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Garbage October 28, 2012

I’m only happy when it rains.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t attend the game today. My wife had a Thing. It started at 2:30, so there was no way to both attend the game and the Thing.

Because of that, I watched the last 20 minutes on my phone. BTN2go app for the win. My wife drove to the Thing, and I sat in the passenger seat, getting carsick watching the second half. 50/50 whether it was the winding road that made me carsick.

There was some music on in the background at the Thing. The first few songs were happy, which made me irate. I am unable to tolerate any happiness immediately following an Illini loss. And I am completely unable to tolerate happy songs on days where we realize that yes, we’re staring at another Illini football nuclear winter. Had Kansas beat Texas today (and they almost did), we would own the longest in-conference losing streak in the nation. Just like that, we’re back there. Hello 2003. What’s happenin’, 1997? We’re back.

So the happy songs made me mad. But then they played some Garbage. I’m Only Happy When It Rains. Not only did it take me back to my final year in Champaign – it put a finger on my emotions. The calm that I was feeling wasn’t denial. It was familiarity.

You know I love it when the news is bad
Why it feels so good to feel so sad
I’m only happy when it rains

I’m unsure if there’s another team in college football that, over a 20 year period, has beaten themselves as much as we have. In fact, I’m almost certain there isn’t. We’re one of the worst 10 BCS-conference programs in the last 20 years, so we’re really only competing with the Washington States and Kansas’ of the world for the title of “team that beats themselves the most with turnovers and penalties”.

We established last week that we likely have the worst turnover margin in all of college football the last 12 years. Our average finish in Turnover Margin is 89th. And I know that we’ve been ranked very high (low?) in terms of penalties and penalty yards many years during the Turner and Zook years. You know what? I’m calling it. No college football team beats themselves more than we do. None. We win.

Yes, I’m excited to declare that. If we’re going to be bad at something, why not strive to be the worst? It feels so good to feel so sad.

So when Justin Staples hit the IU quarterback 27 yards beyond the sideline, what else could I do besides hang my head and grab my hair? When Tommy Davis dove for a fair catch and we gave Indiana the ball in the redzone, I just closed my eyes and shook my head. How many times will we have to watch this? How many consecutive coaches can have undisciplined teams? Why does this always happen?

I feel good when things are going wrong
I only listen to the sad, sad songs
I’m only happy when it rains

I mentioned a few weeks ago that “will we even win a conference game?” is my normal. I’m an illini graduate and obsessive fan, I prefer college sports to the the pros (my sports obsession rests 90% upon my two college teams), and college football is my favorite sport to watch by far. I watch all of our games at least twice, I go to Rantoul and spring practices, and I impatiently tap my foot each June waiting for Freshman Jersey Number Day.

But because this team has folded so many times in so many spectacularly train wreck ways, I’ve found that I can’t ever trust. We can be up 27-7, but all I can think is “three touchdowns these last five minutes and we’ll lose”. It takes me forever to exhale.

2009 kind of broke me, too. I pushed all in with our senior-laden team, confidently claiming we could win 10 games with all of that NFL talent. We didn’t even win one-third of that. Last year, when we were 6-0, I was uncomfortable. I knew we couldn’t be trusted. I was frightened of losing six straight. And we did.

So when we outgain Indiana by 80 yards, and we convert 7 of 17 third downs while they convert 1 of 13, and we lose by 14 at home on Homecoming, well, I relax. As in, I don’t have all of these fears and insecurities anymore. I know that I won’t have to worry about anyone placing any expectations on us that I know we can’t meet. I can just relax and expect devastation. I feel good when things are going wrong.

You’ll get the message by the time I’m through
When I complain about me and you
I’m only happy when it rains

It’s days like today where I understand our uniquely negative fanbase. I’ve mentioned a dozen times that I’m not an anger guy when it comes to college sports – I reserve that for professional sports and politics. So I’ve always said that I don’t understand our angry fanbase at games. And I’ve never understood why our crowd struggles to get loud on third down.

Days like today, I remember. Years and years and years of “yes, I’ll get loud on this fourth down play, but you know one of our defensive linemen is going to jump on the hard count and we’re going to gift them a first down, right?” It’s nearly impossible to not expect the worst at this point.

When will our crowd next watch an Illini returner drift back to catch a punt and not think “just please catch it”? Has to be four full seasons without a muffed punt before we’ll trust again, right? How would it be possible for any Illini fan to think otherwise?

