No Sweet Tea
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I've talked about sweet tea before. It's a term used in my family, and it's hard to explain, but it's all that's on my mind this afternoon. When we go around the room and talk about our "sweet tea" (I'll explain in a bit), my answer is always a fall college football Saturday.
(Yes, this will be one of those posts. I'm trying to process all of this, so I'm going to tell you how I feel. You might identify with it, but you might also "oh good grief" it. Consider this your fair warning.)
Since I've written about this before (while on vacation with my wife experiencing her personal Sweet Tea), I'll just do a quick cut-and-paste from that post:
That's a family term. Several years ago, our oldest son had a summer routine which included a trip to McDonald's every day for a $1 Sweet Tea. Many of you are like this with Starbucks, or Diet Coke, or Jack Daniels: once you have it in your hand, everything is fine with the world. For my son, that summer, it was $1 Sweet Tea from McDonald's. If we were taking a weekend trip, he was unsettled until we drove by a McDonald's for a sweet tea - then he was good.
One night, that conversation expanded to life. What's your perfect scenario? Everything might be unsettled, but as long as that one thing is happening, all is good. It's your sweet tea.
For me, it's an Illini football Saturday. I fully realize how silly that sounds given our record the last 20 years, but that's my sweet tea. Autumn is my favorite season, football is my favorite sport, college my favorite variety of that sport, and Illinois is my favorite school. If you want to put me at ease with the world, put me in Champaign on an October Saturday.
For my wife, it's a hike at 10,000 feet. We're not talking Sir Edmund Hillary here - she's not obsessed with climbing mountain peaks - but an outdoor adventure that includes a hike and maybe a tent in the middle of nowhere, that's her sweet tea. Want to see her come alive? Put her here:
If you squint you can see our campsite there on the left side of that lake. I want to say I wrote that post late one night sitting at the picnic table near that campsite. And now I want to go back. I guess I'll have time - my schedule just opened up.
With no Big Ten football this fall, I don't get any sweet tea. I mean, I even defined it back then with the words "as long as that one thing is happening, all is good". It's now officially not happening.
We can talk about the "why" later. I mean, just looking at the Grange Grove photo at the top, it's easy to remember how college football this fall would have been a shadow of the thing shown in that photo. Even if the season had been played, it would have been with no tailgating, 20% crowds (if any crowds at all), and quarantine lists reading like injury lists. That photo looks like it was taken in a different world. Probably because it was.
But I'm still stuck on what I'll do without it. And I mean that several ways. One, I'm not sure what to do career-wise. I quit my job six months ago Friday, and I moved here six weeks later, and the next college event I'll cover might not happen until August, 2021. I saw a tweet on Monday how PFF was planning to launch their new college football subscription package but had decided to put it on hold. Man, I feel that. "Purchase my analysis of this sport that doesn't exist" isn't really a thing.
I also mean it as I'm not sure what fall will be like without it. That first crisp night in early September, it's all I think about. If it's an October Saturday with perfect fall weather, I still lose sleep the night before like a child on Christmas Eve. I'm a "wedding day, day I adopted my kids, Michigan State road game in 2019" kind of guy. I'm supposed to take all of the anticipation and excitement and just throw it away?
No joke - my wife just got home from work (heh - "work"). She knew I'd be depressed, so she just gave me a hug before she said anything. We then chatted for a bit, and I told her I was writing about Sweet Tea. We finished our conversation and she started to walk towards the back of the house. I asked her "what am I supposed to do for Sweet Tea now?". She was walking past the buffet/bar, so she grabbed a bottle of vodka and held it up in the air. I laughed out loud.
Also, that little respite helped me realized that I'm WAYY too focused on me here. I should say that I'm also gutted for the players. Their reactions on Twitter are hard to read. If you're Mike Epstein, you have to be at "what do I have to do?" stage at this point. Finally healthy, foot healed, knee healed, ready to go, and now this. Luke Ford, too. What does it take for him to finally play a game in an Illini uniform?
And there's so many roster questions. South Carolina State transfer Roderick Perry left SCSU for Illinois because SCSU canceled their fall season. What does he do now? What happens if the SEC/Big12/ACC move forward with fall football? Will we see several Illinois players transfer? What happens with the draftable players in the spring (Palcho, Hobbs, Eifler, etc.)?
I guess I can cover all of that in posts over the next few days. For now, I'm just dealing with the shock of this actually happening. There was no NCAA Tournament this spring and there will be no college football this fall. I didn't get a March and now I can't have an October.
For a college-centric fan such as myself, that's just beyond devastating. I've mentioned this a lot, but I more or less dropped professional sports years ago. And since the move (perhaps it's as simple as getting away from St. Louis and the conversations I'd have with friends and coworkers about the Cardinals and Blues), I know less than I ever have. I'll give you an example: I have zero idea the playoff plans for the NBA or NHL. None. I know that they're both in bubbles and they're both doing some "play these games to figure out the playoff teams" stuff, but I haven't looked up a single thing about either process. It's possible those playoffs have already started and I sound even dumber here.
It's not some "I hate the NBA" thing - I've simply poured everything into college sports. You're a car guy, and you read about all cars for years, and then you realize you're really more of a Corvette guy than a "car guy" so you stop reading about the rest of the cars and learn every single thing about every model year of the Corvette. That's been my transition over the last 15 years, and I've accelerated (heh) in the past six months to the point where I'm basically ignorant of even the basic facts. The NHL started back up, drove off, and left me behind.
So now what am I supposed to do? Follow politics? Get really knowledgeable about Corvettes? Vodka?
I know I'm being dramatic, but man, I feel lost. The first moments of normalcy in the last five months were delivered last week in the form of practice starting again. There were press conferences (on Zoom) and photos of practice and, in my head, finally, focus. Something to do. A concrete thing to actually write about. I felt better about this post on Thursday than anything I've written about in the last four months. I even told my wife that night how much writing that "meant" to me. Sounds silly, but it's the first time I felt like I contributed to society in six months.
And now that's gone. I built up this thirst over the summer, and then I go through the drive-thru, and McDonald's tells me they're out of sweet tea until January, possibly August.
What am I supposed to do now?