Calling For An Illini Football Encore In Chicago

Tuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

ui(CBS) Losing isn’t fun.

However, with that said, the way that Illinoislost to Washington at Soldier Field on Saturday was more enjoyable than pretty much the entirety of the 2012 football season.

Against the Huskies, the Illini competed. They rallied. And they didn’t embarrass themselves in a 34-24 decision that, not insignificantly, was 22 points closer than the 38-6 thumping that nationally ranked Washington put on perennial powerhouse Boise State two weeks prior.

In Illini Nation – or at least in Tim Beckman County – that’s progress.

But perhaps the most progressive aspect of the Illini’s “Chicago Homecoming” on Saturday was how, after long last, Illinois footballfinally made an effort to truly connect with the Windy City. That hasn’t happened since my freshman year at Illinois – way back in 1994 – when the Illini opened the season with a 10-9 loss to Washington State at Soldier Field.

And it had better not be 19 years before Illinois comes back again.

“Overall, this was a pleasant experience, a great idea to play at Soldier Field,” Beckman said on Saturday night after a crowd of 47,312 showed up for the game. “The fans got really loud in the fourth quarter.”

It was also pleasant that the scrappy Illini actually gave them a reason to stick around, making things interesting late. And now Illinois needs to give the fans a chance to return to Chicago. The game’s turnout at Soldier Field might have been thin at kickoff (hey, tailgating is fun) and far from a capacity crowd at the 61,500-seat stadium, but it was still better than anticipated for a team coming off a 2-10 season.

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