The day was July 25, 1982. I was a seven-year-old boy walking into Comiskey Park for my first major league baseball game ever. My parents and sister were there too, although once I saw the beautiful green grass field I probably didn’t look at any of them again until the drive home to Lake Zurich. What I remember, and I’ll never forget, was how green the grass was. How big the field was! My seven-year-old eyes had never seen anything so pristine, so gorgeous, so wonderful. Only in my dreams would I have envisioned something so glorious. And now thirty-five years later, it remains in my dreams. When I go to sleep at night I sometimes dream of ancient ball fields like the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, old Yankee Stadium, and old Comiskey Park. I want to go back in time and be a Giants fan in the Polo Grounds, a Dodgers fan at Ebbets, a Yankees fan cheering on one of my all-time favorites Mickey Mantle in Yankee Stadium, and I want to be a seven-year-old boy again cheering on Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk in the old Comiskey Park.
Ironically twenty-two years after that wonderful day, our first child was born. Our daughter Natalie joined us in 2004. What is it about July 25? It will always remain one of my favorite days on the calendar. Speaking of favorites, in an incredible journey as a gigantic sports fan, it’s hard to ever replace the Chicago White Sox after that illustrious start in 1982. The Sox are my favorite baseball team by far, but they may be topped by one and only one sports team.
One time around ’84 or ’85 I sat down after running around outside to watch college football on a cold autumn Saturday afternoon. I asked Dad what he was watching and who he was cheering for. From my memory, he was watching a Nebraska vs Oklahoma football game and he said he liked Nebraska and cheered for them because of their coach, Tom Osborne. He was a good respectable, Christian man who does it the right way. I didn’t need to watch for long and I was sold. Nebraska was my new team! The overwhelming amounts of red, the fans in Memorial Stadium, the dominance. As I got older and learned more about Nebraska, I was just floored by the incredible fervor surrounding this team. The story was Coach Tom Osborne had gotten so close and deserved a National Championship but was never able to fully grasp it. As the bowl losses mounted year after year, and the haters said the same stuff year after year (“Nebraska’s schedule stinks…..they will lose their bowl game against a faster team once again…….they can’t pass…….they can’t beat Oklahoma………they’re too slow……..they can’t beat a Southern team from Florida such as Miami or Florida St. anyway even if they DO beat Oklahoma”), it only fueled my desire for a Big Red Championship that much more. As the years went on and the bowl losing streak hit five and six straight years in 1991 and ’92, I was exhausted but determined to win it all. The Huskers were my team and I would help them do it with unreasonable support. I felt like the only Nebraska fan in the state of Illinois growing up. I was made fun of constantly for cheering for the Huskers.
When I went off to college to Champaign/Urbana and the University of Illinois in the fall of ’93, my allegiance to Nebraska remained. Obviously I was a huge fan of the Fighting Illini too, but it wasn’t much of a conflict since the schools were in different conferences, the Big 8 and the Big Ten. Who would have thought that Nebraska would one day join the Big 10 (now the B1G) in 2011? So when undefeated Nebraska went to the National Championship in the ’93/’94 Orange Bowl to face the 18 point favorite Florida St. Seminoles playing in their home state, most people expected the same ol’ thing would happen once again. Not me. I believed in this group of Cornhuskers. The signs were showing through like a flashlight visible through a bed sheet……hazy, but you could see the light. These Huskers were different. They had a difference maker at QB in Tommie Frazier who wasn’t scared of the Florida St. defense. Hell, he went to school with half of those guys in Bradenton, FL. The defense was now a solid attacking 4-3 under the direction of Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride. Trev Alberts had 15 sacks from his Rush End position. Nowadays they call those guys EDGE rushers. Despite a dislocated elbow suffered in the 21-7 regular season finale victory over Oklahoma, Trev put on a memorable thick brace and totalled three sacks as he pressured Florida St. Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward all night! In one of the greatest Championship games ever, Nebraska lost 18-16. It was hard to hold back the tears after getting so close but ultimately falling short in that historic final minute.
