Coming together over the pigskin

By Bill Miston

I was going to write something here about current events, sociopolitical injustice, or freedom, but instead I’m going to tell you about a little sport we call football and its fans.

I feel I need to explain why we should not use the NFL as a way to learn important life lessons. Why? When you have athletes being paid millions of dollars to work at a sport and in turn, essentially have no loyalty, what does it teach us? It teaches us that players in the NFL are showing our nation’s youth that if you are good at a sport, you can get rich quick. Not to mention that the NFL is not the greatest pool to choose the next “Man of the Year” – from the real “Mean Machine” football squad (also known as the Cincinnati Bengals) to Michael Vick.

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Why should students on our campus look to Illinois football to better themselves? I believe that college football is one of the last true places where stereotypical clich‚s are OK: where the underdog always has a chance, where unity and loyalty of the team and its fans can always trump evil. It’s also a sport where we know the “stars.”

In a society that is plagued with constant infighting (Illinois Democrats), race issues (“Jena Six”) and campus protests that have convoluted messages and purposes, we all need to use Illinois football and take a page out of the Zook playbook to bring some integrity back to our lives.

This past Saturday, I was working on the field at the game, shooting video. As usual, the student section was well-established after kickoff – with the common thought that we would lose, yet again, to a conference opponent at home.

Having had my football spirit shattered almost each game for three years, I wasn’t expecting much – the last time Penn State came to Memorial Stadium, Illinois theoretically could have given up 120 points. And sure enough, four minutes into the first quarter, Penn State scores. Prepare for the flood gates to open, right? Well, Arrelious Benn’s 90-yard kickoff return was a definite and resounding, “No, you will not open those gates, Joe Pa.”

Throughout the game, my Cubs fan fatalist mentality continued to nag in the back of my mind. Call it fate or divine intervention, Illinois won, knocking off a ranked opponent with a shaky offense and a confident defense.

Knock the student section’s move to the north end zone all you want (I too did not like the idea), but what I saw at the game Saturday was the true power of a cohesive student body. The victory was accomplished because of a conscious effort by the players and student fans. The true strength of the student fan was seen on Saturday.

The ability for people who may have differing opinions to come together and cheer on their varsity team as it digs down deep and grinds out big play after big play to bring home a victory.

Those players on the field are students, just like us. The game was tough, there were moments where it didn’t seem like anything would go the Illini’s way, but in the end things worked out – just as they do in life.

For me, this game was a first for nevers. Never have I heard the stadium that loud before, never have I been to a sellout football game, never have I had chills run down my spine, never have I seen the players run into the student section. As a friend of mine put it, “This was the best Illinois football game in five years.” Truly, it was.

As students, we are not all the same; we all come from different walks of life. Players put aside differences with each other to do one thing – win.

Students who go to the game do the same – we just want to see something good on the weekends besides drowning another Illini loss, sitting on a barstool at Kam’s.

For those that don’t go to games or feel that it is their life’s calling to constantly form enemies on campus because they don’t agree with someone’s opinion or the type of soda the University sells, do me a favor. Stop, take a deep breath and go to a football game. Enjoy a Saturday morning and afternoon, be it drunk or sober, cheering together with your fellow students for your fellow students.