It got quiet all of a sudden. Poppa Joe Harris had nothing to say. The SI with the colla-poppin' Prince on the cover got looked at hard, almost as if Poppa's stone was rollin', almost as if he was blaming SI for the loss. Then he thought different. Instead, the magazine found the trash.
For four months, ever since they beat Wake Forest on Dec. 1, the feeling around the Crilla (Chicago) the home team gave us was the most beautifullest thing in the world since MJ faded Bryon Russell on June 14, 1998. The Stylin' Illini gave us that old feeling. That feeling of "we ain't about to get beat no time soon." We had replaced that corny swagger with a pimp strut, George Jefferson/Tupac style. Three players on the All-Big Ten First Team. Ain't had a loss since a loss had us this same month last year. A feeling of something less than invincibility, but more than arrogance. A 2005 feeling that "we ain't going out like St. Joe's" in 2004; a "we got bigger plans" feeling. At least, we had that feeling until yesterday.
|Do you live in a frat, dorm, Maranatha house, Goth shelter or the school president's mansion at the University of Illinois? Would you like to host ESPN.com writer Jim Caple during the first week of the NCAA tournament when he spends March Madness living on campus? If so, click here and e-mail us with all the pertinent contact information, living arrangements and hazing rituals. You could be the star of Page 2 next week. (Jim also points out that he'll accept invitations to live in a sorority).|
In a second-floor office a writer by the name of (get this) Bruce Wayne is sitting at his desk, Prince's "Sign 'O' The Times" blasting in the background. You can hear it from his second-floor window. He's sending out e-mails to everyone he knows. The e-mail's entitled: "Our Bad? Ohio State 65, Illinois 64," the first line. There's a sarcastic smile on his face similar to a cat that just swallowed a bird. He's watching the people of Chicago swallow pride.
"I knew that Illini fans had their hearts set on an undefeated season," Wayne says. "But as a native of Columbus, Ohio, I don't feel bad about knockin' y'all out the box." Then he lets out this sarcastic laugh. "We were just playin'."
He uses the operative word: "y'all." As if Chicago is Champaign. He speaks about this Illini team as if it is claimed by something much bigger than the Urbana campus it sits on, bigger than the money Green Street that runs through it. Batman's right. The two-hour distance between the Magnificent Mile and 4th Street has closed since Thanksgiving, when the Illini made notice that weekend that this season was 'bout to be special by beating Gonzaga by 17.
Chicago became "ya'll" then, included in the conversation about Illini loyalty. Orange "I" caps all up and down Michigan Ave. and in Cub-centric Wrigleyville. Blue "I" tees over white thermal long sleeves in the Ickes and in the Gardens. The city had fallen for the downstate team like it was an Alicia Keys classic. We lay claim, forever letting folks know: "Dee Brown and Luther Head run the squad!" purposely eliminating Deron Williams because he's from Texas. Nothing personal, but the Chi looks out for its own -- regardless of accuracy and intent.