Good Morning America
I don't know if this will make any sense at all.
You know the experience of watching a national morning show? I probably need to be careful here because a lot of people probably enjoy watching the morning shows. I'm talking about my experience, as a 50 year-old man who doesn't watch morning shows, sitting in, say, the waiting room of a doctor's office while Good Morning America is on.
It's so bizarre. It feels like a Saturday Night Live skit to me. Because I'm not used to it, the way the hosts talk to each other is just so over the top. The whole "and when we come back, Dr. Cindy will tell us how dry skin is a threat to your children's health" thing. I'm sure this is good information from Dr. Cindy. But when it's presented with that much syrup, it just doesn't seem real to me. It feels like a skit.
And that feels so much like my Illini football fan experience on the road. When I'm around opposing fans, especially Iowa fans, I kind of don't believe them? Our fan experience is extremely real. Devilishly real. We've all SEEN some things, man. Imagine a way to watch a loss and we've watched us lose that way.
So when I'm riding an elevator with a bunch of Iowa fans - the same elevator that goes to the pressbox goes to the suite levels - I feel like I'm riding with Laura Spencer and George Stephanopolous. I'm left with this "are you guys acting right now what's happening?" feeling. My entire postgame experience in and around the stadium - even the parking garage afterwards - had this feeling of "something is off." A Truman Show feeling, if you will. For the kids, an "is everyone around me an NPC?" feeling.
I tried to write about this last night and failed so I waited until this morning. I was exhausted anyway, and you just saw on Friday night what kind of drivel I put out when I wait too long to write the SOC, so I decided to sleep on it, get some coffee in me, and then write again this morning. Walking through the hotel lobby to get coffee and seeing Good Morning America on the TV (sorry, "GMA") was the click for me.
Our fan experience is very real. The Iowa fan experience feels very GMA to me. I can't really explain it beyond just that. The only way to get to a moment like this is to live a real fan experience life and then observe happy people who don't really understand what unhappiness looks like. Let me try to explain that.
This is not the feeling when I go to Ohio State or Michigan. Those feel like very real fan experiences (to me). They know they're either going 11-1 or 12-0 and their entire existence hinges on one game. They filter everything through that one game. If both teams are 11-0 it's the only sporting event on earth. If one of the teams is 10-1 then they can still take the Big Ten Championship Game spot. If one of the teams has two losses (God forbid), they can still play spoiler in the Game. That's a very real experience.
And ours is a very real experience as well. The Big Ten West ends in a week and we'll watch it die without ever having won it. We have six winning seasons the last 29 years. We haven't won a bowl game since 2011, we haven't won a Big Ten championship since 2001, and for the last 30 years, we're one of the five worst programs in the Power Five. I believe that to be changing, and that's exciting, but that really doesn't matter for the point I'm making. I'm talking about what made us the way we are. We have seen some things.
So when you're around another fanbase that hasn't experienced those things -- they're not Ohio State or Michigan, but they're not Indiana either -- you can't help but feel like something is off. They win their eight or nine games every year, and they do it with the football equivalent of the high school basketball coach who instructs his players to hold the ball for the entire first quarter since there's no shot clock, and their fans only have problems like "the coach hired his son and won't fire him", not "we've won six or more conference games twice in the last 33 years" (something Iowa accomplished for the fourth time in five seasons yesterday).
When you lose to that team on a 30-yard run with less than four minutes left, you really start to question if anything will ever change in life. You feel like you're in a simulation. Iowa fans just carry on enjoying their "up next, Chef Marcus has an excellent recipe for pumpkin sliders - yum!" existence and we're left wondering if anyone else sees it. Is it just us? Is THAT maybe real life and we're the ones in the simulation?
I don't have an answer other than to hope that this new Big Ten shakes everything up. I used to love that we were in the worst division in P5 football (for the ease of schedule) but now that we never won it, I hate it. Make it go away. Bring on Oregon and USC. Something needs to pinch my skin to make me realize this isn't a simulation.
