… and in the world of sports

1. Campustown celebrates a White Sox World Series

Entering the 2005 season, it had been 88 years since the Chicago White Sox had won the World Series. But as the summer progressed, the Sox built a huge lead in the American League Central Division and looked to for sure be headed to October.

But as summer changed to fall, it looked like every Chicago-fans worst nightmare. The White Sox won their first seven games in September, then promptly lost 10 of their next 13 to allow the Cleveland Indians to get within 1.5 games of first place. But the Sox were able to put their struggles aside and win their final five games to clinch their first division title since 2000.

The White Sox – the best team in the American League with their 99-63 record – were matched up with the then-defending World Champion Boston Red Sox. Boston, like Chicago, had a large lead in their division but were unable to hold it. Boston was left with the wild card and Chicago easily dispatched of them in three games.

The next opponent for the Sox were the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who had beaten the New York Yankees in five games. The Angels came into U.S. Cellular field and stopped the Sox in game 1. Chicago rebounded to win the next four and advance to the World Series for the first time since 1959.

After clinching the American League pennant, Sox fans in Campustown went crazy – a sign of things to come if the Sox could beat the Houston Astros in the World Series.

Houston had dispatched the St. Louis Cardinals in game 6, but there were some questions about how effective closer Brad Lidge would be. Lidge had given up a mammoth homerun to Albert Pujols in game 5 of the National League Championship Series with the Astros on the verge of clinching the NL pennant.

Those questions proved to be reality early in the Fall Classic as Lidge gave up a walk-off homerun to Scott Podesdnik in game 2 and give the White Sox a 2-0 lead as the series moved to Houston.

In Houston, both teams looked evenly matched for game 3.

Neither team could find an advantage until little-used reseve Geoff Blum hit a 14th inning homerun to give Chicago a 3-0 series lead. They would win the next night.

Green Street erupted as fans poured into the street to celebrate the White Sox’ sweep against the Houston Astros in the World Series Wednesday night.

Fans climbed light poles and the Alma Mater as people cheered and chanted while proceeding toward the Quad.

A streaker with a well-placed sock, body surfers and people in gorilla suits fueled the celebration.

“This is the greatest sports night of my life,” said Pat Joyce, then a senior in ALS, who watched the game at It’s Brothers Bar and Grill, 613 E. Green St.

“I don’t believe it, it’s so emotional,” said Dan Loman, then a sophomore in LAS. “It still hasn’t sunk in.”

2. 2005 Fighting Illini keep magic going in the pros

In 2005, the Illinois men’s basketball team came within six points of the first undefeated season since 1979. Instead, the Fighting Illini tied the record for most wins in a season (37) and made Illinois’ first appearance in the national championship game.

The season did more than just excite Illini fans. The national attention brought several NBA scouts to Assembly Hall.

Following the 2005 season, Illini guards Deron Williams and Luther Head entered the NBA draft. Dee Brown also entered, but was forced to withdraw because of a broken foot.

Williams became the highest-drafted Illini, being selected third overall by the Utah Jazz. Head was selected 24th by the Houston Rockets.

Two other key players from the 2005 team, forwards Roger Powell and Jack Ingram, also entered the draft and went undrafted. Powell joined the CBA, and wound up winning that league’s rookie of the year. Ingram decided to go overseas and play in Europe.

But for Brown and teammate James Augustine, just because 2005 was history didn’t mean the NBA forgot about them. Following their senior seasons in which they lead Illinois back to the NCAA tournament and became the school’s two most-winningest players, each entered the draft.

While they were not selected in the first round, both Augustine and Brown were selected. Augustine was drafted in the second round by the Orlando Magic and Brown was selected a few picks later by the Utah Jazz.

“It’s a blessing to be in the situation I am right now,” Brown said. “I have a positive attitude and outlook right now. This is a great opportunity for me. Utah has a great coach in Jerry Sloan. It’s an honor and a blessing to be able to go out there and get the chance to play with Utah.”

Being selected by the Jazz also means that Williams and Brown – two of the three members of the 2005 Illini backcourt – will again be paired up.

“Deron is my favorite player,” Brown said. “With him and me back together it’s exciting. Deron is like my brother so it is great to be able to go play with him. It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m lost for words to be able to be in the backcourt with him again.”

Illini Coach Bruce Weber said this is a huge boost for the program.

“You feel good for them and it’s great for out program,” Weber said.

3. Illinois gymnast receives prestigious award while helping team to outstanding year

Senior gymnast Justin Spring brought a myriad of awards back to Champaign during the 2006 season.

He was named the Big Ten’s 2006 Gymnast of the Year became the second Illini to win the Nissen-Emery award, considered the “Heisman of gymnastics.”

“I’ve gotten so much from this program, and specifically these people on my team,” Spring said after receiving the award. “:It’s such an honor to be a part of this program, let alone be accepting an award of that caliber.”

The Illinois gymnasts began the season ranked No. 2 in the country with help from Spring. Throughout the season they remained in the top 10 and had back-to-back record-setting performances.

Against No. 8 Iowa, Illinois posted the highest score in the nation. The following week, on senior night against Army, the Illini topped that score.

“What we did last weekend at Iowa was just the beginning for this team,” head coach Yoshi Hayasaki said in a press release on fightingillini.com.

During the final two weeks of the season, Spring and the rest of the senior class lead Illinois to the Big Ten Tournament. Illinois finished second, but Spring was the champion of the all-around. Teammate Wes Haagensen finished second.

To finish the season, Illinois finished second in the country behind Oklahoma at the national tournament. It was the Illinois’ best finish since winning the championship in 1989.

4. Ron Zook era starts with a bang and ends on a whimper

Since winning the Big Ten Championship in 2001, the Illini football team had suffered through three dismal seasons coming into 2005. With a combined record of 9-24 and just five Big Ten wins, Ron Zook was brought to Champaign to bring new energy, excitement and a winning attitude to Memorial Stadium.

