Hook, Line, and Sinker

By Tony Hooker
We all know Eeyore right?

Wikipedia describes him as “Generally characterized as a pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, anhedonic, old grey stuffed donkey who is a friend of Winnie the Pooh.”

As I’m sure everyone knows, Webster’s defines anhedonia as “an inability to feel pleasure.”

More and more lately, I’m starting to think I suffer from that when it comes to my sports teams.  

The Cardinals are playing great ball, 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs, and all I can think about is when the bottom’s going to drop out. The offense is putting up runs in droves, and all I fret that they’re about to go into a soul crushing slump. The starting pitching has been going deeper in to games than I ever thought they could, and the bullpen has been lights out, but I sit here thinking it’s a mirage and that they’ll be exposed soon. The team deserves better support than I feel capable of giving. Eeyore.

Next up on the hit parade are the Bears. All summer long, there were whispers about them being dark horse Super Bowl candidates, and why not? The defense is lights out good, with lightening fast, hard hitting players at every position, and the offense, led by up and coming QB Mitch Trubisky was surely going to show more improvement, right? Not exactly. I’ve been dreading opening night since the NFL announced it, and sometimes it stinks to be right. National television, against their oldest, most hated rivals, and they go out and lay a big old egg with the entire sporting world watching. To be honest, it’s a long season, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to regain momentum and make a playoff run, but they’re going to have to find an offensive identity. I want to be optimistic, but it’s not easy. Eeyore, especially after Thursday.

Finally, we get to my favorite team, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini. For most of the last two decades, we’ve struggled in both football and basketball, and I think this might be the root cause of my malaise. You see, I went to my first Illinois football game in 1972. That’s 47 years, for those who are keeping score at home. Nearly a half century of mostly mediocre play, with a few short spurts of awesome thrown in. It wears on the soul, I swear. I was at the infamous 0-0 game versus Northwestern in 1978. The Wildcats would go on to win one game over the next 5 seasons. Eeyores all around. 

On the hardwood, the Illini faired much better. I went to see the Illini play for the first time in 1974. St. Joseph-Ogden’s very own Rick Schmidt, who now owns ALL the apartments, was the leading scorer on Gene Bartow’s only Illini squad. Illinois’ next coach, Mr. Lou Henson, would be the one to raise the programs from the depths, as the hall of famer led the team to numerous 20-win seasons, culminating in my favorite all time team, the Flying Illini final four team in 1989. Of course, that season would end in disappointment too, as Illinois lost to a Michigan quintet that they had handled twice previously that season. Higgins pushed off, I’m telling you. This was an Eeyore moment, but it’s faded over time, as has the 2005 national championship loss to Sean “bull in a china closet” May and the North Carolina fake class takers. (Ok, maybe I still need to work on this one.) 

As I was lamenting the Bears’ flameout on social media, my wise friend Steve asked me a rhetorical question. “How can something we have absolutely no influence on and have absolutely no real impact on make our lives so miserable?” I didn’t have an answer for him then other than to paraphrase the famous twentieth century philosopher, Seinfeld, who once equated something to a train wreck…grotesque and yet you can’t look away. Mrs. HLS asked me why I didn’t change team affiliations, and for this I had a ready answer. If I did that, I smugly informed her, the team I changed to would immediately begin to stink, and believe it or not, I have real, empirical (to my mind) data to support this one. In 2016, when I was at the nadir of my Illini football love, I decided to have a side-team to root for. I chose the Oregon Ducks, who promptly went 4-8 and fired their coach.  EEEYYOOOORRRREEEE!!  

And so, I find myself tuned in to the UI football game against UConn, who was possibly the worst team in the country last year, and naturally we’re in a close game. Sigh. Eeyore, for sure. But, it’s not all bad, right? As Eeyore once mused. “One can’t complain. I have my friends. Someone spoke to me only yesterday.”  

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