkus. He looks angry. The freshman wideout from Ohio dozed off during the Ray Eliot speech, and Mr. Butkus doesn't like people who doze off during Proper State of Mind. He's fiery, he's passionate, and he reminds every player what it means to put on the Orange and Blue. By the time he's finished, the middle linebacker from Texas (yeah, we recruit EVERYWHERE) is ready to put a helmet on and hit somebody.

Step 4: My Speech

Perfect natural progression, no?  Red Grange... Dick Butkus... Me.  Hey - my 4-step program, my rules.

I would start with a clip of David Williams breaking free down the sideline on Halloween in 1983, sending us to the Rose Bowl and locking down my Illinois loyalty for life.  I would talk about the feeling I had walking home from my grandmother's house (where I watched the game that day), knowing that I wanted to re-create that whole jumping up and down while watching the television thing as soon as possible.

I would reach back into history and read quotes from Grantland Rice on Grange and  Roger Ebert on Caroline and Jim Turpin on Nitschke and Will Leitch on Rice.  I would talk about Al Brosky's interception record and Chuck Boerio's "send Ameche at me!" and the demolition of UCLA in the 1946 Rose Bowl.

cue Battle Hymn of the Republic

I would bring it back to my personal Illini journey and talk about the low points of the past 25 years.  I would talk about Amani Toomer down the east sideline (it was a clip!) and Lee Gissendaner ruining Homecoming and Penn State's 96 yard drive.  I would bring up Terrance Smalls getting decked and Elmer Hickman getting Lavar Leaped and Ade Adeyemo versus concrete endcap.  I would not mock these players - I would simply mention that this is a difficult hill to charge, and the soldiers who have gone before have met stiff resistance.  I would talk about our touchdown on the last play to bust up a 43 point spread at Ohio State and 45-0 at Minnesota and 56-3 at halftime vs. PSU.  Depths to which we shall never return.

But I would also talk about the highs. I would talk about Thomas Rooks' 21-yard scamper and Ty Douthard dodging snowflakes and Rocky Harvey's dive into the endzone. Johnson-to-Klein to beat Michigan, Kittner-to-Lloyd to beat Wisconsin, and Juice on third down in the Horseshoe again and again and again.  George-to-Bellamy to clinch the Citrus, Johnson-to-Strong to clinch the Liberty, and Lloyd-to-Kittner to clinch the MicronPC.  Simeon around the corner and Rashard off tackle and Griffith up the middle.

I would tell them that Illinois fans don't have outrageous expectations - but that they can help us get there.  Right now, we just want a solid team that plays hard, competes week-to-week, and sends us somewhere warm for the holidays.  I'd talk about the atmosphere in Memphis in December of 1994 and in Miami in December of 1999 - not so different from the atmosphere in Pasadena in January 2008.  We travel well because there are tens of thousands of Illini football fans just waiting for the program to make the climb.  Just get us to the Insight Bowl on New Years Eve and we'll show up to Tempe in droves.

I would close with a simple picture of myself sitting alone in the east balcony, freezing, shirtless with a giant orange "N" on my chest, staring at nothing in particular, 25 minutes after Brian Milne went in from 4 yards out and #1 Penn State completed their comeback on November 12, 1994.  I resolved that day that this team would one day reach the mountaintop, and if there was any way I could help get us there, I would; the result of that moment was this speech.  I would tell them that there were tens of thousands just like me, waiting for that day.  That the University of Red and Ray and Dick and Simeon needs to take its rightful place.

The Greatest College Football Player In The History Of The Game played here. We owe it to him.


loyalillini on April 6, 2010 @ 09:58 PM

I love this and agree. But ...

  1. As long as Loren Tate sticks around tho you're gonna hear how Big Ten history won't let you dream and achieve that way (ie: only Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State can).
  2. And you are also gonna have to deal with Mr. Ron "Average is OK" Guenther who is getting his orders from the Admin/Trustees.

What is your plan for them?

streakthequad on April 7, 2010 @ 05:42 PM

Great post. To visualize your points, make this video required viewing:


Again and again and again

Erik on April 7, 2010 @ 05:59 PM

LOVED this post roughy. Another thing to add along the lines of Butkus/Grange: we have two retired numbers in football, who also happen to be our two guys on the greatest 25 players ever list. Display their jersey numbers! Christ almighty, the murals in the West Hall are great, the Grange statue is sublime, a Butkus status will be fantastic, but somewhere during Gameday, you should be able to look up and see "51" and "77" displayed prominently (my model for this is the way Wisconsin does theirs).

Chief4Life on April 12, 2010 @ 09:13 PM

I just listened to the "Proper State of Mind" speech. It was great. This was the first I had heard of it. When was it given and where was it give (i.e. for what occasion)? Thanks, and I enjoy the blog.

schiavonir on April 13, 2010 @ 08:52 PM

Wow. Just wow. I got goosebumps a half-dozen times reading this, just thinking about the potential we have. We SHOULD be a world-class program, and instead, we are a laughing stock. I really, really, really hope that someone in charge is listening to you. The "Believe" video linked above is a good start, and it screams "tradition", but I have a feeling that's been around a year or two and it has seemingly made no difference.

We DO have history. Let's believe in it!

On my to-do list: listen to "Proper State of Mind".

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