No Sweet Tea

Aug 11, 2020

You have currently viewed 1 story this month.

IlliniBoard now offers two free stories per month, for more please subscribe.

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?


mdonsbach on August 11, 2020 @ 07:17 PM

How about more podcasts. How about a podcast with an average fan to get their POV. I’d surely volunteer and I’d think you’d have a long list of suitors.

RochIllini on August 11, 2020 @ 07:31 PM

Hang in there, you'll help us get thru this, the words will come.

old fan on August 11, 2020 @ 07:47 PM

I just took a long walk with my wife trying to explain it but try as she might it just doesn't register. My sons, now in Dallas and Denver fully understand. Illini football draws us together in a very special way. I will miss our conversations. I must say I am extremely disappointed in Kevin Warren and his dismal attempt this afternoon.

mwb27 on August 12, 2020 @ 01:31 PM

It’s all political BS. Should have just postponed the season until the day after the election. COVID will be gone either way. If one guy gets elected, it’s off to the next coup attempt. If the other gets elected, it magically disappears and everything is great! How do you deal with children with power, ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous how these people care about no one, but actually pretend to care about everyone.

Bhebhe said it right in his tweets.

Bear8287 on August 12, 2020 @ 02:02 PM

The beginning of the end of IlliniBoard... if this becomes a political board instead of an Illini fan board.

The only reason I spend any time here is for the unique perspective on Illni sports that this site brings and to discuss Illini sports with fellow fans.

If I want to read about opinions on politics there are numerous places (and much better suited) on line to go for that content.

WeatherfordForMVP on August 12, 2020 @ 02:15 PM


I share all your sentiments, certainly to a lesser degree. My family has been relatively unaffected by COVID. (My grandmother actually died from it, but she was very old with advanced dementia and went very quickly, so there was an element of equal parts blessing and hardship.) Certainly my immediate family is getting along without many of the health or collateral consequences that millions are experiencing. But even we are really starting to feel the COVID fatigue. It can get exhausting. But I can't imagine making a major life change that (feels as though it) is rendered meaningless by factors beyond your control.

I would encourage you to continue writing what's on your mind and how it's affecting you personally, of course mixing in sports analysis as you have content to work with. I think many of us share your sentiments. I haven't abandoned professional sports...I'm a big White Sox and Bears fan, but generally don't follow other professional sports or teams. Still, my affinity for the Illini is different. It's more personal. It's a reminder of a time in my life that was very meaningful.

UI is where I developed a love of English and political science, but realized I couldn't enjoy those loves unless I became a lawyer. (I'm a lawyer.) Where I learned my first lessons in leadership as an RA on Pennsylvania Avenue. (I'm a lawyer in the military, where I’m now up to leading 15ish people, depending on the assignment.) Where I broke up with, got back together with, and immediately after graduation married, my wife. (We're still married, and she's the best military lawyer's spouse you can imagine.)

Where I attended (I think) all but two Illini home football games during my time there, watching them lose a lot more than they won, but loved every minute of it. (The 63-10 loss to Penn State, 22 Oct 05, tested that every-minute love, though.)

I think our love of Illini sports has as much to do with the memories it evokes and the loyalty it engenders as it does with the on-field results. That's not true for me of professional sports. I absolutely love the White Sox. I had partial season tickets during their World Series 2005 campaign and was at Game 2. That is my "married wife, two children being born, Game 2" comparison. But I can't watch 9 innings of a bad White Sox team game in and game out. I'll watch here and there, definitely follow the results and player development, but it's not the same. I can watch 720 minutes/season of bad Illini football, and it's not because I like what I see on the field.


Robert on August 13, 2020 @ 07:49 PM

Thanks. After getting this out, my mind has shifted to what I could do during this time. Consulted some friends, have some good ideas. Stay tuned.

uofi08 on August 12, 2020 @ 02:17 PM

Basically this just plain sucks. There's not even really a silver lining. I feel worst for the players. They have been working their asses off since June, going through all the safety protocols in place, listening and following all the rules and standards set in place. They finally get a season schedule announced, and the day they are supposed to start padded practices, the rug is pulled out from under them. Just terrible.

Spring football is not happening. A spring season would involve: depleted rosters, starting in cold/flu season, putting student athletes through 2 seasons in 9 months, somehow containing the virus after all students return from winter break. There's no way that's safer or healthier than playing in the fall.

The craziest thing in all of this is the complete lack of leadership and transparency. Either cancelling the season has been the plan all along or school presidents were never involved or invested in this at all until this weekend. Either way, that's some disgusting leadership by the conference and the commissioner. I have never seen anything like this. I'm sure difficult decisions are made all the time within the conference. But to have prominent ADs, coaches, and players completely against a conference decision is nearly unheard of. I know the commissioner has to answer to the presidents but Warren appears to be in way over his head. Regardless of the actual play/cancel decision, I can't imagine this being handled the same way with Delaney. Just watch the BTN Revsine interview with Warren. He gave no answers, just pure word salad. Revsine actually asked good questions multiple times but the commissioner refused to answer.

Tolkien73 on August 13, 2020 @ 11:12 AM


I know you have to be hurting right now. Hell, a lot of us are. Either emotionally for some or economically for others. Or both. The last five months have been an exercise in constant, low-grade misery.

But I want you to know something. And this comes from the heart. You give all of us here on this board so much. It might just be a "Slapdash" post on a Tuesday night. But it is still SOMETHING.

So I would like to encourage you, in the strongest possible terms, to START CHARGING. NOW. I know you feel guilty charging people to read about Illini sports when there ARE no Illini sports. But what we do not want is a situation where this little spot of sanity on the web is lost.

Don't have a football season? Fine. Then talk about other seasons - biggest comebacks, worst collapses, what might have been if effing Lommonier hadn't blown those fumble calls against Michigan. There is all sorts of content out there, waiting for you to write about it. Is it the content you would prefer to write? No. But at least it would give us a few moments of sanity in a world gone mad.

Don't feel like charging full price? Fine. Charge half. But I (and, I suspect, dozens if not hundreds of other people) will HAPPILY pay it if it means we can be assured that when things do get back to normal, we will be able to see you in the pressbox or at the scorers table, dong what you do best.

All my best,


Robert on August 13, 2020 @ 07:46 PM

Thanks for the encouragement. We have something in the works.

IBFan on August 17, 2020 @ 04:07 PM

Amen John

illiniaces97 on August 13, 2020 @ 12:35 PM

Your words resonate clearly once again Robert. I’ve been a casual reader over the last couple years but your last six months have struck a strong chord with me. I too am a returnee to Champaign but my route was 18 years living and working on Chicago golf courses. As a Central Illinois guy whose grandparents tailgated at Illini games in the 50s and 60s and my dad becoming the first UIUC graduate in our family and me the next, we have the same loyalty that many of your readers carry. I knew, like you, that Champaign was my destination and the area of study would find me (interestingly I strongly considered landscape architecture but oddly veered towards ornamental horticulture because my 18-year-old self thought production horticulture would be more fun ??). I don’t know if it’s more sweet tea or vodka, not sure the latter will produce your best work ;-), but Your words and their emotions CONNECT all of us fans! I was driving north on Prospect Avenue Tuesday afternoon and spotted you and your wife on the east side of the street out for a walk heading south. At that moment my heart literally sank realizing the disappointment I felt about this weeks news was being felt on a whole greater level by a fan like you. We look forward to your masterful points of view articulating many of the things so many of us Illini fans feel. Cheers

Robert on August 13, 2020 @ 07:45 PM

Give me three honks next time and I'll yell an I-N-I back.

Also, my wife walks way too fast.

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.

Post Preview