It looked to be working more quickly than people thought.

Illinois opened the season against the Scarlet Knight’s of Rutgers. Rutgers took an early lead, and for most of the game it simply looked like more of the same.

But then, Zook’s magic took over. Down 20 points, the Fighting Illini went on a run to tie it late in the fourth quarter and force overtime. The magic continued as Quarterback Tim Brasic and running back’s E.B. Halsey and Pierre Thomas moved the ball 22 yards and the game-winning touch down.

One week later, Illinois destroyed San Jose State to go 2-0 for the first time since 2001.

Unfortunately, the football team would fail to win another game during the season. To make matters worse, Illinois suffered two of its worst home defeats ever – including giving up a whopping 56 points in the first half against Penn State, a Memorial Stadium record.

Illinois never even seemed to have a chance, and was rarely in striking range in the fourth quarter.

Still, despite the poor results of his inaugural season, Zook believes the program is headed in the right direction.

“There’s no question in my mind that we are on the right track and we are doing the right things,” Zook said at season’s end.

5. Brown, Augustine lead Illini back to tournament to end careers on top

Just a few months removed from the best season in Illinois basketball history, James Augustine and Dee Brown began their final season in Champaign doing everything they could to lead the new look Illini back to the top.

In doing so, the two seniors became the winnigest players in Illinois history with 114 wins – one short of the best mark in Big Ten history.

But it wasn’t easy. Without Deron Williams, Luther Head, Roger Powell, Jack Ingram and Nick Smith to help lead the way, and their replacements having little experience as anything more than role players, Brown and Augustine had a lot of work to do.

And do it, they did.

The Illini went 14-0 in non-conference play for the second straight season. Also for the second straight season, Illinois won its Big Ten/ACC Challenge game against North Carolina. They were also champions of the South Padre Island Tournament, but needed a last-second jumper from Warren Carter to put away the Shockers of Wichita State.

And when Big Ten play began, it looked almost like a repeat of the year before. Illinois opened its conference season with a 70-60 win against Michigan State.

But that’s where the similarities stopped, at least for the time being.

Illinois struggled on the road, losing badly at Iowa and also losing to the Hoosiers. Michigan stopped Illinois in Ann Arbor and eventual champion Ohio State prevented the Illini from getting any revenge for the loss that snapped their undefeated run in 2005.

To top things off, Illinois had its home-court winning streak snapped by Penn State when a Rich McBride buzzer beater was ruled no good after replays showed McBride hadn’t gotten the shot off before the clock hit zero.

Still, Illinois went back to the Kohl Center and won, one year after stopping Wisconsin’s longest home-court winning streak. The Illini also defeated Michigan State in East Lansing to finish the season.

But, one week later, Michigan State returned the favor, knocking Illinois out of the Big Ten Tournament. And one week after that, Illinois had its season ended by Washington in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

6. Recruiting season brings big wins for Illini

To maintain or rebuild a program, as Bruce Weber and Ron Zook are both trying to do, recruiting success is absolute.

For Illinois, its men’s basketball and football coaches used 2005 to show their recruiting abilities.

Despite a 2-9 season where just about nothing went right for the Illini on the gridiron, Zook was able to bring in a top 30 recruiting class and some highly rated players, including quarterback Isiah “Juice” Williams, safety Vontae Davis and tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Michael Hoomanawanui.

His wide receiver’s class was ranked in the top 10 and featured Joe Morgan, Marques Wilkins and Chris James.

And for the class of 2007, Zook has already landed another quarterback, a defensive end, and a four-star defensive tackle out of Ohio. He also has Illinois high on the list of some of the top players in the country.

But perhaps the best recruiting get belongs to Bruce Weber. Weber landed the No. 1 shooting guard in the country, Indianapolis’ Eric Gordon.

Gordon’s commitment in November helped Weber land more highly regarded players for that class. And, with one scholarship remaining, he is waiting patiently on Chicago Simeon’s Derrick Rose to decide where he will play college ball.

7. Men’s tennis brings home double’s championship but loses fist Big Ten match in decade

In a season where Illinois brings home a national championship, it would be hard to call the season a disappointment.

But the season was the first time in a decade that Illinois lost a Big Ten match, losing to Ohio State.

However, the team rebounded to finish second in the conference with a 9-1 record and brought home the national double’s championship. The tennis team’s quest for another team title ended in the Sweet Sixteen.

8. Women get big non-conference win en route to NIT bid

Since winning the Big Ten in 1997 and making consecutive trips to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997-98, the women’s basketball team has struggled.

But in 2005, the Illini got a marquee win against Oklahoma.

The win brought some excitement back to the program and for a while, it looked like Illinois might have a shot at the NCAA tournament. However, the team did make the WNIT.

In the tournament’s preliminary first round, Illinois defeated Western Illinois. But, it was a short-lived tournament for the Illini as they were knocked out by Marquette in the first round.

9. Hockey fails to repeat as national champs but wins conference title

Coming off its first national championship, the Illini hockey team looked poised to repeat as it started the season ranked No. 1. This past season, though, they had another goal – win the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament. And they did just that.

Coming off the conference tournament championship, Illinois looked ready to repeat, but was knocked out of the tournament in the semi-finals by Penn State. They did finish in the top 3 for the second year in a row.

10. Ron Guenther gets big raise to keep him running Illini athletic department

With renovations occurring to Memorial Stadium, a nationally ranked basketball team and some of the top olympic sports teams in the country, the Illinois Board of Trustees voted to give Athletic Director Ron Guenther a $90,000 raise to help keep in Champaign.

The raise puts his salary at $500,000.

Compiled by Jason Koch