Column: It’s time to get bitter

By Darren Bailey

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Amazing. Fantastic. Astounding. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. That’s just how I’ll start to describe the Ohio State football experience.

November weekends in Columbus are a whirlwind steeped in tradition, fun, production, entertainment and success. Even for the visiting fan, game day starts on Friday. The local establishments are exploding with live music, food, drink specials and scarlet and gray-clad maniacs. The bands are loud, the drinks are cheap and the people are partying just in preparation for the next day.

Fridays are the warm-up – just to get you loose for Saturday.

Having a successful football team, as Ohio State obviously does, affords Buckeye fans later starting times for national television.

So Saturday mornings mean Hineygate, the craziest tailgate this side of the SEC. Again, Buckeye faithful amass to enjoy a live band, co-eds, brats and of course, beer. It’s loud, it’s wild and it doesn’t end.

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    As game time approaches, it’s across the street to St. John Arena for another tradition, the Skull Session, where fans again congregate to cheer their Buckeyes. The marching band leads this event, playing numerous school fight songs before an appearance from head coach Jim Tressel and the football team.

    And then there’s the Horseshoe. It was everything I had hoped for – and much, much more. There’s the old section, the new section, the stained-glass mosaics, the field and the size. Oh, the size. Pre-game at Ohio Stadium is packed of even more tradition, highlighted by the “Script Ohio” with the famous dotting of the “i” by a lucky sousaphone player.

    I’ll fast-forward through the game, mentioning only the impressive defensive play from the Illini in the first half, the breakdowns in the secondary in the second half, the lack of form-tackling in the fourth quarter and an anemic offense that either doesn’t play smart or doesn’t execute.

    The most accurate word I can think of to describe this weekend, however, is eye-opening.

    It was well after the game was over, Hineygate had been visited for a few post-game hours, and the short jaunt back to the car was being made, right past Ohio Stadium one last time. But oh sweet mercy, it was my lucky day – the gates were still open. So into those hallowed grounds I raced with my posse, and even down onto the field. And as I lay on the 50-yard line after being tackled in faux football, I looked up. I saw row after row after row of Buckeye love. Voices were screaming, arms were waving and my heart was soaring. Even deadly empty, the Horseshoe intimidates. And my eyes were opened.

    Illini fans, it’s time to either get better or bitter. Success on the field must be demanded. A better overall production must be demanded. A new, all-Illini experience must be demanded.

    For too long the Illini nation has been complacent, accepting losses, sagging attendance and degrading facilities with only a complaint here and a moan there. Forever have the fans’ hopes been hanging on the future. Well, the future better be now.

    A football powerhouse can’t be expected overnight, but steps can be made now to make Illini football special – something that individuals, both fans and players, would want to be a part of. The potential is most definitely there.

    When I say “get bitter,” I don’t mean to stop coming to games, or boo, or send hate-filled emails and letters.

    I mean to let the administration (both in the athletic and overall University offices) know that you expect more. Send in ideas. When you graduate, send in money. Send in support. Send in passion. Illinois football will no longer be a laughing matter.

    When in Columbus, I was warned that Buckeye fans could be nasty. They weren’t. Why get riled-up over a 34-point spread? The worst treatment I received was a drunken college girl yelling to me, “Hey, it’s a loser!” Well guess what, I was.

    When the Illini get smacked on the field, I get smacked in the face. When they get laughed off the field, I get laughed out of the stadium. When they blow a tackle, I get run over. When they hold onto the ball too long, I get sacked.

    When they lose, all true Illini fans take the loss too.

    Things have to change. No one wants to get bitter. Make Illinois football better.

    Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].