When a rivalry goes crimson: Indiana answers

By Lucas Deal

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It’s been brewing for quite a while now. Friendships have ended, allegiances have been claimed and lines have been drawn in the sand.

Ever since Kelvin Sampson first contacted Eric Gordon, the Illinois-Indiana rivalry has been changing.

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Gone is the mutual respect the Illini had for the Indiana program and the admiration the Hoosiers had toward what Bruce Weber has done.

What was once a heated but fair rivalry between neighboring states and two deans of the Big Ten has been abruptly replaced by an angry, cutthroat, hostile slugfest with more unnecessary f-bombs than “Scarface.”

EG sparked a war, and these fan-bases are fighting dirty.

Illini Nation attacked first when chants of “Call Me, Kelvin” echoed through Champaign’s Assembly Hall during Illinois’ 51-43 win over the Hoosiers last month.

It was a juvenile attempt at payback by an angry Orange Krush – but it wasn’t without reason.

Sampson did recruit Gordon from under Weber, and Illini fans had the right to be angry about it.

However, while using cell phones to question Sampson’s tactics may have been clever, it wasn’t necessarily right.

Indiana fans picked up on this and used Saturday’s rematch between the two teams to launch their own vicious counterattack.

Hundreds of Indiana faithful showed up for Saturday’s game dressed in Sampson’s traditional blue shirt and red tie, obviously in defense of their new coach.

Nine minutes into the game, the Hoosiers’ student section started a “Weber sucks” chant. It was followed by several “Eric Gordon” cheers, a cheap shot at Weber’s Coaches vs. Cancer shoes and then the ever-original “Shut up Weber” chant after the Illini head coach called a play with 17 minutes to go.

It was ill-timed and mean, but not entirely unexpected considering the two teams’ recent history.

That being said, the Hoosiers’ attack on Weber still managed to dig deeper, reaching the rivalry’s all-time low 12 minutes later when a member of the Indiana student section shouted personal attacks about Weber and his family during a D.J. White free throw attempt.

It was a sad thing to hear, considering the overall excitement and competitiveness that accompanied Indiana’s (17-6, 7-3) hard fought 65-61 win over the Illini (18-9, 6-6).

Fans get angry. It’s understandable.

But there is a point in every game when a fan must choose if he or she is rooting for one team or against the other.

This rivalry seems to be heading towards the latter, and that seems to be a problem.

Not only that, even though both coaches aren’t the best of friends, neither one of them ever wanted things to escalate to this. Weber said after Illinois’ win in January that he didn’t see how Illinois’ fans torturing Sampson had helped his team win.

Sampson has been quoted repeatedly since the Gordon incident saying he wishes he would have handled things differently.

He has also been quoted saying the media “has made this a much bigger deal than (he and Weber) have.”

To him, he thinks he was simply doing his job by going after the best player in his state and that’s something even most Illini fans would have to agree with.

And as much as Illini fans want to crucify Sampson while Hoosier fans try to knight him, he’s still really nothing more than a basketball coach.

So I think its time for both fan bases to just move on.

Illini fans: Eric Gordon is gone. Get over it. The team you have is still pretty good, and I’d venture to guess a little more cheering for them and a little less bickering about what might have been couldn’t hurt their confidence as they fight for an NCAA berth.

As for you Hoosier fans, why don’t you cut Weber a little slack?

He hasn’t done anything to you, why are you so mad at him anyway? Besides, you’re Indiana University; you’re one of the five greatest basketball schools in NCAA history.

You’ve got an 18,000 seat shrine to basketball and FIVE banners; you should be above stupid cheers and heckling.

You don’t have to listen to me. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. But it sure couldn’t hurt to change.

Lucas Deal is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]