I always loved the scene in the movie "Hoosiers," where
Dennis Hopper played the role of Shooter. I also loved it when he
and Coach Dale, played by Gene Hackman, were in the diner talking
about the history of Hickory High School hoops (a fictitious town,
BTW -- I think the real town was Milan, Ind. -- better check the
archives). Anyway, Shooter was talking about the "Big Game" when
he played for the local heroes. I think it was a sectional playoff
game, and he had a shot to win it at the buzzer to potentially move
the team on to the next round. His shot was true, but it spun in and
out (my career in a nutshell). I'll never forget his words to the
coach as he pined over his lost opportunity to win it for the fans:
"It meant so much to them, Coach... I know, 'cause it meant so much
to me too."
That may not be an exact quote (rent the movie for
yourself -- I just write the stories) and it may sound kinda of
corny to many of you. But I know exactly what he meant and
exactly how he felt. I have already confessed to you great
readers that I'm guilty of some of those very same things. The
games, the scores and the outcomes all mean a lot to me. I guess if
you don't like that... read the comics or the classifieds. But Greg
and I will probably not be apologizing any time soon about the
passion that we have for our local and regional teams. I know Greg's
passion was dying on the vine with his baseball team and he needed a
big pick-me-up from his football teams, and he got just what
the doctor ordered.
Let's examine a few of the contests from the week that was:
Illinois 31, Wisconsin 26
Thank you, Illini. Since I've been banished to the other side of
the Cheese Curtain, life can sometimes be strained -- even more when
these border wars go against the beloved. Last year when Bucky and
Co. went into Assembly Hall and knocked off Weber's pesky crew, I
heard about it for several weeks.
My son has heard about it at school during football and
basketball season (maybe I shouldn't dress him in Orange and Blue
clothing so much, but amazingly, most of his wardrobe bears those
always fashionable color schemes). He even came home once last year
asking me if it was OK to root for the Illini and for
Of course I was the understanding father and simply said...
"Heck, no!" No, I cut him a little slack and told him to do
what was in his heart, but I reminded him that coach Zook was in the
process of building a winner and that he would be glad that he
stayed on the fan wagon. He did so begrudgingly, mostly to soothe
his crying, miserable old man.
So far this season, his patience has been rewarded. Of course I
tested it once again. When he saw a schedule and saw tough games
with Penn State and Wisconsin on back-to-back weekends, he asked me
how Illinois would fare in those contests. Luckily for him he has
the always insightful LDN sports editor as his dad, who lives to
comfort and shower him with the plethora of ways the Illini will be
In other words, I broke it to him gently. I told him that coach
Zook was here for one reason and for one reason only: to make
Illinois a winner once again. I went into a long diatribe about how
the first two seasons of the Ron Zook era were hard to bear, but
they were a part of what it takes to build a program. Furthermore, I
shared with him that the Illini will be competitive and that they'll
win a few games. That's when I dished him the keen insights that
you've become accustomed to. I simply told him that there was no way
on God's green earth Illinois would win both of those games. I even
went so far as to tell him that I'd settle for a split, but I
prepared him for two tough losses.
Don't get me wrong -- I told him
we'd be competitive. I did him one better -- I took him to the Penn
State game. After we won and we were jubilantly leaving the stadium,
it was his turn for some insight. He asked, "Dad... how could you
have been so wrong?"
What a great question! Where do 6-year-olds come up with this
stuff? My guess... his mother (BTW, Happy 24th, Luv!)! I'll spare
you the rest of our father-son chat to do my actual analysis of the
last two weeks.
As I said, I expected us to compete. What I did not expect was
for us to follow the Taylor-Mayfield script that we've been
preaching for years.
JUMP on your
football in the first few series to let them know you mean
DON'T COMMIT silly
HANG ON to the
GET the crowd
involved early, often and EVERY chance you get!
Make SPECIAL teams
adjustments at halftime.
TACKLE the heck out
specialty players at the skill positions to make us a scouting
That is just our short list. What I didn't expect was that we did
so many of these things so early this year. It started that first
Saturday versus ol' Mizzou (BTW, nice going, Tigers on your
thrashing of the Huskers). I couldn't believe my eyes on how much
we'd improved. But, when I saw our speed, our strength and our
chemistry, I told Greg that I wanted to rethink my preseason
[to top of second column]
Now, I'm way ahead of myself. So, even if Illinois doesn't win a lot
more games this year, I am so happy with how far they have come.
Coach Zook was rudely run out of Florida and treated about as badly
as any D-I coach in any sport has ever been treated. On top of that,
he took the job here only to go through two years of football hell.
