Since the Illini have announced they will play the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field on Sept. 14, 2013, here''s what I wrote the last time Illinois played in the home of the Bears, on Sept. 1, 1994.
I remember it well for a number of reasons. . .it was my first game on the Illinois football beat. . . Simeon Rice had an amazing five sacks, but the Illini lost a heartbreaker. . . and a disappointing turnout caused athletic director Ron Guenther to rethink his plans to play more games in Chicago.
I applaud new AD Mike Thomas' plan to try more games in Chicago. But fans will be the ones who determine whether that's more successful this time around.
Here's my game story and notebook from the Sept. 2, 1994, editions of the Sun-Times. . .
By Herb Gould
New season. New location. Same old story.
Illinois, which vowed that it had
learned, didn't get its act together when it counted most.
Trying to impress Chicago - and especially a crowd
of 39,472 with a rare visit to Soldier Field - the Fighting Illini instead tripped
on their own mistakes Thursday, not to mention an impressive Washington State defense.
The result was a 10-9 Washington State
victory in the season opener for both teams. The only touchdown was a 71-yard run with a fumble recovery by
Washington State's burly linebacker, Mark Fields.
Typical of Illinois'
frustration, quarterback Johnny Johnson, who had coughed up the ball, couldn't
catch Fields even though Johnson had a good angle on the Cougar defender.
"It's a disappointing loss. Our players are
devastated," said Illinois coach
Lou Tepper, whose squad had been determined not to repeat last year's 0-3
nonconference start. "It's going to take a heck of a job by our coaches and
players to come back. It remains to be seen whether we have the work habits and
unity to do that. This was one they expected to win."
The defeat marred a spectacular five-sack, one-blocked-field-goal
performance by Simeon Rice, the outside linebacker from Mount Carmel.
"This loss is worse than any loss I've had at Illinois because it's here in Chicago,"
said Rice, whose 22 career sacks put him
one behind Scott Davis, Illinois'
all-time leader. "The sacks, not giving up a touchdown on defense, that means
nothing. We lost. It's a team game.
"It's very frustrating. We put our hearts on the
line. But mental errors really hurt. This loss could be good for us. Now we know
what kind of maturity we have to show."
Even winning ugly probably wouldn't have dazzled Illinois' sophisticated Chicago-area
And that basically put the Illini behind the
eight-ball before the kickoff. Because the Cougars, who were second in the
nation against the run last season, are a quick, blitzing defense that's capable
of putting the clamps on the best of teams.
"It feels good, coming all the way from Pullman,
Wash., and winning here," said Fields, a 6-2, 238-pounder whose run gave the Cougars a 10-3 lead with 15 seconds left in the
half. "We were excited to be in Chicago. But we came here to do a job, too."
Scott Richardson's three field goals kept Illinois in the game until the final
seconds. Richardson yielded to strong-legged freshman Bret Scheuplein, who came
up short on a 57-yard attempt as time expired.
The statistics that told the story were four lost
fumbles by Illinois, and five
net yards rushing on 29 attempts. A 12-yard run by freshman Robert Holcombe,
who showed good promise, merely demonstrated how effectively Washington State's defense throttled the Illinois offense.
Asked about the absence of first-string running back
Ty Douthard sidelined by a pulled hamstring, Tepper said, "Ty would have given
us a more physical runner and would have helped for protection on the blitzes."
But taking care of the ball, particularly by
Johnson, would have helped a lot
more. On both of Johnson's fumbles, especially the one that Fields picked up,
Johnson still was straining to get something done when the smart play would
have been to protect the ball.
The Illini suffered a setback early in the first
quarter when All-Big Ten inside linebacker John Holecek sprained an ankle.
Holecek did not return and was listed as questionable for the Illini's Sept. 10 game against Missouri in Champaign.
But the linebacker-rich Illini got an impressive
performance from freshman David James, who stepped in for Holecek and played
well alongside fellow East St. Louis product Dana Howard.
As promised, Tepper played backup quarterback Scott
Weaver for one series. With Illinois
trailing 10-9 midway through the third quarter, Weaver passed for one first
down, before Illinois bogged down.
Now, they'll just have to see if they can regroup.
By Herb Gould
Illinois' trip to Soldier Field to play Washington
Thursday night an unqualified success, Illinois athletic
Ron Guenther said, "We're committed to bringing a game back
three or four years. I'd like every class to play a game in
the attendance of 39,472 was not very high for a school
averaged 51,000 in Champaign last season, its lowest total in 12
Guenther said that didn't disappoint him.
think we have talked too much about attendance," Guenther
wasn't the point of this game. This was a stepping-off
We're saying to Chicago, 'We want to be a part of it. We're
back.' This was an investment in the future."
TO THE CHIEF: Not everybody loves Chief Illiniwek.
American sympathizers protested Illinois' use of the Indian
outside Soldier Field Thursday night.
people are not mascots," one banner announced.
U of I athletics. Denounce U of I racism," another
with a bullhorn led chants by a small group of
who said, "Stop racism. Dump Chief Illiniwek."
orange-and-blue clad fans booed the demonstration. Others
up. Shut up. Shut up," one man in orange-and-blue said,
more disdain from Illini fans.
he had seen the protesters, Guenther said, "Didn't have
see them all the time. I can go on the Quad and see them
But that's all right. That's their right. This comes up from
time. It's part of the culture."
CONNECTION: Thursday's game was the first in the city
Illinois since the University of Chicago dropped out of the Big
1939. The Illini won their last eight games against U. of C.,
a 46-0 thumping in '39.
played its first- Big Ten game against U. of C. in
The Maroons won 12-0.
Fighting Illini also played the legendary Carlisle Indians
in Chicago, including an 1897 contest at the Chicago Coliseum
was Illinois' first indoor game, and its first at night.
Wisconsin running back Terrell Fletcher, who's from
St. Louis, has been looking forward to the first meeting
his high school, Hazelwood East, and Illini linebacker Dana
alma mater, East St. Louis, on Sept. 10.
football powers, separated by the Mississippi River, had
met because of a variety of concerns, including security at
figures to be an intense game.
tell Dana Hazelwood's going to kill East St. Louis,"
said with a grin when he chatted with Chicago reporters
of Fletcher's bragging, Howard said, "We'll see about
stakes have been set beyond bragging rights. But Howard
to be giving or hearing plenty of smart talk when he meets
in the Illinois-Wisconsin season finale, to be played Nov.
COMEBACK: Linebacker Payam Saadat didn't make Washington
two-deep depth chart. But the senior from Santa Monica,
was just glad to be back in shoulder pads after a tragic,
spring of 1993, Saadat and a teammate constructed a pipe
just to see if they could do it. Trouble was, the detonating
touched and the bomb exploded while they were transporting it
field to detonate it. The teammate was killed and Saadat lost
left hand and suffered injuries to his leg.
he worked himself back into football condition and
for Thursday night's game.
FACES: Six Illinois freshmen made the trip to Chicago, but
Lou Tepper was only planning to use two. Running back Robert
was scheduled to be used in the backfield and on punt
and Bret Scheuplein is the No. 1 kickoff man and backup
Also dressing were offensive guard Ryan Schau, running back
McDonald and defensive backs Trevor Starghill and Steve