Just typing out loud.
Item No. 1: Irate “Dog Pound” bloggers, just chill. As difficult as it may seem, put this University of Illinois shtick into proper context.
The U of I is our state’s higher education flagship institution. Accept the fact and the pecking order. Everyone connected to Northern Illinois University should be used to the politics, bullying and putdowns from downstate by now.
So, when I read Bob Asmussen’s recent sports column in the Champaign News-Gazette, yeah, my blood pressure spiked. Meanwhile, the “Dog Pounders” immediately responded with an “Arrogant ILL-ini writer” thread.
Is that assertion justified? Well, yes and no.
Under the headline “I Hope [the] IHSA Fields My Call”, Asmussen’s column pushed the notion that all IHSA championship events should be hosted in Champaign-Urbana for the obvious reason (C-U is the center of the universe, where have you nonbelievers been?).
Who probably took the most offense to this? DeKalb County, of course, which won the right to the IHSA state football finals in 2012, and hosted the eight state championship games last fall, thanks to the efforts of many in the community and region. The nerve of these “mid-majors.”
Maybe Asmussen’s most infuriating line in the column was this – “Nobody grows up dreaming of playing at Northern Illinois.” Holy smoke, my experiences with Bob was that he was a pro’s pro, one of the finest (and most objective) college beat writers in the land.
Where was this anti-Huskies vitriol coming from? So we talked via email.
Turns out the column was mostly facetious, tongue-in-cheek and totally misinterpreted by locals (including myself). For the uninformed, Asmussen has been an Associated Press Top 25 college poll voter for years and been extremely generous in his poll support of Northern Illinois football (unlike some AP pollsters who reside in Ohio and shall remain nameless, right Rusty?).
All that said, the Illini culture of hubris still exists. Don’t fool yourself. I should have known better.
By sheer coincidence, the other night I started reading the late Roger Ebert’s memoir “Life Itself” which the world-famous movie reviewer released in 2011. A proud Illinois graduate and Urbana native, Ebert described his hometown and the university from the perspective of an impressionable young boy in the opening chapter. Ebert’s father had worked as an electrician at the U of I.
“The Illini were the University of Illinois, the world’s greatest university, whose football stadium my father had constructed – by himself, I believed,” Ebert wrote. “It was there that he had seen Red Grange, the greatest player of all-time. Also in that stadium were seen the world’s first huddle, the world’s first homecoming and Chief Illiniwek, the world’s greatest sports symbol.”
I know. Deja vu all over again, Huskies fans. According to NIU Hall of Fame football coach Howard Fletcher, U of I head man Bob Zuppke did invent the huddle. Homecoming? Now, that’s a different story. Illinois claimed that distinction for decades despite the fact the Huskies version (an NIU alumni game in 1903) predated theirs by seven years.
Guess some things will never change (and Roger, you never got the memo).
Item No. 2: Post scripts on the recent passing of Northern Illinois icons Bob Brigham and Richard “Daddio” Dailey. What an inspired and poignant tribute to Brigham’s 50-year association with the university to have the NIU marching band play the “Huskie Fight Song” after the funeral services last week. “I’m not a crier,” said former NIU presidential secretary Sally Stevens, “but when I heard that, I did tear up.”
Daddio seemingly knew everybody on the planet. How did Daddio get on the Dallas Cowboys’ sideline or Notre Dame’s? One time, we ran into ESPN’s Lee Corso at a College Football Hall of Fame event. Corso shook hands and immediately asked: “Mike, how’s Daddio?”
Dailey was a soft touch for anything NIU and helped so many. The one-liners, his ever-present cigar, the endless stories – whether it was at the Kishwaukee Country Club or the Daddio’s Den establishment (where everyone was a friend). What a truly unforgettable character. Going to miss you, “Popsie.”
Item No. 3: Here’s my two cents on the recent “Dog Pound” debate regarding the guarantees paid to NIU’s football program for the game at Northwestern this year (a reported $500,000) and Ohio State in 2015 ($900,000).
What’s the issue? First and foremost, NU athletic director Jim Phillips has to be a good businessman (and is).
Scheduling the Huskies (and with all of NIU’s Chicagoland fans and alumni) should give Phillips one of his largest nonconference football gates at Ryan Field in the past decade. You can only pay so much with a stadium that seats only 49,256. With its 102,329-seat Ohio Stadium in Columbus, the Buckeyes can afford the larger guarantee without losing its collective shirt. Common sense.
Item No. 4: Can you beat watching an NHL Stanley Cup Final game with NBC’s stellar broadcasting team of play-by-play guru Mike “Doc” Emrick, plus engaging and astute analysts Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire? That trio – and “Doc” in particular – made Monday night’s 3-0 Los Angeles Kings shutout triumph over the New York Rangers so exciting that one dare not turn the channel. Besides “our” Pat Foley and the late Tim Sassone, are there any better media ambassadors for the NHL?
My only question – Why then did NBC Sports saddle us with Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti and Brian Engstrom for the Chicago-L.A. Western Conference Final, and the battle of the past two Stanley Cup winners? It appears that series determined the real 2014 Stanley Cup champion. Besides, Albert and Micheletti were subpar broadcasters by comparison and, pardon my Blackhawk-centric bias, seven-game L.A. “homers.”
Item No. 5: Yeah, change is tougher as one gets older. The Cubs have been on WGN-AM radio since 1958 when I was 10 years old. It has been pretty easy to find the Cubbies on 720 the past 56 summers. Past WGN mainstays Jack Brickhouse and Ward Quall must be turning over in their respective graves with this move to WBBM-AM in 2015.
The rumor is that the Cubbies could be on WSCR-AM, a CBS-owned station, in two years. The Score 670 or 780 on the AM dial or 105.9 on the FM? Don’t know if that’s as synonymous with the Cubs as 720 was, sorry.
Besides, as someone on the internet pointed out, how can Cubs’ management use the Steve Goodman song “Go Cubs Go” next season with “WGN” in the lyrics? Yeah, I know, Tom Ricketts has bigger fish to fry.
• Mike Korcek is a 1970 graduate of NIU, and was the school’s head sports information director from 1984-2006. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.