This job was supposed to be fun.
But the message stinging our ears at bars and barbershops — when Illini football comes up — and what you’re seeing at Memorial Stadium are a culmination of more than a half-century of ever-lowering expectations.
The merry-go-round is getting old, and I’m growing old alongside it. With Purdue in the same boat, numbers are sagging to a point where each attendee in West Lafayette on Saturday should be asked: (1) What is your son’s number, (2) are you lost or (3) are you simply a glutton for punishment?
And imagine the apathy a week later when it’s Thanksgiving, students are at Grandma’s, Northwestern arrives with a modest following, the season is a goner for both, and the combination of weather and the TV offerings provide strong incentives to stay home. Even in the UI’s Big Ten championship season of 2001, there were 25,000 fewer fans announced for the finale against Northwestern than for the two previous home games against Wisconsin and Penn State.
As a reporter, I long ago learned to make do with inept teams. My first engagement in describing UI contests occurred shortly before Pete Elliott’s arrival in 1960, and his early years didn’t go well. Recruiting had slipped in the late 1950s, and Elliott’s Illini went winless in 1961, losing 15 straight before upsetting Purdue 14-10 on Nov. 3, 1962.
I turned 31 that day and believed, wrongly, that a new day was dawning. Turns out: Success, when it came, was fleeting.
So when you ask, “Why I feel old,” Illini failures have contributed. As a columnist here since 1966, it’s been more numbing than depressing. I count 303 losses in 48 years. That’s six-plus per season. It makes a fellow wonder if any other columnist anywhere has directly covered 300 losses for one team.
Why I Feel Old ...
Football is just one factor. There are myriad reasons, consuming me daily.
— Health care explanations only serve to confuse, and this started before Obamacare limped into our lives. Don’t ask me to explain Carle’s tax situation or the status of Health Alliance.
— Names slip my mind. I wanted to bring up Brett Favre’s forgetfulness, but I forgot his name.
— I purchased a new laptop this week. Let’s hope the new bells and whistles aren’t too confusing. Do you suppose it’s time to toss out my typewriter?
— Dating back to his visits on campus, George Will has always made sense to me when he speaks, but I need a dictionary and multiple readings to bring clarity to his columns. I feel overmatched.
— “Gravity” was great, but I haven’t gone to a movie since ... just too comfortable at home to go out.
— I went to the store for grapefruit, and picked up doughnuts, bacon, juice and ice cream ... and forgot the grapefruit.
— Bo Ryan confuses me. How does he do it? With Wisconsin viewed as strictly guard-oriented, 7-foot Frank Kaminsky, a junior from Benet Academy, popped 43 points against North Dakota after averaging 4.2 as a sophomore.
— I’m going to bowl one of these days but keep putting it off out of concern that my back might bark at me. Better to be safe than sorry.
— Though I hate to reveal it, a one-hour afternoon nap makes a big difference, especially when the departure time for Purdue is 5 a.m. Saturday.
Yeah, call me grumpy
— It shouldn’t bother me, but why do singers feel the need to put their own interpretation on the national anthem? If you won’t sing it the way it was written, let the band play it.
— Woody Paige and “Around the Horn” don’t hold my attention anymore, although his chalkboard can be funny.
— Having lived through Eric Gordon and Quentin Snider, and after seeing eight committed UI football recruits in 2013 change their minds — that includes Purdue’s Evan Panfil — pardon me if I don’t become overly excited until I see prospects on campus.
— We all keep track of our classmates, and it seems like 100 fellow Sages are gone, although that 1949 class at Monticello had less than 50.
— The shows are saved, but I haven’t watched an episode of “Homeland” or “Boardwalk Empire” this season after waiting breathlessly for them in past years.
— Is it just me, or aren’t you also repelled by individuals who complain about the same thing every time you see them? A week or month goes by and the discussion picks up again in mid-sentence.
— You know the years are mounting when old age is the subject of an entire column.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.