Stream Of Consciousness – Braggin’ Rights Edition December 21, 2012
I’m in one of those places again. Where I type a bunch of stuff, read it, realize it’s not good enough for the standards I hold for this blog, and delete it. I… guess this is what writers block looks like? All I know is that what I had was crap. Hey, it’s the Christmas season – I’ll share what I threw in the trash.
It was a post comparing Illini fandom to the English Premier League. How I had chosen Aston Villa as my EPL team and they tanked immediately. Yes, really. Here’s a snippet:
Aston Villa, of course, tanked as soon as I picked them. The first two years of my fandom they finished 6th in the EPL, but since then, straight south. Last year they just barely escaped relegation. And this year started there before a little run these last few weeks pushed them up to 14th. It’s just like an Illini football fan to be thrilled that his team is in 14th, yes?
THAT was something that I thought you would find interesting. And I chose the best paragraph. It got so much worse from there.
So today, I’m breaking my No Blogging At Work rule. I’ve carved out 45 minutes. Any time I’m blocked like this, I’m avoiding talking about something. And I have to stream-of-consciousness to get it out. Here goes.
As most of you know (or, those of you who are new to the site may not know), I don’t attend nor watch the Braggin’ Rights game. I quit in 1999 and haven’t watched since. If you want the long story as to why, just go read this post.
If you want the short story, it’s this: Braggin’ Rights day is my one day of fasting from Illini athletics. 364 days per year I obsess over all things Illini. I pay a little attention here and there to my professional teams, especially if they’re in the playoffs and I can coat-tail my way to some high fives, but for the most part, if it’s May with nothing happening or if it’s November with both sports having a game on the weekend, I’m just thinking about all things Illini.
As that other post says, I chose Braggin’ Rights day because it used to ruin my holidays. It became a little too important. I focused on one thing – BEAT MISSOURI. So I quit. And, honestly, it’s been great. I’m obviously nervous for the game, but I wait until exactly two and one half hours after tipoff (in case it goes to overtime), check the score, and it’s over. For the last 12 season, it’s been a simple, concise way to process the emotions from a game that used to dominate my thoughts.
But this year… this year it’s hard to not let it dominate my thoughts. #10 Illinois. #12 Missouri. The rebound from the Weber era has happened faster than any of us thought, and it’s been impossible to not get wrapped up in it. We were Illinois Basketball? We ARE Illinois Basketball. We’re BACK, baby. But…
At some point, a reality check is coming. This is the deepest Big Ten in 20 years. I still think we’ll lose a minimum of eight games this season, if not nine or ten. We’re not going to ride this magic carpet forever. Which leads me to one very sobering thought that has dominated my week and not allowed me to write anything else:
What if it’s Missouri that gives us that wakeup call?
Watching the game or not watching the game – this thought will be impossible to avoid. The last 12 years, I’ve avoided the game and been mostly happy (I mean, we won 9 in a row) and still decently OK when we lost. The stakes weren’t really that high for any of those games.
This year is different. If we can beat our third top-20 team in the non-conference season – none of them in Assembly Hall – that probably means we’re legitimately legit. That I should probably stop hedging with “we’re still going to lose eight games”. That if we beat Purdue on the road and Ohio State at home to start the Big Ten season, our ranking will reach ridiculous levels.
But if we lose – especially if we get blown out – the bubble bursts (not the Bubble, just the bubble). Those last four sluggish games at home were warning signs. Without those two threes against Hawaii and Gardner-Webb we’re “others receiving votes” and 10-2 heading into this game. I have to hold off on declaring us back.
Which is why this week has been the toughest run-up to the game I avoid in the last 13 years. Sure, we could make a statement, but we could also be exposed. By Missouri.
So in the early evening tomorrow, while I’m avoiding the game with a movie or a shopping trip or an intense game of Bejeweled on the iPad, I’ll likely be 43% less happy about my decision to never again watch this game. What has been a great “Illini football and basketball are important, but they’re not THAT important” avoidance will be put to the test. I really want to see a win when I log on to check the score. I just don’t want to be exposed by Missouri.
But if we win? A Merry Chirstmas indeed. Wait, why am I doing this again?