General

For me, Illinois vs. Baylor is a real family affair

This weekend’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

For me, Illinois vs. Baylor is a real family affair

The WISCH LIST

Dec. 25, 2010

Come Tuesday morning, I’ll be on a plane headed to Houston – and away from the cold – to watch Illinois tangle with Baylor in Wednesday’s Texas Bowl.

As a University of Illinois alum, my allegiances aren’t torn – I’ll be wearing orange – but I suppose they probably should be.

Why?

Well, my relative founded Baylor University.

In fact, he’s Baylor, himself.

I knew nothing of this interesting fact until a couple weeks ago when my mother – who has become quite the genealogist during her retirement – informed me that BU co-founder Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor is my first cousin six times removed (in other words, from six generations ago).

R.E.B. Baylor was a prominent lawyer, politician and Baptist leader who was born in Lincoln County, Ky., on May 10, 1873 to Walker and Jane (Bledsoe) Baylor. (The maiden name of my mother, who hails from Colorado, is Bledsoe.)

During the American Revolution, R.E.B.’s father had been a captain of the Continental Army in the company of dragoons – i.e., mounted infantrymen – that often assisted George Washington.
And R.E.B. himself served in the War of 1812 before studying law in office of his uncle (and. I suppose, mine), Judge Jesse Bledsoe and earning election to the Kentucky legislature in 1819.

About a year later, R.E.B. moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he practiced law and spent one term (1829-1831) as a representative from Alabama in the 21st Congress of the United States.

After becoming a lieutenant colonel in an 1836 war against Alabama’s Creek Indians, R.E.B. was converted in 1839 during a Baptist revival meeting held by his cousin (and mine) in Talladega, Ala. That same year, he was ordained a Baptist minister and, at the age of 46, headed west to Texas.

In the Lone Star State, R.E.B. was elected in 1841 as judge of the Third Judicial District of the Congress of the Republic of Texas and consequently became an associate justice of the Supreme Court, an office he held until the end of the republic.

He helped write Texas’ first state constitution and, along with William M. Tryon and J.G. Thomas, prepared the petition that led to the 1845 establishment of Baylor University in Waco. R.E.B. is believed to have donated the first $1,000 to the school, which, with nearly 15,000 students, is the largest private Baptist college in the country today.

On Dec. 30, 1871, R.E.B. died in Washington County, Texas. He never married and had no children, but he did leave behind a university – and 139 years later has given me something to say to Baylor fans this week besides, “How ’bout them Cowboys?”

Messin’ with Texas

It was an abbreviated Christmas for the Fighting Illini football team, as it departed Saturday for the Texas Bowl. As of last count, only about 5,000 Illini fans had bought tickets to follow them later this week.

Blame the small following on sky-high airfare prices and dampened enthusiasm due to Illini losses in three of the last four games.

Ron Zook said last week that his players enjoy a hostile environment, and at Reliant Stadium – which seats 71,500 – they’re going to find one. The game is expected to be a near sell-out with upwards of 60,000 Baylor Bears fans packing the stands.

Interestingly, the Texas Bowl marks the third consecutive bowl game – including the 2008 Rose Bowl vs. USC and 2002 Sugar Bowl vs. LSU – in which Illinois will have squared off against a hostile home-state opponent.

Perhaps next year, Illini can host Florida or somebody in bowl game at Wrigley Field.

That set-up worked out pretty well last month.