There are legions of rabid St. Louis Cardinals fans in downstate Illinois.
Flush with recent success — World Series championships in 2006 and 2011 — they will greet the start of a new season with great anticipation. Count me in. For years, my daily plans have frequently been constructed around the first pitch.
Here’s my question: In reading the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, would die-hard Redbird fans prefer that columnist Bernie Miklasz produce “feel-good positive” articles about the Redbirds, or would they rather read opinionated appraisals featuring perhaps the likelihood of possible trades and, where appropriate, criticisms? If Matt Holliday is striking out every other at-bat, should that be exposed and analyzed? If Jaime Garcia’s arm is iffy, aren’t the ramifications of that worth discussing?
Similarly, if you’re a Cubs fan, wouldn’t you prefer Rick Telander’s cutting interpretations over a so-called “positive article?” What would be the reasoning in trying to protect young pro pitchers who are roughly the same age as soldiers in Afghanistan?
Surely a writer’s opinion is preferable (yes, it could be off base; think of all those duped by Lance Armstrong), but it forever confuses me why some Illini fans keep reaching for a half-full glass even as the last drop is dripping out.
Optimism is fine. It is great for the multitudes. It makes the heart beat faster. But optimism should not be part of a writer’s consideration ... unless it is warranted. Like at Alabama. The Tide has earned it.
But, be honest now, where do you find optimism when your football team has lost 14 straight Big Ten games, the 10-year conference record is 24-66, the defensive unit needs a major makeover and competitors are poaching the team’s best commitments?
As a former head coach, Bill Cubit is a solid addition despite a 14-42 record as offensive coordinator for weak Missouri, Rutgers and Stanford teams. But we know full well that not even late-greats Bill Walsh and Vince Lombardi could win games here if the offensive line doesn’t improve.
And if Illini Nation is openly fearful of another late-season basketball slump — the Illini have lost 25 of 38 conference games and are 51-60 in league play since Dee Brown graduated — how would you expect a beat writer to respond? With accolades?
When John Groce talks about changing the culture, what do you think he’s talking about?
Northwestern was embarrassingly dominant here Thursday, and the Wildcats did it without their top two players (JerShon Cobb and Drew Crawford) and with a revamped lineup featuring a former walk-on from Fort Wayne, Ind., a fifth-year transfer from Louisville, two freshmen (the 7-footer hails from Romania) and a 6-1 sophomore from Naperville. They remain nameless because they played as a team.
Here’s the part that is hard for me to understand.
It’s OK and widely applauded when Groce acknowledges that “Purdue was tougher” and that “Wisconsin showed greater spirit.” His exact words last weekend were: “The thing that was most disappointing to me was their (the Badgers’) competitive spirit was better than ours.”
To me, there are few things more degrading in the world of athletics than questioning toughness and competitive spirit. But while this is acceptable for a coach to say, there are those who feel it is out of bounds for the person obliged to document the event.
Maybe that’s because we recognize a certain freedom coaches have in inspiring their athletes. The greatest coaches were often the most demanding and most critical. Maybe the biggest cheaters. And they always are looking for an edge, which includes massaging people’s brains with their words.
When Groce praised Mike Shaw at Wisconsin, I think it was less about lauding a deep reserve and more about sending a message to leaders of the squad. When Bo Ryan told Groce that Illinois was the best team Wisconsin has faced, I believe he was he setting the psychological stage for a return game Feb. 3 in Champaign.
It’s pretty hard for me to take Ryan seriously, considering his Badgers built a 34-9 lead, neutered the UI offense, dominated rebounds 43-24, made 10 treys to the UI’s two and didn’t permit an Illini starter to produce an assist.
Regardless of your fervor for the Illini, you can’t look at those results, or the outcome of Thursday’s disaster against Northwestern, and form positive conclusions about the team’s effort or ability. If you can, you are deluding yourself.
This discussion has nothing to do with media members predicting the outcomes of games. As I’ve made known to N-G staffers, who pick games left and right, I consider that silliness in the extreme. If coerced by physical threats, I’ll do it. Otherwise, no.
But there are areas where it’s important to get out on a limb. That’s our job.
— Much as I respect Jim Delany, I can’t fathom the decision to add Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten. From my view, everything about it is wrong, and it will have a detrimental effect on longtime Midwestern rivalries and put more travel hardships on non-revenue teams. Obviously, many others disagree. That’s fine.
— Due to age, illness and injuries, I believe Joe Paterno, consumed by Penn State football, outlived his status as a Penn State icon. While advised, he may never have had full comprehension or recognized his responsibilities in the Sandusky case. Call this a minority view.
— The current Big Ten divisions — Legends and Leaders — are poorly constructed and confusing to the masses. Schools teach geography for a reason. Use it.
— Ryan Brewer, a finance professor in Indiana, used his expertise to ascertain the value of 69 college football programs. Illinois came in 12th in the conference and 48th overall. Whether or not his conclusions are accurate, it is our obligation to pass along that dismal information.
— There was a time when Bruce Weber did an outstanding job as Illini basketball coach. When factors change, so do I. What do you do?
— P.S., when I said in a New Year’s resolution that I’d be more positive, I was pulling a Bo Ryan. You knew tongue was in cheek, didn’t you?
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.