Pick My Post - Pick My College Years

Apr 18, 2018

Just your normal 17 hour day today. I have about 45 minutes before I crash, so I asked for a Pick My Post on Twitter. Lots of good responses, but I chose this one. If I could move my college years to any span of years in the Illini timeline, what would it be?

Here's the full question:

If you could move your college years at U of I to any equal span of years of Illini sports timeline, what would it be?

-- Sam (@JustSamTweets) April 19, 2018

First off, I'm glad Sam said "equal span of years" because that gives me five years, not four. I can still remember the moment when I decided to go on the five year plan. Early in the first semester of my sophomore year, I'm really struggling with a class because the normal professor was on sabbatical so the angry old department head was teaching the class. And he was going to teach us lazy kids how people used to learn back in the 1960's. I'm studying with this girl who had taken the class with the other professor the year before and she says "why don't you just drop the class, go on the five-year plan, and take it again next fall when the other professor returns?". I literally packed up my backpack right there, went home, dropped the class the next day, called my parents to tell them I was officially on the five year plan, and that was that.

So, five years. Where do I find the best five years? Obviously the first year that jumps out is 1983/84. We go undefeated in the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl, and then we win the Big Ten in basketball and go to the Elite Eight (where we were forced to play Kentucky AT Rupp Arena in the game that changed the rule and teams could no longer play on their home court in the NCAA Tournament). Rose Bowl/Elite Eight with two Big Ten titles is hard to beat. It almost has to be on there.

But I also remember 1999/2000 so fondly. Fall of 1999 was such a breath of fresh air. We had seen 2-9 and then 0-11 and then 3-8. So when we beat Louisville that September to go to 3-0, I remember where I was when I was telling my roommate "uh, we're totally going to a bowl game and then with Frankie Williams and Marcus Griffin and Brian Cook joining the basketball team I'm pretty sure we're going deep in the Tournament and HOLY CRAP ILLINI ATHLETICS ARE BACK."

In recent memory, I'd say five years spanning both the 2005 NCAA Tournament and the 2007 Rose Bowl season would be a good move. Maybe something like five years where I enter school in 2003/04 and graduate in 2007/08. That gives me the 2004 Deron Is Too Pretty To Beat Cincinnati run to the Sweet 16, the greatest season in Illini basketball history in 2005, and the 2007 run to the Rose Bowl. That's a pretty good run.

Is it better than being a freshman in 1983/84 up through 1987/88? Win the Big Ten in both sports your freshman year (can you imagine? Seriously, with what we've had to endure this decade, CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?), and then you still get the Ken Norman basketball teams, the 1985 Peach Bowl (and the Sweet 16 in 1985), with the only drawback being your final two years you saw these great basketball teams lose to Austin Peay in the first round (oof) and then 6-seed Villanova in the Round of 32 your final year. And that's all while the football team had to rebuild after the Mike White sanctions (which they did, quite well, but just not while you were in school).

Of course, maybe I should center this around the 1989 Final Four and the 1990 Big Ten football title. I entered school in the fall of 1991, and I only got to see one NCAA Tournament win (Long Beach State, 1993 tournament) and one bowl win (1994 Liberty Bowl). So if I was going to include the '89 Final Four and the 1990 Big Ten football co-championship (Iowa went to the Rose Bowl on a tiebreaker), maybe I'd do 1987/88 through 1991/92?

But I'm not going with any of those. I'm going back to the 1950's. Was Deluxe there in the 1950's? It was? So I can head up to Deluxe on Friday night to shoot pool with my pals while chatting up the girl in the poodle skirt? I'm in.

Make my freshman year 1948/49. Get me to walk around campus singing "Over there, over there, send the word, send the word, over there" as I celebrate the recent victory in Europe (wait, was "Over There" World War I? I think it was.). Anyway, the Baby Boom is about to start and I'm a fresh-faced freshman with a crew cut (stunningly similar to my 1991 self) moving into Taft or Van Doren in the fall of 1948.

What do I get to see? THREE FINAL FOURS AND A ROSE BOWL. I mean, sure, maybe they weren't on television back then, but you know me - I would have traveled to the games. Freshman year I get a Final Four, sophomore year Illinois is 4th in the Big Ten in football and 3rd in basketball, junior year we go to the Final Four AGAIN, senior year we go to the Rose Bowl and Final Four the same year, (and we won the Rose Bowl and one of the services used at the time named us National Champions). And then my fifth year, OK, a step back (well, basketball finished 2nd in the Big Ten, but football finished 6th), but after I graduated we won the Big Ten again (in football) in '53 and finished 3rd in basketball that winter.

So that seems like the easy choice. I'd tell my grandkids about Andy Philip, Johnny "Red" Kerr, and Johnny Karras. I'd hop on trains to get to Pasadena (or the Final Four). My best friend? That's easy: 1951 football captain Chuck Studley.



