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Sep 5, 2022

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When I signed up for Twitter in May of 2009, it asked me to fill out a bio. I randomly wrote "one of the seventeen Illini fans who cares more about football than basketball. Because of that, everyone thinks I hate basketball." That's how "one of the seventeen" was born (even though I didn't know I was birthing anything at the time - Twitter just said "tell us something about yourself".)

If I could go back and re-do it (wait - you can edit it?), I might go with this now:

It doesn't mean anything.

That's not "one of the seventeen" doesn't mean anything. I'm saying that reactions on Twitter don't MEAN anything. One can react to something that happens without it meaning something. Even though it often feels like it, not everything is a stance. Not everything is some big declaration of where one stands. Sometimes it's just a reaction in the moment.

I can't tell you how many times I've run up against this since May of 2009. I'd say "wow, what a frustrating loss" in December of 2019 and someone will respond with "what, now you're suddenly out on Underwood??". No. I'm not making a statement. I'm not in or out on anything. I'm frustrated that my team lost. It doesn't mean anything.

The fight is everything being made into a "global" stance instead of a specific thought. And by "fight" I mean "fighting for the right to vent without it being taken as 'here's where I stand'." My attempt to explain We're Illinois Football And We Can't Be Trusted in my last post was more or less this fight. With our extremely unique scar tissue, losses like Friday night will being us back to the same spot every time: WIFAWCBT. And for whatever reason, reminding myself that we can't be trusted - and those trust issues span five different head coaches in just the last 12 seasons - is somehow therapy.

But it will still be used for stances. I'm venting, but many will take that vent and funnel it into their stance bucket. This is why I wish I had "it doesn't mean anything" in my bio. Yes, there will be times when I tweet (and write) something that means something. But most of the time, I'm a fan reacting to a game.

This is not "I was reacting out of anger after the game - I didn't mean that" or some other excuse for a tweet I regret. I'm saying that not every "what a frustrating decision" means you want Bret Bielema fired. Not every "wow, this freshman they discovered is amazing" means you want Bret Bielema extended. I'll tell you when it's something global - when I believe it to be a trend that's either encouraging or disturbing. The rest? The rest doesn't "mean" anything.

Which is why stance funneling is so annoying. There's no way to do this without examples, so let's just go through a bunch of responses to my "I don't want to say it but I have to say it - We're Illinois Football And We Can't Be Trusted" tweet from Friday night.

Let's start with this response:

Yes, I'm pretty sure the reason Illinois football is no longer "very good and respected" is the students, not the decisions made by the administration.

See what I mean by funneling? This person shakes his fist at one thing when he wakes up in the morning, so WIFAWCBT gets funneled into his "it's the students!" bucket.

We have 5 winning seasons the last 27 years because of bad coaching decision after bad AD decision. End of story. It's why we can't be trusted.

Ah, yes, the chief debate. So glad that's still where we take everything. Nothing is going to change (and no one is going to change anyone's mind), but A Normal Guy is on Team We'd Still Be Good If We Hadn't Gotten Rid Of The Chief because he wants the anti-Chiefers to TASTE IT and Timpranillo is on tossing out terms like "frat boy cosplay" because he knows the mischaracterization will force the pro-Chiefers to TASTE IT.

And there's only two things people reading this will take away from that paragraph: pro-Chiefers won't acknowledge that it was at least a little bit problematic and anti-Chiefers won't admit that 2007 did destabilize our fan experience.

That's fine if it works for you, Gary. And it's not too far away from WIFAWCBT. But I prefer to think of it in terms of "I have trust issues because she keeps leaving me", not "never gonna happen - might as well accept it." I'll never accept it.

And this starts a run here where people aren't really "stancing." These are my favorite kinds of twitter responses: commiserations.

PREACH. Every single one of us thought that (see: issues, trust).

This is what I was saying in that article about our unique fan experience. A Kansas fan just has a fatalistic "we won't win but can we maybe just keep it close?" feeling towards the game . We've been just good enough (at times) to prove that it's possible, so ours is more "can we maybe just not get kicked in the junk in the final minute?".

We cannot.

One THOUSAND percent. And, if I may, it's why I hate what's going on at Wake Forest right now. They used to be very close to us in terms of scar tissue. And now they've healed while we're still over here expecting fumbles.

So yes, gold stars for these last few Twitter responders. They understood where I was going and joined me in that space. Twitter can be a space for one big group hug after a game like this.

Twitter can also be...

A few things:

  1. When @openmikethomas is taken, you have to go in a different direction, not @openmikethomas1.
  2. I get so many responses like these. Their way to process an Illini loss is to get out in front of everything. "I told you so" only feels one-tenth as good as the joy experienced after a long period of suffering, but they're willing to make that trade.
  3. This particular person constantly goes for fan insecurities. They've identified to weak spots in the Illini fanbase -- 1) what if we stay bad and get relegated when Superconferences arrive?, and 2) what if Bret Bielema is Scott Frost? -- and they will hammer at those until new insecurities show up. I guess it's fun?

These are the ones I have to wade through to get to commiseration.

