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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.

alexiniguez December 28th, 2012

Happy birthday.

Steve December 28th, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert !
Since you mentioned actuary (yes, I am one) I felt that I had to jump in. Hoping to be of service here. Went to the World Life Expectancy site,, to see what the life expectancy is for a US male, aged 40. 78.4. Longer than you are thinking, unless you aren’t expecting to be coherent for the last 8.4 years. Hope not, for our sakes. I’m looking forward to my mind meld delivery of “A Lion Eye” in 2043.
First a bunch of noise. This figure is all males, meaning all races, all health statuses, smokers and non-smokers. I’m sure you have some advantageous characteristics. I know that you have one harmful characteristic. Yup, you live in Missouri. If you go to the US only part of the site, you will see that Missouri takes 1.5 years from your lifespan. But you knew that. You can feel them trying to suck the life force out of your existence every game. Fight that.
Hope that was helpful, or better yet FUN !
About halfway out from the tree trunk for an actuary, joking about life expectancy and all.

SouthernIllini December 28th, 2012

Happy Birthday!!!

I’m hoping for the next 30 years that you get to see Illinois basketball mentioned along with the North Carolinas and the Kentuckys and the Dukes on a regular basis.

At the very least, have them be in the conversation in the B1G every single year.

agiganti December 28th, 2012

thanks for depressing the crap out of me.
I hit 50 in January….

Hoppy December 28th, 2012

Keep thinking of all those good memories and keep being hopeful of all that could be. Especially because no matter how much you DON’T think about it…Dr. Jellyfingers is right around the corner…

wizardofoz December 28th, 2012

What an amazing writer you are, Robert. I got goosebumps reading that paragraph about Kauffman, Kittner, Luther, and Juice. We have had a wonderful ride.

Harry Lime December 28th, 2012

Relax. 40 is nothing. Jellyfingers and his friend colonoscope are 10 years away. Enjoy.

Illinigrad December 28th, 2012

Happy Birthday Robert. 40 is a milestone. Congratulations.

On the Illini and FB, I told my son the other day that I will never see the Illini in a Rose Bowl again. Thankfully I did go when Zook’s team made it and had a great time. With the conference restructuring I have grave doubts if Illinois will ever get to the Rose Bowl again. It just seems very remote, or maybe the current demise of the team and how bad they were is affecting my perception.

BB: I hope to see a run. Luther’s missed 3 will always be there — so close to a NC in BB yet so far.

I hope you had some nice presents.

Neale Stoner December 28th, 2012

Harry is right. 40 is nothing. Neither is Dr. Jellyfinger nor the colonoscopy. Wait for Dr. Saw and his titanium knees….Let’s calculate the glass half full–how many Final Fours could we see? I’m saying four in 30, maybe more. Be nice to John Groce.

ATOillini December 28th, 2012

Happy happy happy……with one heck of lot more than 28.7 to go!
I’m right there with wizardofoz. I too had goosebumps upon reading the laundry list of memories. Recognizing I’m probably a bit in the minority on here (most likely due to my 55 years of age), I’m still partial to the Flyin Illini. Just watch the 89 second video on youtube titled “Flyin Illini Dunks”. I’m still in denial almost 24 years later that they didn’t win it all. Talent, talent and more talent on that team.

IlliniAl December 28th, 2012

Happy Day Robert!
I got 18 on you plus being a Cub fan..well…I’m used to the failures but like you I cherish the highpoints and memories. The first thing I do after coming homw from work each day is to check for a new post from you. Just excellent writing and sometimes I think you are reading all of our minds. Here’s to another 40!

GrogsBBQPepperoni December 28th, 2012

Funny enough , Robert, I actually am an actuary. You have a few things going for you that may get you more than your estimated 28.7 years. Wife, kids and an optimistic outlook on things improve life expectancy. I do fear you may be more prone than others to some sort of disability given the “back-outta-whack-due-to-laundry-sack” incident however. Sadly, joe john’s uber pessimism will cause any future expectancy to be rounded down.
I’m with illinigrad on football – too many stalwarts in the conference now for us to get to Rose Bowl without some serious luck anytime soon. But hoops should have at least a 10 year schedule on really deep tourney runs, if not better. Groce looks to be both a quality recruiter and game coach. And he just seems like a guy that won’t run afoul of the rules either – steering us clear of any ncaa trouble.

illiniranger December 29th, 2012

Tracy Abram’s says “I too am a man.”