What about pass protection? When is the next time you’ll watch an Illini game without the feeling of “no chance we can pass this game because our QB just won’t have time”? Indiana came into the game today averaging 1.7 sacks per game. 12, total, on the season. And they got seven today.

What’s that? You want another sack statistic? How about Illini sacks? 41 last year. 12 this year after eight games. You’ll get the message by the time I’m through. Even when our defense holds our opponent under 300 yards, we give up 31 points. We can’t stop the negative plays on offense and we can’t force negative plays on defense. This defense only lost Mercilus, Wilson, Henry, and Thomas, yet got significantly worse.

You want to hear about my new obsession?
I’m riding high upon a deep depression
I’m only happy when it rains

And so here we are again. Just looked at the schedule, and I’m pretty sure we won’t be favored in a Big Ten game again until the 2014 season. Next year’s home schedule is just too difficult. We’re likely looking at the same thing as the start to the Zook era. Two win season followed by a two win season.

That’s really hard to face. It makes the next few years of my life look so bleak. Right or wrong, Illini Football is a huge part of who I am. Friends of mine associate me with it. I get “stay away from tall bridges” texts after games like this. And when we win a game we weren’t supposed to win (yes, it has happened before), I get the somewhat strange “very happy for you” texts, like I had anything to do with it. But it is what it is – Illini Football is my thing.

And we suck again. And it might be years before we’re competitive. And that’s incredibly depressing.

But it feels so familiar that there’s part of me that feels safe there – it feels like home. It’s oddly comfortable going to a game and not having to worry about the outcome. I’m an Illini football fan. I know how to deal with multiple losing seasons. I can take it. I’ll endure.

Pour some misery down on me.

PittsburghNellie October 28th, 2012

This may be why I like your stories so much, but I’ve already had the thoughts from the last two paragraphs from the final paragraph pass through my head

EricCLoy October 28th, 2012

One of the eight million things I do not understand about this team. Isn’t pretty much the only reason Tommy Davis was brought in…was to return punts? He was a super specialist, right?

FloridaIllini October 28th, 2012

Uhh Robert- I know how you feel but how are you going to feel when you find out that it will be this way until you die? The first Illini players I can remember watching J.C. Caroline, Abe Woodson, Ray Nitschke and Bobby Mitchell from the 1956 team- I was 8 years old- so that’s 58 years of feeling just as you described- how’s that for something to look forward to- and some fans wonder why we don’t EVER expect to have really good teams- our glory days were in the 1920′s- we have never won a national title in football or basketball- EVER- just calm down and enjoy the ride my friend otherwise you won’t be around to enjoy it- we don’t even have Chief Illiniwek to watch anymore!!!

zip October 28th, 2012

I’m almost as old as FloridaIllini and I remember during the Jim Valek era when students would stick around just to WATCH the Chief and then file out of the stands chanting “Let’s go to Kams! Let’s go to Kams!”

chief23 October 28th, 2012

I was expecting vast improvement on the special teams after the arrival of Tim Salem but it’s more of the same. There is something terribly wrong with the culture of this team. How many coordinators survive the off-season?

GrogsBBQPepperoni October 28th, 2012

Unfortunately, this kind of sucks for your blog, Robert. I think you do a really good job but I, for one, will not give enough of a care abour our crummy football team to watch them or even care about commenting how we lost again by 20 points. Yeah, we’re in for a long stretch of crap football. This blows. I mean, who can put aside 3+ hours on a Saturday to just watch more and more ineptitude. Hope Groce does better in year 1 than Beckman. I’m really sour on him. We are as undisciplined as I’ve seen us been in recent memory. There are (multiple?) personal fouls each week. And special teams looks worse than last year. WORSE!!! That’s like torpedoing the Titanic. “It was already at its lowest point you morons!”