Even he had to wonder if it was even possible to turn it
around here. But he is living proof that eternal optimism can raise
a team, a program and even a nation (of course I'm referring to
Illini Nation in this case) to heights no one could've seen or
expected. I am so happy for Zook, and I commend him on just about
every level. Wow!
And I can tell you this: If Illinois
continues to do most of the things on the above list, they will
continue to be a good, competitive football team. And if they
continue to be a squad that is not satisfied until they get better
and better, this may be a special autumn indeed.
For now, Illini, just thank you for dumping the Badgers. You've
made our lives a lot more bearable.
Bears 27, Packers 20
And speaking of the Bears, I guess I should include this one in
here as well. My friend Lynn Laughlin called me late Sunday night
and told me how much I would enjoy going to work this week in the
land of the cheesemakers. Since he left me a message, I didn't have
the heart to tell Lynn that I went to bed with the Pack holding a
commanding 20-10 lead. I woke up at about 4:30 (we have to get up
early to make the cheese) and turned on the news. When the score
scrolled through, I said, WOW that has to be a mistake! What
happened? I saw the highlights and I'm still not sure I could tell
you what happened. I think someone may have smiled on Cub fans who
were basically watching the game in corners as despondent as ever.
WOW! Once again an outcome changes the landscape a little bit.
I'm still not sure that Brian Griese is the answer to very many
questions, but as Chicago gets more healthy in the coming weeks,
they may not be as dead as some coroners pronounced them.
I'm not sure I see a lot of great teams beyond the Steelers,
Cowboys, Patriots and Colts, but then again, I thought the Chargers
were dead, and look at how they slipped past Denver. Colts
fans will definitely have fun this year and maybe Bear fans too. The
fun, if it ever really started, is already over in St. Louis. Maybe
the Blues will return some joy to the Gateway City.
Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 0
I know you're waiting for the shoe to drop. I just didn't see
this coming. I thought this would be a good matchup for the Cubs. I
think some of their play toward the end of the year (like their
series in Florida) seemed to have lingering effects on the
franchise. The Cubs did make positive strides in '07. Now, it
remains to be seen who the new ownership will be and if they'll
continue to add the needed pieces to finish the task. I wish them
well. Wouldn't it be a riot if Mark Cuban gets the team?
The demise of the Cardinals?
The Cards on the other hand are not making the kind of news their
fans would like to see. Letting Walt Jocketty loose may be the worst
move I've experienced as a Redbird fan in my short lifetime. You
might think that my subheading here is too strong -- well, I've got
news for you: I was a Cards fan back in the '70s and it wasn't
pretty. In fact, it wasn't too pretty between 1987 and 1996.
It is an absolute must to have a brilliant baseball man in that
position. If Jocketty was not the best I've ever seen in that role,
he's on a very short list. It has widely been both speculated and
reported that since the Redbirds hired a new scouting director, that
he and Jocketty have been at odds. I just don't see how or why this
escalated into an unmanageable situation. You simply tell the
scouting director thanks for coming in; it's just not going to work
-- goodbye and good luck. You don't throw out the baby with the bath
Lots of organizations think that the new whiz kids are gonna come
in and make everything better -- in my lifetime I have seldom seen
that work. I know I'm old school, but I like to go with things that
work. I like people who bring value to the organization. I like
people who got it done during the lean times when everybody else was
sleeping, complaining or just doing something else. I like people
who are widely respected and those whose allegiance is never
The rumor mills kept saying, What has Jocketty done for us
lately? Wow! Are you kiddin' me? Hello... didn't we win the world
championship last season? And what about this year -- when
everyone left us for dead, didn't we get back to within a game of
the divisional lead?
I'm not saying that I would've made all the moves that he made.
I'm not saying that he never made a mistake. What I am saying is
that Walt Jocketty is good people and in MHO one of the top three
executives in baseball. You just can't lose quality people like
that. It will hamper or eventually kill any organization.
The wheels have come off the Cardinal wagon. It's a good thing
they've got a new stadium, 'cause besides losing a great GM, they
likely now will lose a great manager in Tony La Russa. Pencil me in
as someone not in favor of the direction this organization is going.
WOW -- sorry I got so worked up -- I guess that's why I titled my
work "Mutterings." Hope your month works out better than it did for
Jocketty and Cardinal fans. At any rate, have a great one,
everybody, and don't forget to attend the Harvest of Talents later
Congratulations and a hearty LDN salute to one of the LDN sports
photographers, Ed Bacon, and to former Lincoln resident Mike Mallick,
who braved the oppressive heat to complete the Chicago Marathon. I'm
not even sure that I could bike it and might have trouble driving
it! Nice going, Ed and Mike -- we salute you!