And these:

This one is interesting. Of their 13 followers, three source back to the Zook era. So I'm guessing this is one of those "used to represent themselves on Twitter, then they changed their name and their '@' so they could troll" Twitter accounts (and the people I know followed them when they represented themselves). Also, they really want Justice For Ron Zook.

Former staffer perhaps? Former player? Doesn't matter, I guess. I deserve a team that loses on a touchdown with 23 seconds left.

(I probably do.)

This next one, well, they have a potty mouth. So, like, cover your eyes if you need to:

This has basically been non-stop since the article I wrote in May of 2021 about fans DM-ing recruits and their parents on Twitter. It struck a chord (a very dark, minor chord) with that whole crowd. But let me tell you - there is no greater confirmation that it was the right thing to do than people like this continuing to chase me around like that.

Can't end on that one, though. One more:



IlliniJoe81 on September 5, 2022 @ 07:08 PM

The best comment I saw wasn’t on Twitter but it was “If you didn’t enjoy that game, you’re not a fan of Illini Football.” LOLed when I read it.

Eagle on September 5, 2022 @ 11:26 PM

You don't deserve to have to deal with all that Robert, but I guess there's no way to avoid it in your profession. Keep writing away and ignore everybody. You're right - it doesn't (they don't) matter.

uilaw71 on September 6, 2022 @ 06:47 AM

And then there’s the “we’ve never been a football school” crowd, whose corporate memories exclude anything prior to Jim Valek.

jpbrown on September 6, 2022 @ 01:38 PM

Not that you need to hear it from me, but genuinely, never change, Robert. Even as a diehard fan who's only been around since Zook and Weber, I think we see so many of these things similarly. The scar tissue, the venting that doesn't actually MEAN anything...other than venting. I will legitimately be an Illini fan forever, unconditionally. When we eventually make a comeback in football that's half as successful as basketball (optimistic, I know), it will just feel that much sweeter. I love reading these far as the trolls go...I'd say it vindicates what you've said about them and then some.

mcummings2 on September 6, 2022 @ 07:02 PM

Keep writing Robert and we'll keep reading. These painful losses cut us to the core, but I do believe BB is a different breed of cat. I listened to his press conference and he seems to get where we are at far better than his predecessors. Call me naïve, but I think the law of averages will even out and we may not be National Champions, respectability may not be too far away. Great job.

IlliniMike1981 on September 6, 2022 @ 09:32 PM

I am a Ron Zook apologist so I get some of that sentiment (btw I'm not @LordsThadChair). I think Zook and Weber got screwed over by Mike Thomas, in the sense that they were fired the second the ink dried on Mike Thomas's contract and there was never anything realistic they could have done to save their jobs. While Mike Thomas thought Illinois should be winning championships it was more important that "his guys" were doing the winning. If you gave Zook a shot of truth serum he'd probably admit that when he didn't get an extension after 6 wins he knew he was facing an unfriendly administration and the pressure of playing for his job got to him in the second half of the season.

So while Zook probably was never going to reach the heights of the 2007 season, the combo of Zook/Petrino/Koenning seemed stable enough for 5 to 7 wins a season. We probably would be grasping for air in the crowded middle of the B1G (the 6th - 10th best range) but that seems preferable to the "can we finish outside the basement" tier we currently find ourselves.

I think it is true that since we fired Zook, Illinois has desperately wanted to get back to that level of mediocracy. I think people forget that when you reach that "we reliably win 6-7 games a year" level you still have flaws. Of those 5/6 losses, a few will be games you should have won if you had a better secondary. It'll be a program that never seems to find decent RB's/LB's/whatever. Show me a team the consistently wins 6 games and I'll show a fan base that honestly believes they could have won 9 that year.

In all honesty, in view of the past 11 years, how many 5-7 seasons would you have tolerated for just a single "winning season"

Chief4ever on September 7, 2022 @ 12:52 AM

Robert, all real Illini fans understand. Trolls do not. In regards to the comment above, I am not trying to be a troll here, but Bruce Weber is completely responsible for turning our basketball thriving basketball program into garbage for over a decade. Not just the poor recruiting, but throwing players under the bus, blaming others, and just a terrible X’s and O’s Coach. Lost games that should be won and made the school undesirable for future recruits. That is how you destroy a program. One magical year with a ready made team, then off a cliff with no bottom in sight. Zook was a bit clueless, but he could recruit, was likable, and could have possibly maintained mediocrity. A change could have been good if there was a great replacement (there were options), but executed terribly.

IlliniMike1981 on September 7, 2022 @ 12:04 PM

I think two things can be true at the same time 1) That Mike Thomas treated Zook and Weber unfairly so that he could replace them with "his guys" and 2) That you can justify letting Zook and Weber go after their respective performances.

Remember when Tom Izzo spent a press conference poop-talking Mike Thomas over the firing of Weber? Just because you ultimately reached the right decision (Zook/Weber needed to go) does not mean you reached that decision properly; or that Thomas didn't engage in a little self-sabotage. I think there is a difference in being honest and saying Illinois is a program that should be getting great/flashy recruits, making the NCAA tournament and competing for B1G championships (similar to what Underwood is doing and what Groce tried and ultimately failed to do) and that Weber's version of the program doesn't match that vision.

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