Pick My Post - Top 10
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This one will be difficult. Well, difficult because I try to restrict myself to 45 minutes of writing with these Pick My Post articles. Maybe I'll give myself an hour. But the whole point is to have the article written quickly so that you know that it's not something I researched or re-wrote. The question comes in at 8:33 pm, I try to have the response out there by 9:18 pm.
So I know I'm going to miss one or two here. And I'll slap my forehead in the morning. But rules are rules. Here's the question:
Top 10 list of Illinois sporting events of your life— LifeMVP (@LifeMVP2) April 2, 2022
As I said in my response there, I'll try to restrict this to in-person sporting events. So you're going to want to say "Arizona Elite Eight" and my answer will be "I wasn't there." And that might come up a lot. 1993 Andy Kaufmann shot? Wasn't there. 2013
The top-10 Illini sporting events of my life. From 10 to 1:
10. 2021 Illinois football at Penn State
Had to get this one on the list. Because of the nine overtimes, it will be remembered for a long, long time. And I will remember the specific spot at the back of the Penn State press box where there were a bunch of empty seats and I could pace for all nine overtimes. I wish I had been wearing a FitBit. I bet I got in 4,000 steps during the nine overtimes.
One moment from that game that made it so great for me: the cameras (at least on the replay of the game I saw) missed the Illini field rush. When Casey Washington came down with that ball, the entire sideline emptied towards the endzone. Talk about a barge package.
9. 2000 Illinois basketball vs. Seton Hall
One specific memory from that game. It was during that game that the Supreme Court finalized the decision on the Bush-Gore election. Guy next to me (not Carmen - the guy on the other side of us) was listening on a little mini-radio and told me.
I'm gonna do this one without research so I'm not going to remember how many points we were down at halftime. Something like 21? Maybe we were down 21 in the first half but cut it closer at halftime. All I remember is that we were down 20-something, we came storming back, Cory Bradford hadn't gotten his three-pointer to extend the streak but since the game went to overtime he hit a three, we won, and the streak was extended as we beat a Seton Hall team that was ranked something like 11 or 12. Assembly Hall was just so incredibly loud during that comeback.
8. 1994 Illinois football vs. Penn State
This will be the only loss I put on here. But what an incredible game. I was shirtless with a painted chest in the front row of the east balcony - the "N" of ILLINI - and we took a 21-0 lead on #2 Penn State. We led 28-14 at the half but ended up losing... I want to say 35-31? All I know is that Penn State went 95 yards twice in the fourth quarter, the second drive ending with fullback Brian freaking Milne scoring with maybe 25 seconds left. Hated the loss but... just about the best atmosphere I can ever remember in Memorial Stadium.
7. 2022 Illinois basketball vs. Iowa
This has to go on the list. Wisconsin somehow loses to Nebraska at home on Senior Day opening up the chance for us to end this 17-year streak without a Big Ten title. And we hang on for dear life and somehow pull it out.
I don't think I need to say anything more about this one because it just happened a few weeks ago. You remember.
6. 2019 Illinois football vs. Wisconsin
About as good as it gets for Homecoming. Sun is out, perfect day, great tailgate, win over top-10 Wisconsin on a last-second field goal, entire crowd empties out onto the field.
And I wandered around the field recording myself eight minutes after the game saying things like "is it over? did we win?"
5. 2020 Illinois basketball at Michigan
This seems like recency bias but I don't really think it is. You know that the road football game at Michigan State is still to come on this list so this makes 5 of the 10 on this list happening in the last three years. Seems crazy but... I think it's true? 9 OT Penn State has to be on there. 2019 Wisconsin has to be on there. This Iowa game and that incredible court rush absolutely has to be on there. 2019 Michigan State football has to be. And getting to be one of the 150 people in the building for Illinois 76, #2 Michigan 53 absolutely has to be on here.
I wish I could report back with "the crowd was stunned", but there was no crowd. Just a Michigan media horde (who were stunned). The maybe 75 Michigan friends-and-family members in the crowd were stunned. And the Illinois bench just kept yelling and yelling and it kept echoing and echoing. Michigan, talking everything they talked before that game, with confetti cannons at the ready and Big Ten Champs signs printed up, walks off the court losing 76-53.
4. 2019 Illinois football at Michigan State
Losing 28-3 in the second quarter with MSU having first and goal. Losing 31-10 going at the start of the fourth quarter. And then win 37-34 to clinch the first bowl game in five years. I had watched so many games where the TV cameras cut away to the little patch of visiting fans celebrating the winning touchdown with 10 seconds left. But to BE part of that little patch of visiting fans? Incredible.
3. 2004 Illinois basketball vs. Wake Forest
This is the quasi-#1 for me. Because the next two are personal, not "great games in Illini history and I was there". But anyone there that night will likely list it as the greatest Illini basketball game they've ever attended in Assembly Hall/State Farm Center. #1 comes to Champaign and gets absolutely, positively, completely destroyed.
2. 2014 Braggin' Rights vs. Missouri
If you don't know my story with the Braggin' Rights game, well, I don't have time to fill you in because it's 9:17 so technically I have one minute left. But the short of it is that we had tickets to the 1993 game but my father passed away just after Thanksgiving. I still went, it was awful, some Missouri fans made fun of me for crying, and I hated the Braggin' Rights game for decades. I avoided the game (wouldn't even watch) from 1999 to 2013. I returned in 2014, Rayvonte Rice hit a buzzer beater, I tweeted this to close a door on a long journey I had taken...
I love you, Dad.— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 20, 2014
...and I put my head down on press row and cried.
1. 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl