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Part 2

A funny thing happened
on the way to the Rose Bowl

By Jeff Mayfield

[OCT. 6, 2000]  Actually, itís not all that funny. Illinoisí dream college football season has hit a partial derailment. Now they have a bye week to try and right the ship and avoid a total train wreck. I tried to warn those who were caught up in the early euphoria. In fact, the LDN said if the Illini somehow managed to go 8-4 again, we would just mail that in to the NCAA home office and move on to basketball. I had questions about our defense. They did play an inspired first half against Michigan, but in the Big Ten you must string two halves together! There is a great opportunity to get well against Iowa, but then the schedule stiffens in a hurry. This week the LDN does all it can do to keep the faith and to will the Illini back to...

...health and respectability.

 

[click here for Part 1, posted previously]

 

Donít quote me, but I think the Illini will have a difficult time with the Lions. They follow up that contest with a road tilt against the Spartans of Michigan State. If we can play them as inspired as Missouri was when they played them, we could pull out a road upset in East Lansing.

On the other side of the coin, if Penn State drills us, we no doubt will struggle with the Spartans as well. Iíd rather see us rally the troops. Bring in brother Clint Eastwood for a pep talk right out of the Outlaw Josey Wales. Clint would make our guys mad-dog MAD. Then we would go to Happy Valley with a "take no prisoners" attitude. A win there could parlay itself into a win over MSU, and then you might be onto something!

 

Then we come back to Chambana for two home games, one against Indiana and one against Ohio State. I never have understood our games versus teams like Indiana, Purdue or Northwestern. I always feel like we should drop those clowns. But we donít always get it done. Sometimes...they even beat us. And then when you least expect it, they sometimes pummel us. I wonít even pretend to give you an answer as to how and why this can happen. I guess thatís just good olí smash mouth Big Ten football! It boggles the mind.

We had Indiana smoked last year in Bloomington. Someone forgot to tell the Hoseheads that they couldnít come back in the fourth quarter. They did and we took a big L. That would have made us 9-3. I donít know how much better we could have been than that.

 

I guess I should have more respect for all of the teams in our conference. Donít worry, if I were on the coaching staff, I would be telling the players every week how our next opponent reminds me of Florida State. Just ask ANY of the players who used to play for me. They got sick of me telling them how opponents are either feast or famine. And when they line up against ANYONE with LINCOLN on their chest, they want to bury them!

But as a sports writer, the only team that I really want to respect is our own local heroes. I guess you could say that Iím a lot like Z-93.3 ó Iím all ILLINOIS...ALL the time!!! I canít make any apologies for that. The spirit of Fred Hoppin hovers over me at all times.

 

[to top of second column in this section]

 

I will never understand why anyone is caught up with the maize and blue or the gray and blue out East. Those color schemes literally make me hurl. The ORANGE and BLUE goes together so well itís almost as if a higher power preordained it. My crack research team says that actually that color scheme was devised right down the road from Lincoln.

Not only that, I have it on good authority that at one time Lincoln was a suggested site for the University of Illinois. I wonder if they would have played LC and LCC on a home-and-home basis?

At any rate, after we tangle with the Hosers, we will then line up against the true Jekyll and Hyde of the Big Ten Conference: the Ohio State Buckeyes. Iím not even sure what a buckeye is? Oh sure, someone showed me one and told me what it was, but Iím still not sure what it is. Their team is a lot like that. They get some of the best recruits in the country. I always feel like they should just destroy us, but last year we picked them apart in their own back yard. They always seem to play us well in Memorialís Big House! Who knows how that game will turn out. I just love to beat them and then read all the e-mails on their message boards from their millions of coaching geniuses.

 

We finish the season at Northwestern...and the way theyíre playing right now, not only do I not want to play them this season, I donít want to play them ever again. Is Jerry Tarkanian coaching them now? How did all of their current players make it through their stiff entrance requirements? Mysterious circumstances have to be swirling all over that program. Going up there will be a tough way to close out our season. I hope a bowl bid is already secured before we get to Evanston. If one is on the line when we get up there, it could be a real adventure.

Indeed, a funny thing did happen on the way to the Rose Bowl. The Illini fell off the horse. Right now the Illini are dusting themselves off, since they fell off the horse twice. I hope they will remount and ride all the way to a bowl game in California, Hawaii or Florida. After six weeks with a new baby by then, Iím sure Iím going to need a vacation with Illini nation!

[Jeff Mayfield]

 


Part 1

A funny thing happened
on the way to the Rose Bowl

By Jeff Mayfield

[OCT. 5, 2000]  Actually, itís not all that funny. Illinoisí dream college football season has hit a partial derailment. Now they have a bye week to try and right the ship and avoid a total train wreck. I tried to warn those who were caught up in the early euphoria. In fact, the LDN said if the Illini somehow managed to go 8-4 again, we would just mail that in to the NCAA home office and move on to basketball. I had questions about our defense. They did play an inspired first half against Michigan, but in the Big Ten you must string two halves together! There is a great opportunity to get well against Iowa, but then the schedule stiffens in a hurry. This week the LDN does all it can do to keep the faith and to will the Illini back to...

...health and respectability. If the Michigan loss wasnít enough to take the wind out of our sails, the loss to Minnesota was a crushing blow. I had a bad feeling about the Gophers while I was watching the Michigan game snatched out of our mouth of victory. The disappointment was so heavy in the air, especially because of the way the last four minutes unfolded, that a letdown was almost inevitable.

 

Most people did not recognize it. However, if youíve ever been in a position or ever find yourself in a position to beat one of the nationís top 10 teams...then realize that youíre a couple of minutes away from realizing your dream...then watch it evaporate right before your eyes in an instant...then you might be able to begin to understand the crushing blow that it is for a teamís psyche!

In my lifetime I have only seen one or two coaches ever who have been able to mastermind some way of recovering their teamís morale after such a disheartening loss. Coach Turner tried to turn our fortunes around, but when both the heart and the soul are scared as bad as they were, his task was next to impossible.

 

 

[to top of second column in this section]

Iíve been brought up to believe that you will play the way you practice. Reports out of Chambana last week said that the Illini had a terrible week of practice. As the great Joe Walsh once sang, "Itís hard to leave, when you canít find the door." The Illini found it hard to practice after having their hearts ripped out of their chests. They never could find the door to bouncing back.

They better get a heart transplant quick, because after Iowa comes a-calling, the schedule takes a turn towards the brutal side. First thereís a trip to Happy Valley, Penn. The uninitiated would say that Penn State is down, so this is our year to kick them. Do you have any idea how much Joe Pa Paterno prepares for Big Ten games? His preparation skills are second to none. The Nittany Lions remind a lot of Neil Alexanderís Railers...they donít lose because theyíre not preparedÖthey lose only when they donít execute. As a fan and a sports writer, I love coaches who can take the game to that high a level. If youíre going to play it, you might as well make a commitment to excellence.

(To be continued tomorrow)

 

[Jeff Mayfield]

[click here for Part 2]

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