Thank God for the Illini! Without them this column would be about my fears and anxieties concerning the Cubs 2005 campaign. The three-headed guard monster saved me this winter from thinking about the Cubs offseason futility (They couldn't sign a closer?) Instead of musing about how we will replace the 74 HRs and 186 RBIs Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa provided, I was in Champaign imbibing the beauty of Illini basketball.

I must be honest about my love for the Illini. While I am a stalwart supporter now, I admit I am a fair-weather fan. But before you crucify me, you must understand my plight. I have nothing else to root for.

The Bulls? Eh, sure. Am I excited about the emergence of Ben Gordon and the leadership of Kirk Hinrich? Eh, sure. But a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference isn't all that exciting.

The Bears? Eh, sure. Lovie Smith seems all right, but I am also a tad worried the Bears might run out of time in their quest for a title. At some point the spaceship that landed on top of Soldier Field is going to fly away and take the whole stadium with it.

And then the Cubs. Oh, the love of my sporting life. I guess it is a good sign that Sports Illustrated didn't put Kerry Wood on the Baseball Preview issue with the words "Hell Freezes Over: The Cubs will win the World Series."

I'm not even going to mention the White Sox.

Born in 1982, I don't remember the '85 Bears all that well but I do have a tape of the Super Bowl Shuffle video (that Gary Fencik could dance!). Then there was Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete ever. His presence deluded me into thinking I would always have a champion. I mean, I even got to see the Cubs in a playoff game, so what need did I have for the Illini?

Well, 2004 soured quickly and I was a loser again, until the boys in Orange came along. I've always followed the Illini, but this year I became enthralled after my first visit to Champaign.(Yes, I grew up in Chicago and never set foot in Champaign.)

I was there doing a story on the Orange Krush -- granted I thought Orange Crush was a soda or a 1980s Broncos player -- and something clicked. I think it was the combination of my desire for a champion and the fact that my own collegiate experience lacked a "real" basketball team (go Brown Bears!).

So here I am, jumping on a very full bandwagon and I love it.

Since that fateful January night, my like of the Illini turned to a like 'em, like 'em.

I originally thought about using this space to address the "respect" issue. But instead, I give you sights and sounds from Champaign, how the campus is soaking up the limelight and getting prepped for the Final Four (thanks to student Phillip Davidson and the Orange Krush peeps for the info).

Maybe SIOC road trippers will buy your tickets...

Approximately 500 students received tickets through the student lottery. When they went to pick up their tickets they were greeted by the friendly neighborhood scalpers, who offered $1000 per ticket.

Bill Murray feels my pain...

Steve Zissou was at the Chicago regional. He, too, knows drowns his Cubs sorrows in Illini b-ball.

He must know someone on the team...

In the March 31 Daily Illini, students were polled to see if they had tickets. One student who was polled was named Deron Williams. Apparently this young man has six tickets. I wonder how he got so lucky?

Respect?

Phillip Davidson writes, "The Big Ten has arguably the biggest and most elite state schools in college athletics. The fact that us, MSU and Wisconsin made the Elite Eight shows the character of this conference. We may not look like the hottest girl in school, but let me tell you, we deliver the goods."

My mom says you should only have two glasses of wine at a party...

Champaign is limiting the amount of alcohol that can be sold, as well as forbidding the sale of booze the mornings of games. Seriously, officers, college kids are crafty. I am betting that they are willing to drive a couple hours away to get beer.

Predicting what will make waves the first week of April ...

Kerry Wood's Arm Falls Off

One time 20-strikeout pitcher, Kerry Wood suffered another setback in his 2005 campaign. The righty, known for a tantalizing nasty fastball and slider, was throwing off the mound last Sunday when his right arm fell off.

"Well, it's obviously disappointing, but we believe this shouldn't delay Woody's home opener start vs. the Brewers," said G.M. Jim Hendry yesterday. "While we don't want to rush him back, our doctors have told us he should be able to make a full recovery. It's not like we are hiding anything but we don't want the media or Cubs fans to overreact to this news."

First a Punter, Now This

Following another DEA steroid investigation Steroid Weekly reports that Sally Smith, a fourth grader, from McMurray, Pa. used the human growth hormone before her rhythmic gymnastics competition last year. Smith came out of nowhere to capture the Pennsylvania Rhythmic Gymnastics crown, which many attributed to her stellar "rope" performance at the championships. Smith was unavailable for comment following the allegations due to a Girls Scout meeting.

An 18-month baby was also cited in the report. Allegations stem from the child's enlarged head, feet and hands.

Fans call for sportswriters to stop using "Four reasons" cliché when writing about Final Four

An online petition, which has received nearly 10,000 signatures, pleads with sportswriter's to stop using "Four reasons" when referring to the final weekend of the NCAA tournament

From the petition:

We, sports fans of America, plead for you to stop using this cliché.

1. It's not that witty, everybody does it. 2. Too much alliteration with the letter "F" doesn't make it any cooler. 3. A writer usually only has three good points to make about any given subject and the last one is usually a filler. 4. See No. 3.

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