Last night, the Illini played football in Chicago for the first time since trouncing Northwestern in 2010. This time, the Illini were featured under the bright lights of Soldier Field for the second time ever, the first being in 1994 against Washington State. With a strong Illini fan base in Chicago, you can imagine the excitement that rippled through the city. The Illini put in a solid effort last night against the ranked Washington Huskies, losing by only 10 points, 34-24.
Coming from a team that beat just two subpar teams TOTAL last year, a respectable showing against a ranked team is enough to make fans happy. The Illini were already 2-0 going into this game, with wins over SIU and an impressive win over Cincinnati. Beating Washington would’ve been an amazing feat, but was far from expected.
So what’s the problem you’re wondering? What is this big mistake I’m referring to in the headline? I would estimate that thousands of fans were unable to attend the game, and many couldn’t even watch most of it, because yesterday was also Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday of the year.
Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, and Jews throughout the world spend 24 hours repenting for any wrongdoing they may have done over the last year. It’s a little over a week after Rosh Hashannah, the celebration of the New Year. Hours upon hours are spent in the synagogue, and Jews are also supposed to fast for that 24 hours. It’s a big deal, and Jews who don’t set foot in a synagogue all year long often observe this holiday in some shape or form. Whether it’s fasting at home, spending time with family, or attending services, what we’re not supposed to do is attend a football game.
Here’s the thing about Yom Kippur, I can look on the old Internet and tell you what date it will land for about 30 years in the future. That means the University shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that they scheduled an exciting, hasn’t-happened-in-almost-20-years event on an important Jewish holiday. Why didn’t we put the Miami of Ohio game on this day instead? No one is going to that game anyway.
The start time for the game was 5pm, and services ended for us at 7:45. We got to a bar to break the fast just in time to see Nathan Scheelhaase blow any chance of eliminating that 10 point lead by throwing an interception. 10 points is a lot to overcome in about 5 minutes, but not impossible. Witnessing an interception first thing was just the final slap in the face. We didn’t get to see his two TDs (one rushing and one passing), nor did we get to see Aaron Bailey – the future of the Illini – run in yet another TD this week.
Obviously, we taped the game and saw it later, but that’s not the point. No one would ever admit it, but the university had trouble selling tickets to the game. When it shows up on Groupon a week before, that’s not a good thing. Attendance was listed at 47,000, and the week before it was 43,000 in Champaign vs. Cincy. Not only was the Chicago Jewish population unable to attend, but there are a fair number of Jewish UofI students who obviously were unable to make the trip up.
We have season tickets to Illinois football, so we make that two hour drive to Champaign a few times a season. But plenty of Chicago residents don’t even make it down once a year. This was their opportunity, and for many it didn’t happen. Oftentimes when we head to Champaign, we go down for the day and come right back up. With lots of 11am games, there is no time to hang out with fellow fans before the game starts. A night game in Chicago means a full day of tailgating, and no need for a designated driver thanks to either the Metra or the El taking us right to Soldier Field. Doesn’t that sound like a fun time? Too bad the University didn’t think about me, and the estimated 270,000 other Jews in the Chicago area.
So the game itself. Not too shabby. I always want a win, but I can’t fault the team for going out there and giving it their all. The defense looked stronger, and the offense put up 24 points. Last week a ranked Boise State was only able to score 6 points against Washington, so I’m pretty impressed. Let’s just hope Washington continues to perform, so that the win looks even better at the end of the year.
Up next, the Illini will welcome Miami of Ohio to Champaign.