December 22nd, 1993, Part II November 6, 2010
There is no catharsis. This one will hurt in 20 years. Just like the Missouri/Illinois basketball game in 1993 that went to three overtimes. There’s no escaping the kind of fan punch that a game like this can give you. You have to walk all the way to the edge of the cliff with the fans of the other team, knowing that one of you is going over and the other one gets a 5 day nothing-can-bring-me-down-off-this-high celebration. I just tumbled over the cliff. And it’s Michigan standing at the top celebrating. Michigan.
The game ended 5 minutes ago, and I decided to just sit down and start typing. This won’t be coherent. I can barely move. To spend that much emotional energy on something you care about that much, only to watch it end in the most excruciating way possible (well, maybe Indiana fans watched something more excruciating today, but there aren’t really Indiana football fans, so my point stands.) – I just have no words to describe it. I want to beat Missouri in basketball and Michigan in football… and the two biggest stomach-punch games in Illini sports history were to those two exact teams.
I know what you’re thinking – you’re justifying. You’re saying that the A-Train fumble game was more excruciating, or that Matt Sylvester’s three pointer was more of a stomach punch. I get that. And it probably has merit – for you. I want to beat Missouri in basketball and Michigan in football, and we’ve lost to both of them in 3 overtimes.
Michigan is bowl eligible. We’re not. The ramifications are hitting me in waves. The defensive stats I’ve been spouting to everyone who would listen are obliterated. 67 points and, I don’t know, 700 yards (?) tells me that I’ve been overestimating our defense. We hadn’t played the best offense on our schedule yet, meaning I started bragging about my pitcher’s ERA in the 6th inning. Back to reality.
For those that remember the 1993 Missouri match-up (I was there), Missouri’s top players – Melvin Booker, Javon Crudup, and Julian Winfield – all fouled out by the first overtime. Two other Missouri players fouled out as well, meaning freshmen Jason Sutherland and Derek Grimm, who hadn’t really played much at all in their first season, had to play all of the last two overtimes. We gave up a 9 point lead with under a minute to go, Kiwane Garris missed two free throws with no time on the clock at the end of the first overtime (either one would have won the game), and we lost in triple OT 108-107.
No, I didn’t have to look any of that up. It’s burned in my memory. That part of my hard drive cannot be overwritten. When I do a defrag on my brain, it shows up in green as a file that can’t be moved. And now it has company.
Tate Forcier is Jason Sutherland. Roy Roundtree is Derek Grimm. Right to the brink of what could be one of the greatest games in Illini history, and it flips the other way, making it one of the worst games in Illini history.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? To have a memorable game – to get that game you’ll be replaying over and over in your head for the next 20 years – you have to walk right to the brink of a devastating loss. To have something truly memorable, you have to go right down to one play. And for us, it came down to two 2-point conversions. They made theirs, we didn’t make ours. They celebrate for weeks at the top of the cliff; I try to figure out how long I can hold on to this branch I grabbed halfway down.
Just like December of 1993.
To the game:
+ Nathan Scheelhaase deserved better. 200 yards through the air, 100 yards on the ground, 3 touchdowns, no turnovers, at Michigan, facing 100,000+, as a freshman, and a loss. He was so cool and so calm in overtime. And he made every play except for the last one. Could he have just lobbed it up when the blitz was coming? Maybe. His first instinct is to spin out, and with a missed assignment and an unblocked guy coming up the middle, he had no chance.
So Nathan is Kiwane today. A freshman whose last play was his worst, but whose ceiling just climbed 20 more feet today. Game 9. Of 53.
+ In a close loss, my brain immediately goes into second guessing mode. Blitz here? Go for it there? Kick it here? Call a different play there? I’ve settled on this: A game like this is unquestionable. 67-65 can’t be dissected. We go for it on fourth down with 5:30 left and get the first down? Three plays and a punt. I’m absolutely convinced. Derek Dimke makes that field goal in the third quarter? Michigan kicker makes his 10 minutes later – guaranteed. This was going to be Michigan’s victory from the very moment Tavon Wilson bit on the play fake on the first play from scrimmage. Guaranteed.
+ A wave of depression is hitting. 53-52 on a tipped 2-point conversion caught by an offensive lineman. Then 67-65 on a tipped pass caught by a wide receiver. All within 10 months. Why us? Why me? I need a 5 minute question-everything break.
+ Didn’t help. That game was ours. Up 7 with the ball, 5 minutes to go, Robinson injured – that game was ours. Keep that drive going, put up some points, ballgame. 1 more foot for Fayson, and I’m at about word #2,000 by now, talking about bowl eligibility and one of the greatest games the Illini have ever played. At Michigan, no less.
But no – I have to sit in silence. I’m the only one home, and it seems so empty. I don’t understand why I care this much. Why put so much emotional effort into something that can let you down this hard? What’s the payoff?
+ We really couldn’t ask for more from our offense. And I couldn’t believe what we saw from our defense. We knew Michigan would put up yards – they gained 522 yards on Iowa’s defense – but I never expected 676 yards. That means they had what – 601 yards in regulation? Now I’m second guessing – I really wish we had gone for it on 4th and inches. If you can’t stop them, the only option is to keep them off the field. Should have snuck it.
+ Plus-4 in turnover ratio and we lost by giving up 67 points. That has to break, like, thirteen records. Huge interceptions from PNY and Martez and Trulon, and yet we lost.
All of that makes me settle here: Ohio State is driving for the tying score in Columbus three years ago this week, and Miami Thomas reaches a hand in on a slant at the goal line. The ball deflects in the air… and comes down in the hands of Antonio Steele. Illinois beats #1 Ohio State on their way to the Rose Bowl. What was that I said earlier about “where’s the payoff?” There’s the payoff.
Third down and 9 today, leading by 7 in the second overtime, Terry Hawthorne reaches a hand in on a slant at the goal line. The ball deflects in the air… and comes down in the receiver’s hands for a touchdown. On to a 3rd overtime, and a loss.
That’s how football is, sometimes. The ball deflects one way, and you beat #1. The ball deflects the other way, and Michigan is bowl eligible before we are.