As they say, the rest is history. Nebraska would go on to win three National Championships over the next 4 years in 1994, ’95, and ’97. Most experts would agree that the ’95 version is the greatest college football team of all time. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. When your team finally breaks through like the way Nebraska did in the 90s, you never go away, you never break confidence, you never give up hope. You never can renege on your fandom. What they gave you was so much, so special, so incredible that you will never forget. So I didn’t. Now we have a Big Red Room downstairs in the basement, a collection of Nebraska media guides that goes back to the ’80s, not one but two subscriptions to Huskers magazines, one unhealthy obsession with the state of Nebraska, and most importantly, a son named Trev.
Dutch Lion’s Favorite Teams
- Nebraska Cornhuskers football – “There’s No Place Like Nebraska” isn’t just a saying. I dare you to drive out to Lincoln and take it all in on an Autumn Saturday. It is truly special. “The Good Life” still exists. You just need to find it. GBR! (Go Big Red!)
- Chicago White Sox – When the Sox won the World Series in 2005, it was like living a dream. I still can’t believe they won! I seriously never thought it would happen. Whereas in other sports with other teams I am very positive and always think my teams will win it all, with the Sox it just seemed like an unreachable goal. I guess it was all those years, from ’82 to ’04 that drained my belief that it would ever happen. And then, for some reason that ’05 Title made me hungrier for more. Don’t get me wrong, that one Title quenched my thirst for several years, maybe even a decade. But now 12 years later, we’re getting hungry. Will they win again? Let’s hope. No matter what, I’ll continue to keep my streak of going to at least one game every year since ’82.
- Illinois Fighting Illini basketball – The biggest heartbreak of all was the 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini’s Road to the Final Four and the subsequent Championship that ended with a deflating loss to North Carolina. I still can’t believe this either. It all ended so sadly. We HAD that game. That was OUR year! I still refer to them as the “Real Champs”. 37-2! Only one team has ever had a better record and NOT won the Championship (’08 Memphis led by DRose was 38-2, falling to Kansas in OT). If you watched his year’s National Championship, it may have occurred to you that we had a very similar irony at play. #1 seed Gonzaga was 37-1 as they ended up losing in the last minute to those big bad North Carolina Tar Heels, just as Illinois had 12 years earlier. 37-2 once again. It brought back a lot of bad memories. I still haven’t watched the full replay of Coach Weber’s bunch in that last minute defeat. I looked it up and it’s on YouTube. Maybe one day I’ll check it out. It’s only been a dozen years of heartbreak. Someday Illinois may just go on and win that elusive National Championship, but it will never be the same. That ’05 team was the greatest of all time! They deserved the acclaim from the masses as National Champions. In fact, if one or two of those last minute threes by Luther or Deron drops, the ’05 Illini probably go down as one of the greatest college teams of all time. No matter…….to me, they will always be Champions! I-L-L!!!!
4. Chicago Bears – Growing up down the road from Halas Hall, it was always obvious that I would be a Bears backer. How lucky was I to be a 10-year-old in 1985?!? How lucky were we? My grandparents lived in a condo in Vernon Hills in the mid 80s. Downstairs in their unit lived #99 Dan Hampton. I know! One time my grandpa introduced me to Dan and I was completely nervous. This hulking man was my hero! I don’t remember saying anything. I’m sure I was speechless. The normal thing to say about 1985 would be that we didn’t know how great it was while it was happening, but that would be totally untrue. What was unique about the ’85 Bears was that we did indeed know RIGHT THEN that it was a once in a lifetime team. Really? The Super Bowl Shuffle!?! It all seems like unbelievable, like a Hollywood movie. Like Forrest Gump! The ’85 Bears defense remains in the Pantheon as the greatest defense of all time! Ask anyone. There will never be another team like the ’85 Bears. They were the best, they were the most dominant, and they were the most interesting group of characters on one team of all time. How do you top that? You don’t. We’ll never see anything like it again.
