Sep 25, 2019

Going to sleep without knowing the outcome of an Illini football game is a strange, strange thing. I was part "is this how my great-grandfather found out that Red Grange scored four touchdowns against Michigan?", part completely at ease with it. I'll attempt to explain. But to do so, I'll have to tell the full story.

I was just one. Then I met my wife, and she had three boys, and when we got married I skipped from one to five very quickly. From single 30 year-old guy living by himself to married 31 year-old guy with 9, 11, and 13 year-old boys in the house. That was 2005. I got married the day Juice Williams verballed to Illinois.

Five eventually became six. Kind of. Well, it really did. Our oldest son's best friend became our fourth son. Not officially - not legally - but he lived with us for a few years. He comes to our house on Christmas. We now tell people we have four boys. Because we do.

I've never brought it up here because it feels pretty lame to do that. But the way our family operates now, it's my wife and I and our four boys. If we're planning a family anything, he's included. Trips to the lake, ski vacations - I hope he joins us forever.

Two years ago, we then moved from six to seven because our fourth son got married. So that family trip to the lake now needs seven place settings. And after this weekend, we moved to eight. Not officially - not legally, yet - but my middle son got engaged. And he planned a big surprise around it. He wanted both families to surprise her after they got engaged - her family and our family - so all six of us flew to Idaho. Doing some quick math here, six of us flying to where my son lives (southern Idaho) + him and his new fiance = eight. We're now a family of eight.

Let me tell you, this phase of life is amazing. We rented a cabin in the mountains of Idaho, and getting up on Sunday morning (the day after the engagement party) was as excited as I get. When you're making breakfast for your four sons, one of their wives, and one of their fiancees - when you look out on the deck and your wife is sitting with her son and her daughter-in-law-to-be - it surpasses a home win over Nebraska in a night game.

Which is what I thought we had. See, in the mountains of Idaho, there's no cell signal. At least not in our remote location. So when I was at the engagement party on Saturday afternoon/evening, I had zero signal. There was a little RV park next to where the party was held, and that RV park had open wifi, and I could sometimes grab that signal (which is how I was able to tweet one time before the game and grab a bunch of texts that people sent me as the game began).

But I decided to not really follow the game. The thought of sitting around an engagement party constantly checking for score updates? Blech. My phone had grabbed a bunch of iMessages when I was on the wifi, but I didn't want to know, so I went through and cleared them out (clicked on them without reading them) so that… actually I have no idea why I did that. I guess I didn't want this "you have six unread texts", some with Illini updates, taunting me all night.

The afternoon party wound down around 8:15 MDT. We had eaten lunch at the party but hadn't had dinner, so we headed out for the one grocery store in a 50-mile area. It closed at 9:00. We got there at 9:06. That was a hungry evening.

But, on the drive from the party to the grocery store (and then to the cabin), my youngest son's phone grabbed a signal. And without asking, he looked up the score and said "have you seen this Illini score?" At that point my mind is racing. I know I'm going to get to the cabin before the game is over (no wifi at the cabin, no cell signal when we dropped off our luggage earlier in the day), so I know I'm going to bed without knowing what happened. Do I really want to know the score? But he said the words "have you seen this score?" That's probably good, right? Or maybe we're getting blown out. OK I have to know.

"Illinois is up 35-21 in the third quarter."

Now my mind is RACING racing. Are we doing this? Lose to EMU, get it right back the next week by winning over Nebraska as 13.5-point underdogs?

But that was the last score update. We find out the grocery store is closed, call the one bar in town to see if their kitchen was still open (it wasn't, and they kind of laughed at "kitchen"), and head to the cabin.

I should note - between the score update and the closed grocery store, I was thinking that I might go until Monday before finding out who won. Our plan for Sunday was to go north into the mountains (further away from any cell signal), so I figured I might not have any way to find out the score. BUT, the store was closed. Which meant that I'd need to run into town to buy the breakfast food on Sunday morning.

That night was a weird drift-off-to-sleep. When was the last time I went to bed without knowing an Illini score? I remember a trip to Oregon in 1995 or so (to visit my sister) where I called some pay-by-the-minute sports line to find out the Illinois-Michigan State basketball score. And another time I sat at a bar in this ski town (our cabin had no TV) and watched the bottom line on ESPN2 until the Illinois score flashed across. But go to bed without knowing? Has to be back to the 1980's, right?

