The Curse on Illinois Football

<p>What's with the University of Illinois football team? Why can't the school produce 7-8 wins every year like six or seven of the other teams in the conference? Regardless of how you put it, Illinois is not just a basketball school.

Not when you have a beautiful stadium that seats 70,000 fans - one of the best in the conference; plenty of TV coverage; fan support; and some of the best players to ever play the game: Dick Butkus, Kevin Hardy, Red Grange and Simeon Rice just to name a few.

Let's take a trip down memory lane. The past 25 coaches have compiled a record of 539 wins - 465 losses - 49 ties (a whopping percentage of 54%). Let's go back far enough that most of us can remember these names and see how the other coaches did at Illinois.

Jim Valek (1967-70) - Coached in 40 games. He won 8, lost 32, with a winning pct. of .200.

Bob Blackman (1971-76) - Coached in 66 games. He won 29, lost 36, 1 tie.

Garry Moller (1977-79) - He had a brief stay at Illinois and only coached in 33 games. He won 6, lost 24, and had 3 ties to his credit?

The famous Mike White years (1980-87) - White coached in 91 games at Illinois. He went 47-41-3, for a winning pct. of .553.

John Mackovic (who was just fired on Monday in Arizona) – Mackovic actually didn't do too bad. He was 30-16-1 in his 47 games (one of the few decent winning pct. - 65%).

Lou Tepper (1991-1996) – Tepper, a great Christian man, led the crusade for 58 games. He won 25, lost 31 and tied twice.

Every college football fan loves to brag when their team wins the conference title and plays in a bowl game. Neither of those two have happened very much in Illinois history. The last five conference titles for the Illini look like this: 2001, 1990, 1983, 1963 and 1953. Ouch! The last five bowl appearances were: 2001 Sugar Bowl (L to LSU), 1999 Micron PC (W against Virginia), 1994 Liberty (W against East Carolina), 1992 Holiday (L to Hawaii), and 1991 Sun Bowl (L to UCLA 3-6; imagine that).

The history hasn't been on the Illini side, but the players sure have been. I mentioned four earlier, but what about the likes of Robert Holcombe, Jack Trudeau, David Williams, Dana Howard and Howard Griffith. These were all guys that knew how to play the game.

I don't know about you, but I can't tell you how many times I've watched the Illini games at home, in the press box or at local establishment only to hear the whispers, "Why does this always happen to Illinois?" You know the times. Just when you think they are going to "get over the hump," there's a false start, a dropped pass by a wide-open receiver, a fumble or an alleged fumble taken away by the boys in stripes. Looking back at this season against UCLA, they played against a second string QB and lost. Against Wisconsin, their second best RB lined up and managed to rack up 193 yards and they still lost. Ohio St. last year was "oh, so close" but the Illini still came up empty. The last time I felt the Illini may have a "curse" was during the closing minutes against UCLA. They drove down the field for the potential game-tying field goal, only to get a false start and a missed FG. Heart break city.

Do I really believe the football program is cursed? No - but they've had some really bad and unlucky breaks. It seems just when things get going something always goes wrong. Illinois a great university with proud alumni, and they deserve a winning tradition. Will they get it? Who knows. For now all they can do is hope that the black cat stays away from Memorial Stadium for a few years.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories