Triumph and Nostalgia

I currently live in the Indianapolis area, but my heritage truly lies in the central Illinois landscape, where I spent most of my childhood and my early adult life.

Around here, sports craziness seems the norm. Indiana is famous for its sports fandom, and deservedly so from my point of view. But in Illinois, where the winning teams are less plentiful, there’s a bit of wistfulness about sports. This can best be seen in the mythical pathos of the Chicago Cubs fan, or in the near-demigod status of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, and the rest of the ’90s Bulls.

In central Illinois, the object of this hope is often the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, by far the largest nexus of sports activity outside of the Chicago metropolitan area. “We” (for Champaign was my home for the longest stretches of time, and is the birthplace of my wife and oldest son) have some of the best sports facilities, the most money, and the most prestige, coming from such roots as “Red” Grange. Yet, as with most Illinois sports teams, we have always been ultimately disappointed when the time came for championships.

As college basketball fans have surely noted by now, that seems about to change.

Right now, Illinois stands at number one in every college basketball ranking. They are undefeated this season, even with a relatively tough schedule. The last time they were named, they won every vote unanimously. Sports commentators now think it “edgy” to predict that Illinois will not win the championship.

So, we recorded the Purdue game from a few days ago. I’ve only seen a few minutes of the game, but it’s a painful few minutes if you’re a Purdue fan. When Purdue covered the center, Illinois just passed outside the arc and made three-point shots; when they adjusted, Illinois started finding easy plays under the basket. I stopped watching when Illinois had built up something like a 25-12 lead.

I’m a Hoosier now, and this was one of Gene Keady’s last games to boot. Still, the Illinois boy in me can’t help but smile. Can my fellow Hoosiers forgive me?

UPDATE (2005-03-06): I swear I must have jinxed them!