5. Chicago Bulls – OMG! Here we go again…..how lucky were we to be watching the greatest of all time while we were children. I mean, seriously! Growing up in the 80s was an extremely special time to be a Chicago sports fan. I’ve been really blessed to witness the rise of Michael Jordan and the Bulls while living right down the road from the Bulls practice facilities in Deerfield. Think about it. When’s the last time you heard anyone, I mean anyone, that didn’t think MJ was the greatest basketball player of all time? 6 Titles in the 90s? Talk about expectations and greed amongst a fan base. The parade at Grant Park got to be a regular thing on the City of Chicago calendar. Since ’98 it has never been the same. It never will be. That was a special time. Could it be again? Possible but not probable. How many times do you get a once in a lifetime athlete in one city?……….Once.
6. Chicago Blackhawks – I love the Hawks but I’m not a fully invested hockey fan. What I mean by that is I never played hockey. I was never on a team and don’t understand the subtleties that only a true hockey player who has gotten coached would understand. Nonetheless, I love the sport but it’s clearly down the list as no higher than my 4th favorite sport behind baseball and football (tied for 1st) and basketball (3rd). I respect these guys as amazing athletes. Moving fast, bumping your opponents into walls, shooting a frozen puck at 100 mph, all while skating on ice??? Truly ridiculous and remarkable. Will the Hawks win another Cup? I hope so but I don’t need it. I’m not a greedy fan. Three Stanley Cup Championships over the last 8 years is enough for me to be happy. Nonetheless, I’ll “Commit to the Indian” forevermore.
7.Netherlands national soccer – “You ain’t much if you ain’t Dutch”. Cheering for the Dutch national soccer team has been one of the great, unexpected joys of my adult life. I just love the history of Johan Cruyff and the “Total Football” Dutch team. As 3 time World Cup runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010), they may be down right now, but the Dutch will one day win the World Cup…..and I can’t wait! One of these days my wife and I are going to take a trip to Amsterdam and hopefully attend a game in the ArenA. “Hup Holland Hup”!
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish football – I haven’t always loved Notre Dame consistently, but I usually cheer for them, often times based on their head coach. Coach Lou Holtz (1986-’96) had me enamored, especially with that 1988 National Championship team. That Fighting Irish team was one of my all time favorite single year teams. Outside of the other teams listed, ’88 ND is right up there with the ’86 New York Mets, ’93 Philadelphia Phillies, ’01 Philadelphia 76ers, ’04 Boston Red Sox, the Steve Nash era Phoenix Suns, ’07-’08 Texas Tech football, ’10 Auburn football, ’14 Oregon football, and ’16-? Villanova basketball. Those teams I followed and loved for at least one year. It’s funny but I could care less about some of these teams during other parts of their history. For example, the Phillies won the World Series in ’08 but I could care less about that particular group. Same with Auburn. I loved the Cam Newton led Tigers as he won the Heisman Trophy for them, but in other years I probably not only didn’t cheer for them, but I probably even cheered AGAINST them. The reasoning is I usually love a specific player(s) and/or coach(es). Sometimes I grow to love squads because of fantasy players or coaches that might catch my interest.
9. Oregon Ducks football – I started following them in their ’94 Rose Bowl season. I loved this dude named Chad Cota. He played safety on that ’94 squad. Then I loved QB Joey “Heisman” Harrington during their ’01 Fiesta Bowl season. It started with Coach Rich Brooks, continued with Coach Mike Bellotti, expanded further with Coach Chip Kelly, and topped out with Coach Mark Helfrich as QB Marcus Mariota led them all the way to the National Championship game in ’14. Now that they fired Coach Helfrich, I’m in a holding pattern. Will my love for the Ducks wane?10. Washington Nationals/Dallas Cowboys/Milwaukee Brewers/Stevenson H.S. Patriots/Illinois Fighting Illini baseball/other random teams – As a huge sports fan, I’ve loved a ton of different teams over the years. I often cheer for teams because of their coach or a specific player. From Florida football during the Steve Spurrier years to Phoenix Suns basketball during the K.J., Charles Barkley, and Dan Majerle era. From the ’80s New York Mets and the ’90s Philadelphia Phillies when they had my favorite baseball player ever Lenny Dykstra leading off, to the Washington Nationals since they drafted Stephen Strasburg 1st overall in ’09 and then Bryce Harper 1st overall in ’10. I’ve always considered the Dallas Cowboys my second favorite NFL team behind the Bears. I loved Tony Dorsett and the big star on the helmet since I was a little guy. Recently, I’ve become a big Villanova basketball fan over the last few years because of Jalen Brunson committing to play for Coach Jay Wright. We know Jalen from working at Stevenson High School and it’s been quite a fun journey following his career. In fact, I just ran into Jalen the other day as he came back to his alma mater to visit. He’s a good, polite kid and we’re really proud of him. He has two years left at Villanova as he aims for his second National Title. As long as Coach Wright is there I see myself cheering for ‘Nova. There will be more teams, more coaches, and more players. As long as I’m breathing I’m sure I’ll find people to root for outside of my own special teams. I look forward to seeing where the journey takes me.
