I’m A Man. I’m 40. December 28, 2012
So I turned 40 today. And since I’m posting this around midnight, you won’t know if today means the 27th or the 28th, and that way no one will be able to wish me a happy birthday because you won’t know which day is actually my birthday and my goal of writing about turning 40 without a bunch of “happy birthday” replies will be met.
Yes, 40. I know, you’re shocked. I don’t read like I’m a day over 36. But it’s true. I have proof. I threw out my back last Friday SORTING LAUNDRY. New Years Resolution #1: strengthen core muscles. With cheeseburgers.
Here’s what hit me about turning 40: It kinda feels like I’m at the halfway point of my Illini fandom. My earliest Illini memories are around 1983 or so – Braggin’ Rights game, Rose Bowl run, 1984 NCAA Tournament – something around there. So I’ve been following this football and basketball team for around 30 years.
And I’m guessing I have around 30 years left. I’m no actuary, but you take the average life expectancy of a moderately healthy male and divide it by the square root of my family history and you get 68.7. So that gives me 28.7 years to see two things:
1) A basketball national championship.
2) A Rose Bowl victory.
Yes. That’s what I’m thinking about as I hit 40. Not “I need to eat better in the coming years”. Not “wait, does 40 mean it’s time for Dr. Jellyfinger?” I’m looking at the clock and beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see the two things these eyes need to see before I die.
We were oh so close in 2005. With 1:31 remaining and the score tied 70-70, I leaned over to my friend Geoff and told him that the next 91 seconds would define so much of my life. If we win those 91 seconds, my one sports goal – my Sports Guy “Now I Can Die In Peace” moment – is accomplished. The University of Illinois: National Champions.
But it didn’t happen. It wasn’t our time. Luther’s three rimmed out, and those 91 seconds didn’t go our way. I talk about it with an Arkansas buddy fairly regularly. Scotty Thurman’s three fell, and he gets to fall back on 1994 forever. Luther’s three didn’t, and I only get to think back on 2005 and contemplate how close we were.
In football, I’m a realist. Illinois isn’t going to win a national title in football. That would be like a Nebraska fan thinking they’ll win a national title in basketball. They just won’t. It doesn’t work that way.
Wait – one more thing about basketball before I move on. When watching Back to the Future II many years ago, I remember going home thinking about Biff Tannen’s almanac. If I got my hands on something like that, I really don’t think my first move would be to think about betting. My first move would be to flip to the college basketball page and see if we ever won a title. I remember playing out the scenario in my head – finger on the page, scrolling through, hoping against hope to see “Illinois”. So yes, I’ve been thinking about an Illini national title for a long time.
For football, it’s just Rose Bowl. Just bring me a scenario where EVENT STAFF kicks me out 30 minutes after the game because I’m celebrating an Illini win in the best college sports setting in the world. We were there in 1984 and 2008, and we won the Big Ten in 2001 but missed out, so I figure we have two, maybe three more shots to win one in my lifetime.
OK, this thing just veered off the tracks. I spent the entire day telling people I didn’t feel any older, and now I’m realizing I may only have two more Illini Rose Bowls in my lifetime. Seriously considering deleting this post now. That’s it? Even if I live to 80 years old, math says I’ll maybe get only three Rose Bowl chances? And what if the Rose Bowl in it’s current form goes away? It will be a national semifinal every three years soon – our chances of getting Sugar Bowl’d again are going up exponentially.
You know what? That’s OK. It’s beyond my control. These goals existed 20 years ago and they still exist today. I’m not going to change them. I want two things, and I’ll never stop dreaming until I get them.
And if I don’t? I guess that will be OK, too. My team has provided me with so much over the last 30 years. So close to the Final Four in 1984, Battle to Seattle, Jeff George comeback at USC, Kauffman’s shot to beat Iowa, Johnny Johnson to Jimmy Klein at Michigan, Brandon Lloyd to Kurt Kittner in Miami, Frankie’s layup to beat Minnesota and give us the Big Ten Title, Deron’s three to cap the comeback (and, perhaps my single favorite Illini moment ever: the look on Luther’s face after his steal against Arizona in overtime), Juice for a first down at the Horseshoe again and again and again, Mikel’s 330 yards at Wrigley, BP43, and on and on.
So I don’t have to have those two things, I guess. The little victories along the way – especially the surprising ones – are great. My school, my team, making headlines. That’s all I really want.
But if I do get those two things? I can’t even begin to describe the glee. I’m that guy who goes around hugging complete strangers after a big Illini win. If it was a national title? I’d be hugging the cops sent to arrest me for dancing in the middle of the interstate.
So that’s what the orange and blue part of my brain is thinking about as I turn 40. For a school with no national title history, it’s really been a great ride the last 30 years. Football has been beyond frustrating, but basketball has balanced that with surprising success for a non blue-blood team. In the next 30, it’s time to win that elusive basketball title and return victorious from Pasadena.
And if it doesn’t happen by the time I’m 70, I’ll go full-on Jack LaLanne health nut and see if I can’t stretch that to 85. Yes, a Jack LaLanne reference. What can I say? I’m 40 years old.