The worst part of all of this: even though I told my son "mid third quarter? A LOT of time left for us to blow it", I was thinking in my head that when I got to the store in town, I'd flip on my phone and see an Illini win. I was ready to be excited. Yes, we're Illinois, and it's easy to blow a 14 point lead with 20 minutes remaining, but still, just based on statistics, teams leading by 14 with 20 minutes left win what - 80% of the time?

I woke up before the sun on Sunday. I'd like to think it was because I was so excited to go get bacon and eggs in town (or, you know, my son getting engaged), but I'm sure I woke up early because my brain wanted to know the Illinois score. My oldest son went into town with me to buy all the breakfast foods (ALL the breakfast foods), and about two miles from the store, my phone buzzed in my pocket (a bunch of texts getting through), so my heart started to race. When I got to the store, I pulled out the phone, ignored the texts (I can't put my brain through interpreting them that early), and pulled up the score.

Nebraska 42, Illinois 38

Man, that was a gutpunch. I know we're Illinois, but man, I was all the way at "80% chance we just beat Nebraska". It's always so hard when you remember that we're Illinois and we can't be trusted.

I knew I probably wouldn't have a cell signal much of the rest of the day, so after we got out of the store, I grabbed a PDF of the box score (the "game book") and downloaded it to my phone. I did flip through it later on, and when we got back to the cabin my wife had found that her ipad could grab a faint signal (hello hotspot) it so I sent a few "what happened?" iMessages to some friends, but it's now Tuesday evening (I'm just now flying back to St. Louis) and I still pretty much have no idea what happened in this game. My SOC basically said "we'll cover but we still can't force enough turnovers to win", and then it looks like we forced a ton of turnovers and still lost, so… yikes. I know that Nate wrote up the game for the site, but I haven't even been able to read that yet. I'm mostly in the dark here. That's probably a good thing.

At least for now, I don't feel the pain that you're probably feeling. My friends seemed pretty angry over texts, but in my blindness, this is still a "we almost beat Nebraska" result. I'm sure that once I watch the game tomorrow night, I'll join you in your angst. Nearly 700 yards is nearly 700 yards.

I think it was the preseason SOC (or perhaps in the preview?) where I said that this season was going to come down to a few plays in a few close games, and I fear that these two games (losing to EMU by 3, losing to Nebraska by 4) were the chances to win close ones. Meaning, we'll go 4-8 and look back at these "just add one TD drive somewhere instead of punting" as the path to six wins. A path we didn't take.

That's so disappointing. Maybe this game proved otherwise, but I still think this roster has seven-win talent with this schedule. I think my quote in that post was something like "the coaching would have to be horrendous for us to take this amount of talent and this much experience and only win four games". Well….

But as of right now, that can't really touch me. I'm on a family high. There's something really magical about watching your son get engaged to the girl of his dreams. I started parenting at 9, 11, and 13, so I missed a lot, but I was there for all the relationship angst. So to see my middle son emerge on the other side of that with his person, it's just so great.

And yes, I said person. I think I might have gotten that from my wife's guilty pleasure, The Bachelor. They're always talking about finding their "person" on that show. My son found his person.

Which reminds me. The Venn diagram of "Bachelor/Bachelorette fans" and "people who read IlliniBoard.com" probably contains nine people in the center, but I thought the way my daughter-in-law-to-be's friends decorated the engagement party was top notch. Most of you know my last name by now, even though I don't put in print very much over here. And most of you are probably at least aware of the Bachelor rose ceremony. So the decoration hanging on the wall at the party was perfect:

"Will you accept this Rosenthal?"

(She did. We're now at eight.)


illiniranger on September 25 @ 10:07 AM CDT

it was obvious by the end of the 1H that we were probably going to lose the game. we absolutely could not get a stop, we were very fortunate that 3 of their 4 turnovers ended up inside their 30 (one of them at their 1) that we were able to score TDs on. That was really a game we probably should have lost by at least 2 TDs, and maybe more. We had no answers on defense.

anyway, i say all that to say if a Nebraska team that is 35 SP+ absolutely trashes you for 700 yards and holds you to under 300 - you're not a 7-5 talented team.

ATOillini on September 25 @ 05:06 PM CDT


I'll simply state without elaboration that I agree with you on everything.

