Illini Football, Cub fans know Soul-Crushing

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By Paul M. Banks

The year 2008 truly solidified my theory: to be a fan of either the Chicago Cubs and University of Illinois football means you know a lot about soul-crushing defeats. You know more than losing, you know exactly what it’s like to have any shred of hope or optimism crushed into grains of dust. You’ve had your hopes and dreams imploded so many times that you can’t even feel optimism anymore. You’ve routinely endured the type of losing that makes you wonder to yourself why you keep returning, but in ’08 took that disappointment spiked to cataclysmic proportions. The fallout from that devastation will likely linger for generations.

I’m lucky enough to be in only one (UI football) of these subsets. If I was in the intersection of both these groups (don’t you love using ven diagram lingo?) I’d probably take a bath with an electrical appliance. If you happen to be both a Cubs and Illini football fan, I’d suggest taking the laces out of your shoes and avoiding any and all tall buildings before reading on. I’d also suggest reading this only on a bright, sunny day.

In 2008, the Cubs had their best team since, well since any of us have been alive. Unless you’re a 115 years old. They cruised through the regular season, and had they not taken their foot off the gas pedal a bit in August-September (though it’s easy to understand why they did) the Cubs easily could have won 100-105 games.

Coming off a first round playoff sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks the year before, this season was about October: plain and simple. Actually, it should always be about October, but these are the Cubs- so it’s quite common for even August and September to be meaningless. Still there was no way the Cubs could blow this thing, right? It was also the centennial anniversary of the last title. It was almost too perfect.Carlos Zambrano

It was too perfect; for the L.A. Dodgers, as every Cubs infielder somehow found a way to make an error in the same inning of game 1. The ’08 sweep, combined with the ’07 sweep, and the five outs from a World Series collapse in ’03, makes me wonder if Cub fans have any reason to look forward to April each year. Regarding Cub die-hards, I wonder if they have any reason to live.

As bad as’08 was for those who live in Wrigleyville (and I mean “Wrigleyville” as the state of mind, not a physical location, kind of like “Margaritaville”), it was equally bad or worse in Champaign. Ron Zook, who is most famous for inspiring Southern fried yahoos to create a website encouraging his dismissal, was coming off a banner season. His best laid plans had finally worked as Illinois made their first Rose Bowl since 1983. The Illini got their second BCS bowl bid this decade, tying Iowa. I know, I know that sentence is utterly unbelievable, but trust me it’s true. However, just like in ’01 when the Ron Turner led Illini qualified for the Sugar Bowl, Illinois got EMBARASSED on New Year’s Day. It was a dark day.

And how did Illinois build off the momentum of a 9-4 campaign? By going 5-7 the following season. ’08 waslow-lighted by an embarrassing loss to Western Michigan before a crowd of like 6,000 people in Detroit. In an era where ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY goes to a bowl game, Illinois hasn’t been to back-to-back bowl games since ’91-’92.

How is that even remotely possible for a team that plays in a power conference?ron zook

The Zooker is back for another year even though he REALLY should have been canned after last year’s dismal 3-9 showing; a year in which numerous experts predicted Illinois to finish third or fourth in the Big Ten. (I knew better, I picked them seventh, but that was too optimistic.

How can you ever trust an optimistic pre-season forecast for an Illini football team ever again? The state doesn’t have enough money to buy Zook out of his contract, meaning our hope -what little of it that we have left- is years down the road.  Hopefully, his successor will do the right thing: schedule cupcakes, beat them down, and get the program’s confidence back up so they can actually squeak out a few 6+ win seasons in a row, and then we can stop referring to every good Illini campaign as “that fluke season a few years ago.”

Of course, I know that’s an extremely sunny forecast. Because I also thought Turner would use the boost of the ’01 season, combined with the Chicago Bears playing in his home stadium during 2002, as the perfect springboard for the program recruiting onto itself. And everything would change for the better. But Turner recruited division III level talent on defense and everywhere on offense outside of the tailback position.

At least Cub fans have that whole solidarity, safety in numbers thing going for them. They have each other to lean on in during their hopeless existence from April-September.  You know who Cub fans are because they never stop telling you. They make stupid documentaries, write cheesy books, and record awful music that reminds you they’re Cub fans. Then they stumble around and puke on the sidewalks in your neighborhood. Seriously, Cub fans, shot the f— up you’ve produced enough cultural crap already. No one likes you. Even your mother is sick of you talking about how much you love the Cubs.

ron turner

As for Illini fans, I guess they have basketball season. And these days basketball season seems to start in October, or maybe even September.

But all is not lost, right? The Atlanta Braves won a World Series, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a game when it was below 42 degrees, and the Denver Broncos won a Super Bowl. The Illini won two national titles in the 1920s (I’m sure national championships were a totally different animal and had a completely different name back then) and the Cubs have a date that we’re all sick of hearing for the kajillionth time.

Well, maybe it really is hopeless for both of them. I’ll start believing after the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl.

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