LongLiveTheChief98 October 28th, 2012

Sadly, my score prediction from Friday was almost spot on. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…there are deep, systemic issues with the culture of football at Illinois. It’s going to take more than the right coaches/coordinators/players to right the ship, if it can be righted at all. What is it going to take? I’m note sure….but I’m not the one making millions of dollars to figure it out.
It’s one of those things where I really really wish I didn’t care as much as I do. Although, I did find myself sitting in the stands Saturday in the second half with my arms folded, IL down by one score, and just numb, waiting for that one IN score to put the dagger in. Was I waiting for IL to turn the tides and tie it, then even maybe take the lead? Nope, not at all. I knew this team did not have it in them…and given the bonehead mistakes that had already transpired, I knew the loss was inevitable. Do I hate feeling this way? Absolutely. Am I at the point where I will basically accept the fact that Illinois football will never achieve consistent relevance? Sadly I think so.
Which leads to my next point. This was the first time, 20 years after my freshman year at Illinois, that I had gotten season tickets. I hadn’t bought in prior, mainly due to the fact that there hasn’t been consistent success, and I’m not exactly made of money. But with consecutive winning seasons for the first time in forever and a new regime that looked promising, I took the plunge. Burned. Epically. Do I have the nerve, patience, tolerance, and finances to drive down from the Chicago area on a weekly basis to sit through another rebuild period? No. Am I bad fan? Probably. But I just can’t do it. Just can’t. Robert always talks about how 2009 ruined the fan base. For me, it’s this year. I might buy an individual game ticket in, say, 2014. But the program has officially lost me. Will I still follow games from the comfort of my home? Probably, because I’m masochistic that way. But after this season, I’m done sitting in the stands.
I, like Robert, long for the days of when a 6-6 season is a down year instead of a cause for celebration. But at this point, I just don’t see that ever happening. I’ve waited 20 years…others here much longer…and I’m calling a spade a spade. It’s never going to happen.

GrogsBBQPepperoni October 28th, 2012

Long Live – very well said. We appear to be almost the same age and I remember when we were going there and prior to our arrival. IL football was pretty good. We went to bowls. Decent ones sometimes. We’re not that program anymore. We’re a bottom feeder now after years of devastation – it’s our new identity. The schools in our conference that are better than us will always take the top players now and we’ll be left with the scraps. Recruiting is being disolved in front of our eyes – and that very valuable DC pipeline is completely dry now as well as the small ties we still had to the Florida area. We will recruit locally (maybe in Ohio a bit – against Urban Meyer – great). We will be left with the guys that Michigan, Wisconsin, OSU, MSU, Iowa, Missouri, Iowa State and, to some extent, NU didn’t want. Geez, probably even Purdue too. How will we compete in that manner?
Yep, 6-6 seasons will be those awesome years when we totally overachive. How pathetic. Robert said it best. We’re Illinois football, we can’t be trusted. Well, don’t worry Illinois football, we won’t be asking very much of you in the future so don’t worry about betraying any trust we put in you. See you for hoops! Closing the door on 2012 football. Too bad the team and staff beat me to it.

lumpyillini October 28th, 2012

New to “A Lion Eye”, and you are dead on with your thoughts. I’ve been a season ticket holder since I graduated in 82.5, and will continue at least while my daughter goes to school at Illinois, but the 3 hour ride home from the games have been a killer the last decade (or two). When we win, we have the post game show and highlights. Then scanning the radio for other games that may impact our bowl bid. Not to mention stopping at a watering hole or two for a celabratory adult beverage.

I guess I am going back to sneaking in alcohol. No reason to celebrate afterwards…

lumpyillini October 28th, 2012

“celebratory” I didn’t major in English!

AHSIllini32 October 28th, 2012

Robert, shouldn’t the difference this time be that you think Beckman will get it turned around? Before when this feeling hit there wasn’t a chance to feel hopeful because it was with coaches like Turner and Zook.
This time it’s with a guy who’s already turned around one program, has everything you’ve mentioned before in terms of organization and pedigree and such, and is recruiting quite well.
It seems as though you are changing your tune on Beckman and co.

MiniTwerp October 28th, 2012

I don’t see us being favored in any conference games next year either. Holy Cow…could we seriously be facing at least 22 consecutive B1G losses? Oh my, that actually makes me want to vomit. Or quit being a fan of this team. Might have to go with the latter.

halloweenie October 28th, 2012

AHSIllini32 – What is the reasoning behind your optimism with the current staff? I would like to believe but I missed my first home game in 10 years because I just don’t see any reason for optimism and when Mr. Beckman is interviewed….don’t get much but cliches.

illiniranger October 28th, 2012

I was all for giving Beckman time, at least see if there was improvement next season. I don’t think we are going to see that. We had two weeks to prepare for a very weak opponent that has lost to ball state and navy this year. And that’s what we put out there. This team played its best game against WMU and has significantly regressed. We have Beckman for at least two years. I would be shocked at this point if we get any better next year. I agree that we might not win another conference game til 2014

bkenny October 28th, 2012

Long Live –
If that makes you a bad fan, I’m an even worse fan. For the record, I don’t believe it makes you a bad fan. I think you’re a great fan for even purchasing season tickets, and continuing to drive down. Hell, I think anyone on here that still watches games is a good fan. Most people have completely turned out.
I can barely drive down for an occasional game anymore. It’s just a waste of time, minus a great Murphy’s burger. I couldn’t imagine driving down EVERY WEEK for this garbage. It’s bad enough wasting 3 hours watching it on TV. I’ll still watch in the same fashion you do. And I’ll make the game at Soldier Field next year, since it will only take me 15 minutes to get there, not 2+ hours. But they aren’t giving people much of a reason to go down anymore. It’s just not enjoyable. Unless you’re the people that has a massive tailgate, multiple TVs for other games, and you can just treat the game as a 3 hour break from the real fun.
Anyway, I can’t blame you for giving up season tickets.

