My first Indiana football game I can remember was either a 1996 homecoming game against Iowa. Don’t really remember much. 5-year-olds aren’t often interested in a monotonous four hours of Bill Mallory & Hayden Fry off-tackle runs. There was a big ass hill behind the bleachers, though. Perfect for tossing around whatever shitty plastic football I could procure for the day. Oh, and hot dogs. So many hot dogs. That was enough to have me open to coming back. Team was still, uh, real bad.
Then came Antwaan, Levron, Cam Cameron, and the black oval of death era. A quarterback who could run and throw — and that played basketball and baseball? That team was my sports gateway drug, a stupidly fun offensive mismash all led by a player that was my personal demigod, Bloomington’s answer to a Bo Jackson. A record-breaker, a true Heisman candidate -- just a 20 or so minute drive from my house. I was sold. That team also never won more than 5 games in a season.
For the past quarter-century, that’s been Indiana football. Heck, forever, that’s been Indiana football. A handful of 8-4 seasons, a couple conference titles, and one single dang Rose Bowl stand out as the high points in the program’s 100-plus years of power conference football. When stacked against the accomplishments of every other major conference football program in America, your Indiana Hoosiers stack at or near the bottom. Fine, good, whatever. You know this. I know this. Why bring it up now?
Because tonight, when all of college football’s attention centers on Bloomington, Indiana for largely the first time ever, breathe it in. Savor it. This limelight’s been a long time coming, and god knows when it’ll be coming ‘round again.
The alternate, storybook ending’s pre-written for Indiana football tonight. With the big, bad former coach coming back into town with his new big-shot program, the aw-shucksy home-state ball coach leads a plucky, veteran-led Indiana team knocks off Ohio State at home on national television. The new Buckeye offense struggles in early-season form, as new Kevin Wilson offenses are wont to do. Allen’s powerhouse defense smothers the playcalls they’ve seen in practice all throughout the 2016 season. Richard Lagow looks the part of an NFL quarterback. The win vaults Indiana into the Top 25, and all of a sudden the Hoosiers are a trendy Big Ten East title contender with a favorable schedule in tow for the rest of the season. Division title or not, Tom Allen’s initial full season at the helm is a wild success and positions the program squarely as a contender in the Big Ten East for years to come.
Then there’s the more sobering, perhaps more likely reality. A wildly-talented Ohio State Buckeyes offense gets a needed boost from Kevin Wilson’s hiring, who comes back to Monroe County looking to salt Fred Glass’ earth. Allen’s defense falters under the pressure. Richard Lagow slings pick-sixes left and right and Indiana, overdue for a blowout at the hands of a top team, lays an egg on national TV. The Hoosiers fail to recover at win on the road in Charlottesville the following weekend, and it signals the start of a disappointing sub-500 season. DJ Durkin gets another year to build Maryland’s profile. Mark Dantonio turns in more magic at Michigan State with a remarkable 9-win turnaround. Jeff Brohm’s flashy brand of football begins to take shape at Purdue, and in-state recruits start to look back at West Lafayette once again. Indiana returns to the cellar of the Big Ten East.
But whatever happens once the ball is put in the air at 8:30 local time tonight, it perhaps won’t be about what happens win or lose. But it’ll be about that moment. This limelight. This national platform deserving of ESPN’s hilariously overproduced MEGACAST. College GameDay. At a football game. In Bloomington, Indiana. Something that seemed like a pipe dream for so damn long.
Two years ago, I wrote this very stupid blog post on an idea I had months prior. It, like most things on this blog, was stupid, mostly for laughs, and completely half-assed. But because of y’all, that two weeks or so took on a life of its own that ended with ESPN very publicly flirting with the idea of coming to Bloomington. It all ended with no GameDay, but instead Zander Diamont standing five yards away from beating Ohio State on ABC as a just fine consolation prize.
Tonight, real, actual College GameDay will be in Bloomington F***ing Indiana for a football game. For a redux of that moment. It still seems a little absurd, and I’m not quite sure how we ended up here.
Starting this year, Kyle, Ben, and I will be on our fourth season of running this blog. This place wasn’t much and there was little in the way of an outlet for Indiana fans that don’t take themselves too seriously. There was little in the way of Indiana football coverage online at all. We’ve tried to change the paradigm around Indiana football and basketball. We’ve tried to bring you all news when we have it. But mostly, we’re just some dudes who really like Indiana sports and like to crack jokes about it #online. Last March, we were the most-read Indiana site anywhere on the internet. It’s extremely wild when millions of people read our stuff over the course of a month or so, and I’m still not sure what to make of that. The #IUFB4GAMEDAY thing was really what kind of jumpstarted that kind of growth.
Since we started here, quite a bit’s changed in each of our lives. Time doesn’t come as easy to write — and thus we’ve tried to expand our staff. Ben’s moved to the east coast. Kyle’s a danged dad. I’ve gone from law student to real full-time legal job & parlayed this site here into a real, professional gig covering golf for SBNation. I’ll add very big shoutout to my amazing girlfriend, who has not yet shot me into deep space for getting up at 6am to write blogs or make Tom Crean memes. Life changes, and this site has changed so much for us. The hours aren’t once as free as they once were for us to come up with stupid, crazy ideas. But we’re still here because we love this place. And we love y’all. We’re hardly getting rich off this, it’s a labor of love and you all make it very worth it.
So, as this long day gets started, I want to thank y’all. Thank you for making this so fun. Thank you for caring about stupid ol’ Indiana football as much as we do. Thank you for not taking this stuff too seriously. Thank you for giving us far, far more than we can give you in the way of stupid tweets & blogging goofs.
With that, enjoy tonight. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the flyover. Enjoy being at this game, this moment, with whomever you enjoy Indiana football with. I’ll be there with my dad, who cursed me into this bullshit fandom 25-some years ago. Who knows, maybe this becomes a regular thing. I hope like hell it does. Or maybe, after tonight, the carriage turns back into a pumpkin. Maybe this is a once in a lifetime moment.
Breathe it in. Crack that second beer.
We’re here now, we’ve made it — even if just for a moment.