Groundhogday on April 18 @ 11:48 PM CDT

Matriculated in 1981. What an incredibly exciting time for football and basketball, particularly for a townie who grew up watching a lot of bad Illinois sports teams.

blackdeath on April 19 @ 05:52 AM CDT

I graduated in 1989 and, as a townie, had enjoyed 8 years of season tix in basketball and football through high school and college. I knew Illinois had sucked in the 1970s but by my time it seemed like Illinois sports would forever be Tailgreat, sell-out crowds that literally swayed the upper deck of Memorial Stadium, bowl games every year, top 3 NCAA seeds, recruiting victories, Border War winning streaks, and so on. It was a great time to be a young Illini fan.

bradidas on April 19 @ 06:08 AM CDT

I was a freshman in the fall of 2000, went to New Orleans to the Sugar Bowl over my first collegiate winter break. Spent a weekend the month before finals my 5th year in St. Louis at the Final Four National Championship. In between the football team struggled (5-7, 1-11, 3-8, 2-9) and hoops won the B1G in 4 of the 5 seasons I was on campus and finished 2nd in the bad season. Somehow I now consider myself a bigger football fan than hoops!

Dcsthree on April 19 @ 06:14 AM CDT

I was in The class that started in 2003, only went 4 years though. Those 4 years saw the basketball run but it also saw 8 football wins. Total. They then won over 8 the year after I graduated and went to the rose bowl

Sweetchuck13 on April 19 @ 08:41 AM CDT

Great post, and can't argue a ton with your choice. I was there 1999-2003, but I don't think I'd trade it at all. 1988-1992 might be close, but that era was still pretty fun even just as a kid. But I think I was pretty lucky with my 4 years on the athletics front.

In football, 1999 not only had the surprising MicronPC.com bowl and the 2001 Sugar Bowl/B1G title season, but 2000 and 2002 were legitimately fun years too. 2000 obviously spiraled after the Michigan non-fumble game, but that atmosphere was the best I've ever seen in Memorial Stadium. And 2002 was fun as well (despite the San Jose St.) loss. I think we still went 4-4 in conference but didn't go to a bowl because of a poor start. But taking #1 tOSU to overtime is still one of my favorite football memories (I still think Walter Young caught it). Overall football was 28-19 over 4 years - by far the best 4 year stretch we've seen in decades. And I think you could argue, may have been the last time Illini football truly "mattered" nationwide (I'm guessing most non-Illini fans see 2007 as a total fluke and didn't really pay attention that year).

And then basketball - what needs to be said? HRF, Sergio, Marcus, Cook, Cory, Arch, Damir, Luuuuuke, Harrington, and obviously both Kruger and Self at the top of their games. A couple of Big Ten titles, and I think our seeds were #4, #1, #4, #5 (or something like that). And my favorite part - our pure invincibility at Assembly Hall. No one could beat us there - they knew it, and we knew it.

tubbs81 on April 19 @ 04:01 PM CDT

I was there the same years (99-03). Enjoyed it immensely. Came in not being very active or knowledgeable fan of Illini sports but was diehard by end of freshmen year in the 6-pack.

My brother is a junior right now and his experience is so different. Only went to a game I took him to two years ago. He’s a sports fan but we’re so irrelevant not only nationally but to the student body compared to before. Can’t blame the students, who haven’t seen an NCAA tournament team or Bowl game, almost every other power 6 school would have one of those in 3 years.

ahamm445 on April 19 @ 09:13 AM CDT

in the early 50s refs still called games against black teams/players....

MackCondor on April 19 @ 09:25 AM CDT

I was there from 04/05 - 07/08 and was able to go to the Sixteen through the championship game my freshman year. I thought I was going to be living the high life throughout college.

After only missing a couple home football games during my four years that trip to Pasadena felt earned my senior year.

It was a stretch with a ton of frustrating results, but the bookend years made it all worth it.

Alaskan Illini on April 19 @ 12:57 PM CDT

Not being a native of Illinois, I have to say I bonded to the UofI immediately upon arriving the fall of '82. It still boggles the mind when I think of the great experiences I had as an "older", married student (I'd already served 7 years on active duty) and the sports experience I'd just walked into. Lou's teams were always competitive by the time I arrived to see EJ, Derek Harper, Doug Altenberger, Efrem Winters, et al and the unadulterated joy I got from watching them play, and then of course the football team under Mike White helped define my love for the O&B. I'll never forget the disappointing loss to Missouri to start the season in '83, and then the excitement of running through the entire Big10 schedule undefeated, only to lose to an unranked UCLA team 45-9.

