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Ticket Stubs November 1, 2012

84% of the words you’ve read on this site were typed at the same desk. In my home office. World headquarters of ALE Inc. This was my dad’s desk. Wherever I move, this will always be my desk. Part of dad that I’ll always have with me.

It’s an old wood desk with a glass top, and about 15 years ago, a roommate of mine gave me the idea to put ticket stubs under the glass. I had a drawer full of ticket stubs, and he suggested I put them under the glass for all to see. So when this desk is clean (it rarely is – I usually clear that “laptop wedge” in the center where I have enough room for my computer and my arms), you can see ticket stubs from the last 20 years.

From time to time, I just look through all of the stubs and think back to those games. Illini over LaSalle in the basketball season opener in 1993 (Jerry Hester scored 20 in his freshman debut I believe). Student ticket for that game: $5.50. Ron Zook stares at me from the Arkansas State ticket stub from last year. 10th Anniversary Micron PC Bowl! Only $39 to see our beatdown of Virginia from really good seats.

I put the prominent ticket stubs in the center, right under my chin as I type this. 2005 Final Four ticket stub is front and center. Rose Bowl is right next to it. The holy grail for both sports, and they happened within 2.5 years of each other. I also keep the Michigan 2000 stub (football) close as well. Never forget.

The one that always gets me, for some reason, is the 2004 Wake Forest ticket stub. It’s not the Final Four stub or the Rose Bowl stub that makes me long for the heyday of Illini athletics – it’s the 2004 Wake Forest stub. Without question the most fun I ever had in Assembly Hall. Even though I was way up in C section (wait, I can tell you: C24 row 12), it’s still the most excited I ever was at an Illini game. When Dee was sitting on the floor as they went to that TV timeout, and the place was going bananas, and the thought of “we might move to #1 in the country if this holds… NUMBER ONE!” crept in, well, nothing before nor since has topped it.

Especially since. Illini basketball just endured its worst five year stretch since the 1970′s. Illini Football just lost its tenth consecutive conference game, the THIRD such 10+ game conference losing streak in the last 15 years. The Big Ten basketball beat writers put together a poll and picked us to finish 9th in the Big Ten this year (behind Iowa). The football writers will do that next summer and pick us dead last in the Big Ten in football (well behind Northwestern). These aren’t the worst of times, but they’re close.

Which makes me think about our fanbase right now. Two new coaches in both major sports, and the first coach has a D in his first semester (his A on the “recruiting a spread QB” essay is the only thing preventing an F). Many fans are ready to give up on Tim Beckman already.

The new basketball coach is getting positive reviews so far, especially after landing Kendrick Nunn, but how long will that last if we lose 2 of 3 in Maui and then lose our B1G/ACC Challenge game? Not saying we will, but this is a team that lost 12 of their last 14 games. John Groce has a long way to go to build this into a winner, and he only has the 2009 recruiting class and the 2011 recruiting class to do it (nobody left from 2010, no recruits in 2012).  He does have some talented seniors to work with, but after they graduate, next year, we’re all juniors and freshmen.  It’s an uphill climb.

I started this post talking about ticket stubs and here I am taking the temperature of our fanbase again.  I started this blog in the spring of 2009, and the highlight of the 3.5 years since, Illini-wise, would either be the Texas Bowl win or the UNLV tourney win.  Our basketball team has lost 12 of their last 14 games.  Our football team has lost 12 of their last 14 regular season games, with the bowl win making us 3 for our last 15.  I’ve probably had three posts in the last 3.5 years where I declared us to have found rock bottom, only to watch us sink some more.  I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but with the senior losses on both teams, there’s decent chance it’s 2015 before we make another bowl or NCAA tournament.

Which makes me stare at these ticket stubs longingly.  2002 Ohio State football game?  It was great to force overtime, and even though we were staring over the edge of a football cliff, basketball was in the middle of its best ever run.  Braggin’ Rights 1994?  Yet another loss during my years in school.  But at least we’d get to destroy East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl a week later.

Now?  We’re facing a December that might include a Notre Dame BCS appearance (with an offensive line that should mostly be playing in Champaign), a fourth consecutive loss to Missouri in the Braggin’ Rights game (puke puke puke puke), and a January 1st Northwestern bowl game where I’ll have to finally admit that Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach.  Jane, get me off this crazy thing.

The good news is, all things are new.  Bolingbrook QB Aaron Bailey recently reaffirmed his commitment to Illinois, and I’ve now placed every egg I own into his basket.  John Groce appears to be the real deal, and this senior-laden team could surprise some people in the Big Ten.  Add some top-end recruits like Keita Bates-Diop (2014) and Charles Matthews (2015), and we can start to declare Illini basketball back.  There’s hope on the horizon.

For now, though, all I have is ticket stubs.  They remind me every evening of the heights we’ve reached.  But they also show me how far we have to go.

Steve November 1st, 2012

I didn’t go to the game against Wake Forest, I just watched it on tv. and I remember it VERY fondly. VERY fondly indeed.
But that said, since I wasn’t at the Wake game, nothing is likely to top the Elite Eight comeback against Arizona for me. I was there, with my two sons, and that was absolutely electric. The noise in the final 10 minutes was a physical force, pounding on my chest. And that amazing TEAM did it !! Came back, took the game over without fouling (my personal peeve is that fouling is a positive) and gave me the memory of a lifetime.
In fact, my younger son said “I’m only 17 years old and I already know that I’ve seen the best basketball game of my life. How weird is that?”