Joe John October 28th, 2012

AHS – there’s absolutely nothing hopeful about Tim Beckman. With Ron Turner, he was an offensive guru…with Ron Zook he was a recruiter…Beckman has nothing..NOTHING.

Its over…This team plays undisciplined football, there’s arent the playmakers here to run the spread, and the defense is only going to get worse while the schedule gets harder….

Mike Thomas took a program that was on a lifeline (under Zook) and just pulled the plug with this hire..Disaster. Utter, complete.

Neale Stoner October 28th, 2012

This is quite sad. MT had few choices to replace Zook. Coaches watch these things, and they know Illinois history, and Zook was performing in line with or above median performance at Illinois. His normal ability to recruit was undercut by a cynical fan base ( which, frankly, lacks historical perspective and realistic expectations), a University administration in chaos and the failure of Thomas to voice any support. MT has to keep TB for 2, more likely three years, because no coach of ability will come if they will not be given a realistic chance to succeed. There are other, better options.

Kansas State has proven that a program with a long history of failure can be turned around. But it takes the right people and courage to stay the course. Illinois, for whatever reason, has failed to find the right leadership most often, or when it is found (Mackovic, arguably) we have failed,to sustain and build upon success.

Someone, in a position above AD, needs to take a hard look at what is a failure of administration and leadership and address it for the long term. This cannot continue as a chronic source of alumni and institutional embarrassment.

Illinigrad October 28th, 2012

“Mike Thomas took a program that was on a lifeline (under Zook) and just pulled the plug with this hire..Disaster. Utter, complete.”

Please, everyone who would like to start the season over with Zook and Vic in place, please raise their hand. I see it is unanimous, at least in this room on this Sunday afternoon.

I would like to mention a few reasons why Beckman is NOT the guy to drive Illinois out of the ditch in which he has driven the Illini FB bus the past eight games.
1. He is NOT a good game day coach. There is now a sufficient body of evidence to show that he is just a young Ron Zook. At the end of the first half he gave up only about 10 yards to IN by punting instead of going for it on fourth down. We were behind. It was worth a shot. There are many other examples of poor decisions during games, including whether or not to accept certain penalities, that simply reek of football stupidity.
2. The team makes far too many mistakes based on poor discipline.
3. He did not put together a good staff.
4. He really brings nothing to the table as a head coach which is special. He is a questionable coach and will recruit at best slightly above a mediocre level. It is the perfect “meh” hire — a name that nobody knew from a weak conference.
5. He took a team with some talent and in spite of the injuries just drove the team into a deep ditch. This team is not a 2-10 level team, it is at least 5-7.

God, please end this error ASAP or else put some magic in Mrs. Beckman’s Thurs. night dinner.. We did not sign on for this with the hiring of Beckman.

bkenny October 28th, 2012

Neal –
What are “realistic expecations”? Not being one of the worst BCS school in the past 20 years is setting the bar too high? Would love to know what realistic expectations we should have, and why we should have them.

travelmaster October 28th, 2012

OK, So the team looses this week at Ohio.
That’s a given. So too at Northwestern. No bowl game this year. At what point does the coaching staff start using backups and walkons to see who can help build a winner for next season? Or is that too much foresight to expect from this staff?!

Neale Stoner October 28th, 2012

Bkenny– 8-4 and bowl 2 out of 3 years; 5-7 the off year. That would be great improvement.

When does Jim Tressel become “legal” again?

PittsburghNellie October 29th, 2012

“Mike Thomas took a program that was on a lifeline (under Zook) and just pulled the plug with this hire..Disaster. Utter, complete.”
Agreed, but Zook had to go. It’s just unfortunate we hired a man even more clueless than Zook. Surely Thomas couldn’t do that again if he tried.

kelvinator91 October 29th, 2012

So, even if MT did want to fire TB would he have the funds to do so? How much would a buyout be and then what would you need to go get a coach that could turn around a program?

ILLINI08 October 31st, 2012