Bear8287 on September 25 @ 05:34 PM CDT

Agree. The game never really felt like it was the Illini's. I wasn't even going to allow myself the hope of the Illini winning this game unless they could go up by 3 TD's. They didn't and they didn't.

I'm going to back Robert 100% on this statement:

"the coaching would have to be horrendous for us to take this amount of talent and this much experience and only win four games".

It's going to be hard to convince me that better prep and game planning couldn't have made up the 3pt and 4pt differences of the last two games.

Insert here how EMU just had way more talent on the field...

Does anyone really consider the Illini to be a "well coached" team?

thumpasaurus on September 25 @ 11:51 AM CDT

This was more of a case of "the kind of mistakes Nebraska makes lead to a loss 99% of the time, unless the opposing team is MUCH MUCH worse."

Statistically speaking, opportunities like we had don't come along very often, and we threw it away largely with offensive playcalling and clock management, so that's where the anger comes from.

Bear8287 on September 25 @ 05:38 PM CDT

we threw it away largely with offensive playcalling and clock management,

...sounds like a "coaching" thing to me.

Groundhogday on September 25 @ 05:51 PM CDT

Fans for every team in the country complain about play calling. Yeah, I thought Rod Smith should have stuck with the run more, but the bigger problem with this team is execution. With the exception of special teams, execution just isn't there. The past few years poor execution has been rationalized with references to youth. Now we have a relatively experienced team and execution still isn't there. Clearly, this staff hasn't done a good job of teaching and developing players.

Now add in problems with a D scheme that doesn't seem to work at the college level and ongoing problems finding a QB...

Gadwallgetter on September 25 @ 03:28 PM CDT

Awesome write up Robert, congrats to your family! As a foster parent of 2 boys for 5 years now I totally get your families progression! I can’t imagine my life without my 2 youngest sons!

I think you should tweet your comments as you watch the game tomorrow in progress. Unfortunately it may have been a coach’s decision to lay down at the end of a half that cost us this game!

Robert on September 25 @ 03:58 PM CDT

Thanks. I should be depressed about the 2-2 start but I'm still buzzing from this weekend. When your kids get to a great place in life, there's simply nothing better.

HiggsBoson on September 25 @ 05:12 PM CDT

Great article, Robert. Your family is doing so much better than Illini football!

Sadly, I think we're looking at 3-9 now, with Rutgers probably the only game we'll be favored in. I guess a 4th win could happen, but my expectations are even lower now than when I found out that Lovie didn't hire a dynamic DC so he could give his kid a job. Lovie has never had success as a head coach when he didn't have a great DC. Think Vic Fangio with the Bears. And apparently Lovie doesn't have the juice to get anyone else to hire Miles, which is also kinda telling.

I don't expect Lovie to be fired, no matter what the record turns out to be, since his contract makes it too expensive. It wouldn't even surprise me to see Whitman give him another extension.

So what's the under/over for how many points Lovie's defense gives up in the bye week?

Bear8287 on September 25 @ 05:37 PM CDT

when you look out on the deck and your wife is sitting with her son and her daughter-in-law-to-be - it surpasses a home win over Nebraska in a night game.

Congratulations Robert! (There's hope for you yet.) It sounds like you have a terrific family and I hope that brings you a lifetime of joy.

IBFan on September 25 @ 07:24 PM CDT

My wife and I each had two children when we met. I consider myself incredibly lucky that she accepted mine as hers and now ours. One of the greatest accomplishments a person can have in life I believe is being a loving parent, not a perfect parent - whatever that is. It takes a very special person to raise and love another’s as their own, it takes often a huge amount of humility, patience, understanding, and perseverance which of course you must have in Nebraska Offense-like abundance. Much respect and love for your entire family.

PS-I enjoyed game, guys were hitting like crazy. If the offense could’ve just stayed on the field in the second half for one or two drives or defense get one of those third down stops.

uilaw71 on September 26 @ 06:50 AM CDT

Similar thoughts and sentiments here. Also note the USC come from behind win led by the multi-dimension QB we thought we had. This was a hard-hitting game that we win with better execution on offense. But, hey, fire Lovie and start over. Makes all the sense in IlliniWorld.

Dr. Chim Richalds on September 26 @ 12:21 AM CDT

Congrats on your son's engagement! This was a great write-up of the whole experience, and definitely puts football in proper perspective.

Along those lines it might have been a good thing that you were off the grid for this one and able to enjoy that without following along...

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