I was sitting in the press box Saturday afternoon at Illinois Field, the final Illinois game I cover this school year before packing up my car and driving home to the suburbs for the summer.
The Illinois Baseball team was looking to even up the series against Ohio State in a critical late-season matchup, and the Buckeyes struck first. After Illinois starter Quinn Snarskis settled in, the Illini took control behind a pair of home runs (Bren Spillane and Ben Troike) and were up 10-3 in the eighth inning.
As left fielder Doran Turchin steps to the plate, something weird happens.
An “ILL-INI” cheer.
Over 3,000 fans packed Illinois Field for the Bleacher Bum BBQ on Friday night, and while there was a good crowd at Saturday’s game, it wasn’t anywhere close, especially once the game was a rout in the later innings. But the few hundred fans left were cheering, some saying “I-L-L” and others responding with “I-N-I.”
Maybe me saying it is weird is a little dramatic. It should not be weird when fans of a certain team break out into that team’s chant, but after the three fairly miserable years I’ve had watching most Illini teams as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I couldn’t help myself but to smile at the fans’ cheers.
Unless Lovie turns around the football team, Underwood is able to get the most out of his freshman, Nancy Fahey takes a winless-in-conference women’s basketball team and works a miracle, or Illinois Baseball becomes more consistent, I’m going to graduate in May 2019 without ever having seen as a student a:
- Football Bowl Game
- NCAA Tournament berth (men’s or women’s basketball)
- NCAA Tournament berth (baseball)
I’m not going to look through the record books, but that has to be the worst four-year period in Illinois Athletics history for those sports, right? Golf, wrestling, tennis, softball, track and field, gymnastics, I know you’re doing amazing things, but almost every student comes to college to cheer on a winning football team, and I didn’t get that experience.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not complaining. It’s just been a tough time to be an Illini fan (or reporter). It makes our job a little more difficult, but seeing fans on a Saturday afternoon in May in the midst of this awful stretch doing an “I-L-L” chant while the Illini are taking care of “THE” Ohio State Buckeyes, it’s just refreshing.
And it’s my favorite moment of the past year in Illinois Athletics.