C'mon, Illini Nation. Get serious. Find something better to do with your spare time. Get off the Internet and start reading a good book--how about Tom Lemming's "Football's Second Season"--if the best you can do is debate whether Illinois is a football school or a basketball school. It is neither and won't be until it is understood that the only way to get a reputation is to earn it. Until then, you are merely searching for an identity.
If Illinois is a football school, what is Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Penn State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Florida State and Tennessee?
If Illinois is a basketball school, what is UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Florida and Kansas?
Does Illinois deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with those schools in those sports?
Yes, Illinois has had its great moments. But so has Iowa and Michigan State and Wisconsin and Boston College and Nevada-Las Vegas and Arizona. They don't belong in the big picture, do they? Big-time programs don't play Ball State for homecoming.
I was there, covering the Illini for the old Champaign-Urbana Courier, when Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski led coach Pete Elliott's football team to the Big 10 championship and the Rose Bowl in 1963-64. It was a glorious, exciting and memorable time.
But it was a virtual one-time phenomenon. It didn't last.
If you thought the 2004-05 basketball season was Valhalla, what about the late 1940s and early 1950s when Harry Combes' teams finished third in the NCAA tournament three times in four years? Or the 1962-63 season, when Dave Downey led the Illini to the Big 10 title?
But it didn't last.
Illinois has Red Grange and Dick Butkus and if anyone doesn't list them on any all-time college football team--or ESPN's top 25--he isn't paying attention or didn't start watching games until 1990 or only considers players who played East of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But tradition, according to Webster's dictionary, is "an inherited pattern of thought or action" and "the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction."
In sports, that means winning, from one class to another, year after year, decade after decade, until everyone from coast to coast agrees--without further review--that you are among the best, that you deserve to be ranked among the elite.
Someday, hopefully, Illinois will achieve that recognition. And, when it happens, the Illini Nation will know it.