Famous last words, I know.
+ The moment that punt return got to midfield we all felt it. I wish everyone could understand what this fan PTSD is like. We all absolutely knew how the game would end. Even with the horrific Iowa offense. If there's an "all we need to do now is..." scenario in an Illini football game, guess what happens next?
And that's a shame because this is a fun team to root for. The Paddock story. Somehow still existing with one running back (we were down to just Feagin, and he lasted about three carries into Reggie Love's return, and now Reggie is the only tailback and we're all scared to death the moment he's slow to get up). We've gotten to the level where we're competitive every game. But while we won the Maryland, Minnesota, and Indiana games late, we lost late leads against Wisconsin and Iowa.
I know this is just math having fun with us. I know that we should be happy that in these five consecutive "it will be one or two plays" games, we're 3-2 and not 2-3. All I've ever asked for is competitive football, and I've received it, and here I am still screaming "WHY IS OUR FAN EXPERIENCE SO DIFFICULT?".
But the triggers are just so strong, man. Late lead, trying to hold on, and every single one of us is having the exact same thought. We've watched this movie so. many. times.
+ The play that has stuck with me this morning is the 3rd and 5 for Iowa from midfield on their winning drive. We forced them into 3rd and medium, we had just stuffed them on (what seemed like) five consecutive plays like that, yet Hill completed a 9-yard pass to Ragaini. The next play was the defensive holding giving them ten yards, and the next play was the winning touchdown. We just needed one more third down stop and we couldn't get it.
And how many times have we been that close in this stadium? We had that drive for the winning score where Ke'Shawn Vaughn fumbled. We had the winning touchdown called back because we covered up the receiver back in 2007. We don't return to Iowa City until 2028 and at that point it will be 29 years since our last win at Kinnick. We'll be pushing towards "two generations of Illini fans have never seen a win in Iowa City" at that point.
As I said in the FTS over and over, I just can't believe that it's Iowa who owns us.
+ I have to note the great defensive scheme by Phil Parker when facing Paddock. They knew that with a shorter QB who throws a bit side-arm they could get their hands on a bunch of passes. So they would often have a defender not rush, not drop into coverage, and hunt the bat-down.
Sure, that player was also probably the spy who was there to chase the tailback if he left the backfield (or chase the quarterback if he took off), but their whole defense did a great job of getting their hands up. Stopped our final drive with two consecutive bat-downs.
Check out the "BrUp" column here:
Evans and Black are defensive linemen and Higgins is a linebacker so 5 of those 13 pass breakups were at the line of scrimmage. I can't tell you how impressive that is for a defensive staff room. They schemed for Paddock and came up with the perfect plan. I hate it.
Also, the turnover luck numbers are probably wildly in our favor (meaning we were wildly lucky) in this one. On average, teams intercept 21% of all passes broken up. All 13 passes broken up by Iowa eventually hit the turf, so Iowa really should have had three interceptions. They had zero. We got very, very lucky.
+ Speaking of interceptions, we have one game remaining and here's the numbers:
2022 interceptions: 24
2023 interceptions: 5
Ain't nothing like experienced defensive backs.
+ I think the hardest thing to take about this loss is how it played out exactly like Vegas expected. Exactly like the entire world expected. Iowa was favored by 3 and won by 2 (because they missed that extra point). The over-under went off at 32 I believe and there were 28 points scored. So Vegas said "low scoring game where Iowa somehow finds a way to win in the end" and that's exactly what happened.
That doesn't help any of my "simulation" feelings this morning. I'm not saying "the results of these games are predetermined!" or anything like that. Just saying that Iowa fans couldn't escape the feeling that they were going to win and Illinois fans couldn't escape the feeling that we were going to lose. And then that's exactly how it played out.
And now they're off to make the pumpkin sliders that Chef Marcus recommended. And we're off to spend an entire week saying "please God, not like this" as Northwestern has a chance to send us home for the holidays.
Thanks, simulation. I hate it.