Dutch Lion Hates!
- Chicago Cubs – Do I need to explain? I don’t think you want to read this. If you need more explanation, go read my previous blog posts such as “Reid ‘Em & Weep 2.5” or The 2016 Cubs……..Not That Good! Excuse me now while I go hoist my “L” flag.
- Green Bay Packers – My wife is a Packers fan from the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha. I understand that she likes them but it’s really a shame. My brother-in-law Jay is also from Waukesha and a huge Pack fan. Meanwhile, my other brother-in-law Joe is from Deerfield and is a gigantic Bears fan. I remember when Joe and I were so excited when Brett Favre’s career was winding down because we thought the tide would finally turn for Chicago. We figured Green Bay would come back to earth after Favre’s dominant run over the Bears. Then Aaron Rodgers emerged. Really? How often does one franchise get back to back franchise quarterbacks? I can only think of two occasions….the ’80s San Francisco 49ers when they went from Joe Montana to Steve Young and then these Packers. Ugh. We’ve been in the wilderness for thirty years and are searching for our Moses to lead us to the Promised Land. My wife is great, but I’m not sure she fully understands. I know it’s cyclical. She knows too, as the ’80s Bears dominated the Packers of her youth. But when does the cycle revert back? It’s been 25 years since Favre was traded to the Packers from Atlanta (February 11, 1992) and the Bears fired Coach Mike Ditka (January 5, 1993). These two franchises have never been the same since.
- Wisconsin Badgers football and basketball – As a fan of Nebraska and Illinois football and Illinois basketball, it kills me to see Wisconsin consistently winning since the turn of the century while my teams have often struggled. Along with some of the unsavory coaches in Madison (Coach Bret Bielema and Coach Bo Ryan), the Wisconsin fans are over the top. I’ve been to Camp Randall Stadium a few times and felt lucky to get out alive on my last two visits for Huskers games. The fans are sometimes rough. Isn’t getting pasted on the scoreboard enough? Have no fear……things will change. The cycle has been all roses for Wisconsin lately but it won’t last forever. The Huskers and the Fighting Illini are surging! We shall return!
And now for the Dutch Lion’s friends…….
From: Darien, IL
Attended: University of Illinois (Class of ’98)
I met Jeff at the U of I in about 1994 or ’95 and we’ve been buddies ever since. Jeff is a great sports fan that currently resides in Clarendon Hills, a western suburb of Chicago. In fact, Jeff and I worked in radio together at WPGU in Champaign. We were both DJ’s, sports reporters, and in general, fools! We had some great times. One time Jeff was hosting a Sunday morning show called “Sports Talk” and I still remember our discussion almost 20 years later. We discussed the best point guards in the NBA and I recall listing Damon Stoudamire while Jeff mentioned Allen Iverson. Then we were talking about college football and the Fighting Illini. For some reason I mentioned that Penn St. was really tough and don’t count them out because of their defense headed by Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I know…..twenty years later, it’s haunting.
Jeff Marchese’s Favorites:
Illinois basketball & football
Chicago White Sox
Jeff Marchese’s Hates:
- NFL –maybe Patriots although I respect what they’ve been able to do
- NBA –Lakers and Knicks maybe? Tired or hearing people say you have to be on the coast as a player to make money. Although league does suffer when they aren’t good
NHL –maybe the Ducks? Stupid name.
MLB –don’t hate the Cubs but don’t cheer for them. And I hate the Red Sox/Yankees “rivalry” since it’s so overplayed by ESPN.