Because I didn't have the extended experience/history of Illinois sports, I had no idea that we would return to those hardscrabble roots, and have only very short and infrequent return to the unbelievable early '80's. Sure, there were the Flying Illini in '89 (I missed the loss to scUM on a business rip to Europe), the minor bowl games here and there, the success of Kruger and Self leading up to the magical 2005 season, and finally the 2007 Rose Bowl - oh yeah, we got spanked 49-17 in that game, but at least USC was ranked in the top 10.

It has been painful at times these last 35 years, especially the last dozen, but I have hopes that we'll once again see the Beloved going to tournaments and bowl games, and hoisting banners. Hope . . . . maybe that's enough. . . I hope.

Illinimac68 on April 19 @ 06:20 PM CDT

I began my college career hoping for a football championship repeat since the team had been to the 1964 Rose Bowl, even though there would have been no bowl for us because of the no-repeat rule. I also watched Don Freeman, Bogie Redman, Skip Thoren, Tal Brody et al at basketball though I missed the beatdown of UCLA to begin the season. I ended up watching teams ravaged by the slush fund though we inexplicably beat tOSU in Columbus. One of my favorite memories was running eventual co-champ IU out of the Assembly Hall; people had signs complaining about the Big Ten which I think led to the policy of no signs in the Assembly Hall.

ATOillini on April 19 @ 07:02 PM CDT

Awesome picture. Great post. I like the fact you went out of that "during my lifetime" comfort zone. I think you made an excellent choice. I admit to being absolutely amazed we've never won a national championship in hoops. Too many great teams in the past. The 3 obvious ones....

1) "The Whiz Kids ('42-'43): "Illinois won the Big Ten Conference Title and had finished the regular season as the nations' top ranked team. Paced by a group of players known as the Whiz Kids, the team consisted of 20-year-old All-America forward Andy Phillip and teenagers Ken Menke, Gene Vance, Jack Smiley and team captain Art Mathisen. These players were so dominant in the Big Ten, that only Northwestern's Otto Graham could crack the all-conference team.[2]

The Army drafted Mathisen, Menke and Smiley. That left only Vance and Phillip, both good enough to be selected to Illinois' All-Century team. Head coach Doug Mills made a decision in February 1943 that all five always supported, the club did not participate in either the NCAA or NIT tournament."

2) Flyin' Illini....Destroyed Michigan twice in the regular season only to lose to the same substitute coached team in the Final Four. Seriously? Can't argue the Wolverines had talent as several became NBA players, but that Illini team had bench players that would be stars on many other squads we've had.

3) Dee/Deron/Luther....The refs. Augie. Sean May charging 10 times and never being whistled. NC shoots 9 for 16 from 3 and we're 12 for 40. The refs. The refs. The refs.

Norcal Illini on April 19 @ 07:47 PM CDT

While I was still in college in the early 70s and most of our teams were still lousy, our family dentist who attended the U of I in the late 1920s told me about how good everything was in the early 50s. It must have been the junior year you mentioned, but he said one school year the Illini not only won the Big Ten football and basketball championships but also baseball and indoor and outdoor track.

Not to rub it in, Robert, but my five year plan included getting a masters degree. Unfortunately, though, the only Big Ten championship we won in those five years was outdoor track my senior year (fencing doesn't count). Football had one year above .500 and basketball was good the first couple years when Nick Weatherspoon was there.

For me, the early 80s would have been the best time to attend because I followed those teams closely and saw the programs turn around from the dismal years when I attended.

track on April 19 @ 10:31 PM CDT

48/49 you picked a great era. Illinois was a track and field powerhouse in those days. Herb McKenley finished in '47. He set a world record at 440 yards in 1948 and medaled in the O.ympics. He is probably the most accomplished track alum.

I think Bob Richards, the two time Olympic pole vault gold medalist also finished in '47.

Sweetchuck13 on April 20 @ 09:08 AM CDT

By the way Robert - do you ever save some of the #PickMyPost suggestions that you don't use for possible future posts? Seems like there's always a couple that you don't pick that would be fun topics - especially now during the spring/summer "slow" time without a lot of news.

Worra89 on April 20 @ 10:37 PM CDT

My time there was 85-89. Spectacular atmosphere at all football and basketball games. Part of the fun is watching the sports as an alumni, and talking trash to your co-workers...provided your team is still good/great. From that perspective, I'm perfectly happy with the time I went to school.

GilThorpe on April 21 @ 03:38 PM CDT

I started as a frosh in fall 1979. Saw a bad Illini team coached by Moeller lose to a bad Navy team on Dads Day. By the time I was a senior in fall 1982, we got lucky in the student ticket lottery and got 4 tickets on the 38, 2 rows up from the edge of the balcony. That place was rocking that year, literally. We could feel the thing moving up and down from the rhythmic jumping. Basketball had become real fun to watch then too, after being rather ordinary , yet good to okay my freshman year.

But football had become real fun to watch under Mike White. Crowds were big. Sellouts or almost , every game.

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