Ahhh, the memories !

WaitingFor2012 November 1st, 2012

Jane, “STOP” this crazy thing.

WaitingFor2012 November 1st, 2012

Also, I look forward to your 1-1-13 admission that maybe FITZEE can coach a little.
Hopefully some of your followers will do the same. You know the type: the ones who are convinced that you “proved” beyond the shadow of a doubt and with geometric logic that everything in Evanston was being done via some scheduling magic orchestrated by the AD we desperately wanted to hire for ourselves-and that the Trib was covering them not because they’re winning, but because of alumni loyalty.

Robert November 1st, 2012

I referenced So I Married An Axe Murderer referencing the Jetsons. And you, sir, stepped in my trap.

Lou-a-villini November 1st, 2012

That ticket is proof of how difficult it is to move up on the ticket priority list.

Holly November 1st, 2012

I remember that Wake Forest game well. A great night, indeed. I had many similar thoughts… “We are dominating the #1 team in the country. Granted on our home court, but we are firing on all cylinders!”

Joe John November 1st, 2012

Robert, that spread QB cant throw. How exactly is he going to run the spread without being able to pass accurately?

ATOillini November 1st, 2012

Ahhhhh….Wake Forest 2004. Was I the only who felt every basketball fan in the country was watching that night? Special.
As for Aaron Bailey, I’m hoping he graduates a semester early. Then he can be assigned a thorough reading of 3 years of ALE for the next few months. He’ll realize Robert may be out there a bit, but also that many others do care. Memorial stadium can be fun. We’ve all experienced it. (Yes, JJ, I know he can’t throw, he’ll be under a never ending pass rush, and he’ll have no legitimate receivers to throw to. So I agree there is some work to do.)

mlp94595 November 2nd, 2012

My years in Champaign were similarly bad. My last semester senior year in 1975, we won the Big Ten outdoor track championship, our first Big Ten title in anything except fencing since the slush fund. Harv Schmidt and Bob Blackman were our equivalent of Zook and Weber. We did have a winning football team my junior year with the likes of Tom Hicks, Scott Studwell, Revie Sorey and Lonnie Perrin, all of whom made NFL rosters. We also had a decent basketball team my sophomore year when Nick Weatherspoon was a senior. But of course that didn’t last. The best thing that happened the entire time was the hiring of Lou Henson my year in grad school, but his first year was spent mourning after being spurned by Gene Bartow.

The odd part about all that was that I didn’t feel deprived at the time because expectations were so low. We still had a good time at the games. I guess the current students will have to have a similar attitude for the next few years.

Harry Lime November 2nd, 2012

Perfect logic, 2012. NW is having a good year, so the past never happened!

flyilliniguy November 2nd, 2012

The Wake Forest ticket stub has to be up there for me too. I remember a few hours before the game looking out of my dorm window into the courtyard and seeing Dee, Augie, Deron, and a few others walking through on their way to Assembly Hall. I yelled down, “Beat Wake Forest”, and got a “Hell yeah, white boy!” back from Dee.

mattcoldagelli November 2nd, 2012

Sorry, 2012, Fitzgerald needs to remove “epic, borderline unbelievable 4th quarter collapses” from his yearly repertoire before we all have to grudgingly admit that he’s above average.

illiniranger November 2nd, 2012

@ Joe John,
you’ve been very down on Aaron Bailey because he “can’t throw.” i think it’s a lot deeper than Aaron Bailey’s inability to throw…
none of our QBs can throw. dating back to Juice Williams we have had some haywire accuracy issues from QBs. Now we see NS and ROT “can’t throw.” Here’s my take. We can’t coach QBs how to throw or offenses to effectively pass the ball.
what is the difference between say Wes Lunt and Riley O’Toole? physically, i’d say very little. maybe Lunt’s got a bigger arm, but ROT has underrated mobility and put up great numbers at a very competitive high school level of play – certainly more competitive than the high school league Lunt played in. The biggest difference? Wes Lunt has received far better coaching in high school and especially college. Lunt will put up HUUUUUGE numbers by the time he is a SR at Okie St. ROT will put up pretty mediocre numbers in the one or so years he starts here. and it all goes back to coaching. ROT and NS have all the physical ability they need to be competent B1G QBs. There is absolutely ZERO CHANCE that they are “worse” then the water pistol armed kid that Northwestern is trotting out there to spell Kain Colter. But the coaching? man, that is world of difference.
and it’s not just the QB coaching either. its the coaching everywhere on offense. people are pretty down on NS; the reality is that NS is no better now than he was as a RS-FR. and why? because the coaching has been terrible and he hasn’t been able to improve because he isn’t getting what he needs from his OC, his position coach, or his offensive line.
I’ll never blame NS, ROT, Juice, and eventually Bailey for failing to reach their potential. I’ll put all that on the disorganized mess of an offense that we’ve put out there since Jon Beutjer was our QB.

illiniranger November 2nd, 2012

i guess my point Joe John, is that you are kind of right that Aaron Bailey or Juice, or NS “can’t throw.” but the way you say it is so petulant and narrow minded that you come across as a real doucher.