Favorite Illini Moment of 2017-2018? Man, I wish this were a harder exercise. I have what, like, eight or so happy moments to pick from? When you consider all the football, basketball and recruiting that actually takes place in a calendar year, this should be a long bar argument over some beers and an impossible amount of reminiscing.
But, such is recent life as an Illini fan, and my favorite Illini moment is a metaphor for the sports fandom of all my Ni brethren. In the very first quarter of the very first football game, Mike Dudek returned after back-to-back missed seasons due to ACL tears and did a very Dudekian thing by shaking his man with ease, and then making an awesome adjustment to a poorly thrown ball to haul in Illinois’ first touchdown of the season, and his first touchdown in years.
A catch 981 days in the making.— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) September 3, 2017
Welcome back, @MDFlash_7! #Illini pic.twitter.com/lXCSQdJjjW
Of course the play itself was awesome, and being that it was made in the first game of the year, when all things are still shiny and bright, it would stand out as an exciting moment regardless. But what makes it generationally monumental is what Mike Dudek has been through in his Illinois career, and what he’s meant to the program and fans in this dark period.
Dudek flashed on the scene as an unheralded recruit that dominated as a freshman All-American, and then some no-good rotten luck put the talented receiver under the knife twice. While us fans selfishly think of the impact on the team, Dudek spent every day of 2-plus years preparing to play again, and when he finally got his chance, everything worked out as planned. That rarely happens, but if anyone deserves it, it’s Dudek (and us Illinois fans, who need to find a story to enjoy).
Dudek would only finish the game with two receptions for 47 yards and that touchdown, mainly due to Illinois’ offensive incompetence, but they would go on to win the game and sing the Alma Mater in the end zone with the student section. My favorite moment is my vision for whatever Mike Dudek was feeling in that moment.