We all have memories of our favorite teams growing up, some good and some bad. As an Illini football fan, I grew up with with the wild assumption that they went to a bowl game every year.
It all started watching one of my first games, seeing a Jeff George-led Illinois team defeat Virginia in the Citrus Bowl. Then the following year watching them play in the Hall of Fame Bowl, followed by the John Hancock Bowl, the Holiday Bowl (which I attended), and the Liberty Bowl. I thought, Great, Illinois goes to a bowl game every year.
Then reality set in, as the team would not make it back to a bowl for six years when Kurt Kittner led the team to the MicronPC.com Bowl. I then realized there was a reason why my dad and I stopped traveling to Champaign from Wyoming every fall to watch a game — the team wasn’t very good.
Bowl games are always fun to go to, especially when they are some of the bigger ones like the Rose and Sugar, which I was lucky enough to also attend. I remember talking to Tim Beckman when I met him before the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, saying that I wanted to attend a bowl game every year; unfortunately, he didn’t make it happen.
Bret Bielema and the rest of the coaching staff seem to have the team on the right track, to getting to bowl games every year, and they are getting in recruiting battles to land not only some of the best players in the state of Illinois, but also the nation. Now, you can say they haven’t landed any of them yet, but if they can show that last year wasn’t a fluke, and they are a legitimate Big Ten contender year in and year out, I believe they will start landing some of the nation’s best prospects.
This last January I was able to attend the Reliaquest Bowl, and I told my dad’s roommate from Illinois that we should make plans to go to the College Football Playoff next year. Maybe that is a pipedream, but I would settle for going to a bowl game every year.