Postscript, Eastern Michigan
I don't have any tattoos.
It's not for lack of wanting one. I think they look cool, and I'm envious of anyone who can pull them off.
My issue has always been permanence. I've never been convinced that I'll feel so strongly about something for the rest of my life as to put it on my body forever. Outside of my son, who will never let me out of his sight, and my wife, who likes me just enough to keep me around, the list of permanent things I've been able to come up with has been very short.
Recently, I decided on one thing, though. The Alma Mater. Not the bronze, pristine Alma Mater hanging out on the quad these days, but the green, grimy Alma Mater of my days on campus. For years I always just assumed the statue was that seafoam color. If we're being honest, I kind of liked it better that way.
I grew up a Cardinals fan and a Blues fan and a Rams fan (unfortunately) and an Illini fan, and while I still care about all those teams (minus the Rams) to a varying degree I don't want my first tattoo to be a sports team logo. Interest changes and wanes and intensifies with time, and if I don't care about the Blues in 10 years, I just don't think I'll want a Stanley Cup tattooed on my chest.
The University of Illinois holds a special place in my heart, though. It's not just the home of my favorite football and basketball teams, but it's also where I grew up, and where I got an education, and where I got an education. Champaign-Urbana is one of my favorite places in the world. Things change, but in the decade-plus since I've been gone my affinity for that place hasn't.
That's what makes what happened this past Saturday so hard for me and Robert and everyone. This means so much to so many. We wait, and we hope, and we dream -- of a bowl, of a Saturday night win under the lights, of a return to national prominence -- and then a fourth-year coach with a group of upperclassmen starters loses a home game to a MAC team. And we're barely further along than we were four years ago.
One thing I'm not worried about with getting a tattoo is the pain. It turns out, my tolerance is pretty high.
-It's not just me, either.
You read Robert's thoughts about hope on Saturday, so you know where he's at. On their postgame podcast, the Illini Inquirer guys went in on Lovie and the performance. Text messages with friends took on desperate tones.
It's because we all recognize what this means. Through Lovie's first three years, every exasperating loss came with a caveat. 2016? He's gotta find his guys. 2017? Incredibly young team finding their way. 2018? They're better, but they're just not there yet. They're still young, remember?
None of those caveats -- many of which were legitimate, despite what some fans might say -- exist in 2019. Lovie has had four years to install his system. Almost all the starters are upperclassmen. The talent is upgraded. The time to start seeing results is now.
A loss to Eastern Michigan at home means that they're still not there, and that time is running out to show that they're getting there, nevermind that they may never get "there" under Lovie because he isn't the one to get them there. We've been making excuses for three years because we hoped -- there's that word again -- that this journey would have a worthwhile ending.
There have been other losses that have called into question whether the journey would have a happy ending. For me, though, and I think for many others, this is the most disappointing one of the Lovie era.
-I can't help but wonder how we'd feel today if they'd have found a way to win that game.
There would be a sense of doom, sure, as though they'd snatched another victory from the jaws of defeat. (And rightly so.) But they'd also be 3-0 and winning cures what ails and we would all be pretty content with, if also concerned about, the result of the non-conference schedule.
They didn't deserve to win, didn't deserve our contentment, and so I'm not even saying I hope they would have. It's just interesting how the bounce of a ball -- if the EMU kicker had shanked the game-winning field goal try, as Martin O'Donnell thought he did on the radio call (thanks for the false hope, Martin), and the Illini had won in overtime -- can have such an impact on our feelings about the season.
-The frustrating part about the game is that the opportunities were there, but the execution wasn't.
Brandon Peters can make some beautiful throws, but this version of Peters -- great throw, terrible throw, bad decision, great throw, missed read, great throw, sack -- seems to be who he is. The good, obviously, are throws like the back-shoulder touchdown to Ricky Smalling and the fourth-and-10 dime to Josh Imatorbhebhe. The bad is ... mostly everything else.
His protection didn't help. Watching the film breakdown, the offensive line had a rough day. They still managed 464 yards of offense, but it could have been and should have been more, especially some of the running plays. The backs did a good job racking up 167 rushing yards without much help.
-Dele Harding had a good day overall. One of the few bright spots, with Imatorbhebhe, Reggie Corbin, Daniel Barker and James McCourt. He's a weapon in run defense and on blitzes. Pass coverage is another story, but I like seeing Harding flying around in the backfield.
-I could go on about the minutiae of Saturday's game -- the defensive ends acting like they'd never defended a read-option before, all the penalties, the decision to even kick a 57-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 from the opponent's 39-yard line -- but it feels like there's been enough of that for now.
A win Saturday under the lights against Nebraska doesn't wash away the EMU loss, but it does help. And, as Robert noted, it's absolutely an Illinois thing to do to beat a traditional power after losing at home to a MAC team.
If the Eastern Michigan loss served any purpose, perhaps it was to wake the team up ahead of Saturday night's game. Surely nobody felt good after last Saturday, and this week of practices will likely be heated (quite literally).
This was supposed to be their opportunity to put themselves back on the map in college football, if not nationally at least regionally.
Now, it potentially represents one of the last chances to right the ship, before the whole crew goes under.
Hail to the Orange.