NCAA –Muck Fichigan!
I love Jeff’s comments. He touched on a bunch of hot button topics that I also covered above such as the ’85 Bears and liking “players” from fantasy teams. Sometimes it takes loving players and getting to know them as individuals first, THEN adopting their teams as your favorites. As usual, Jeff’s comedy shone through on comments about hating the Anaheim Ducks and Michigan Wolverines. Well done! Thanks for your help and your opinion Jeff!
From: Darien, IL
Attended: Western Illinois University (Class of ’97)
Mike is Jeff’s cousin. He started visiting Jeff in Champaign in the mid 90s. Jeff and I used to hang out at work as well at local establishments such as KAM’s. So when Mike visited we would go out together in Chambana. Naturally, we became close. We’ve been through a lot together. In fact, we even married girls that were roommates. It all started when Mike and I were living together. His girlfriend Julie was living with Deborah. We went on a double date. The rest is history. Mike and Julie got married in June 2000. Six weeks later Debbie and I got married. We’ve both been married for 17 years now. Needless to say, we’ve been buddies ever since. We remain great friends, despite some of Mike’s allegiances.
Mike Lis’s Favorites:
- Chicago Bears – For the same reasons I listed above, Mike loves the Bears because growing up in the 1980s with the ’85 Bears team was special. It wasn’t just 1985 either. Don’t forget this Bears team headed by Head Coach Mike Ditka won the NFC Central Division five years in a row from 1984-1988. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone our age that grew up in Chicagoland that does NOT like the Bears. Mike stated, “This was the team of our childhood”.
- University of Michigan basketball and football – Mike’s dad and his uncle both attended Michigan so Mike heard “Go Blue” most of his life. He loved the Fab Five era basketball. As a Western Illinois alum, Mike doesn’t have a natural D1 school to cheer for so I think it makes sense that he now cheers for one of the Big 10’s perennial powers.
- New York Yankees – Mike lived in New York City in 2000-’01 and thus he grew to love America’s most iconic team. Living in NYC during the Yanks amazing run of 4 Championships in 5 seasons didn’t hurt (’96, ’98, ’99, ’00).
- Chicago Bulls
- Chicago Blackhawks
Mike Lis’s Hates:
- Green Bay Packers – When I asked Mike about who he hates, he got really lit up! In fact, I could feel his heart rate increasing as he dived into the conversation. It was an amazing interview where the tension increased exponentially. I wish I would’ve recorded this conversation but I’ll try to recreate it this Summer during our annual golf match.
- Pete Carroll – Words used to describe Carroll, courtesy of Mike, “He’s so shady, he’s a cheater, he’s lucky too….I hate him!”
- Pat Riley – This one caught me off guard a bit. I had forgotten how much Bulls fans hated Riley in his N.Y. Knicks days. Now I remember…..the slicked back hair, the dirty play of guys like Anthony Mason, Derek Harper, Charles Oakley, Charles Smith, Patrick Ewing, John Starks……that was seemingly encouraged by thug-master Pat Riley. I’m pulling my hair out all over again.
Good stuff Mike! Thanks for your comments and quotes.
From: Willowbrook, IL
Attended Concordia University
I just met Mike about seven years ago at work. We both work at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL. Mike is a former assistant basketball coach for Stevenson and is a huge sports fan. He loves fantasy sports and dominates his leagues the same way he dominates life. Here’s his list:
Mike Feigh’s Favorites:
- Notre Dame football
White Sox baseball
Hawaii football – I was surprised to hear that Mike’s father went to Hawaii and played quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors back in the ’70s. Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Waikiki…….very cool.
Mike Feigh’s Hates:
- Coach John Calipari
- Coach Bill Self – Mike mentioned that he not only hates Coach Self for the way he treated Illinois but also for his recruiting tactics. Paraphrasing Mike, he even went so far as to say, “I don’t want to give the details but you’d be appalled at what he tried to do to get Jalen Brunson away from Villanova.”
- Coach Pete Carroll
So now you know where the Dutch Lion stands. Who do you love? Who do you hate? Tell me about it in the comments section. Next up on “Reid ‘Em & Weep”……..the NFL Draft Preview!