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.