A trip down memory lane

By Gus Bode

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

As I strolled into Houck Stadium Saturday evening to watch the SIU football team throttle Southeast Missouri State, I could not help but be reminded of my junior year in high school.

The gravel parking lot, the open-ended stands, kids playing catch in the end zone. It all was reminiscent of Friday nights past, and one in particular.

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I remember my school’s team had started the season out with a lot of promise and was making its first big trip on the road. We were playing a team in a town that was about an hour away, so most of my high school showed up for the game.

Sitting in some rickety stands on the visitors’ side of the field, we cheered on our team as they came back from a deficit and held on for a win that gave it the momentum it needed to finish the regular season undefeated.

Fast forward to Saturday, when the Salukis played in Cape Girardeau, Mo., a town that is about an hour away. The visitors’ section in the stands was packed with Salukis faithful, hooting and hollering after every big play.

It was at some point during the first half I looked down and saw a couple of people I knew from high school. The guy and girl, who were easily the top two athletes of my graduating class, had first attended SIU before transferring to SEMO last year.

The sight of them once again sent me back to my memory banks. The guy had been the same one who had caught the game-winning touchdown in the state championship game during that magical season.

As I started thinking about that season some more, I remembered the atmosphere being one of “this is our year.” It was easily the best team our school had ever fielded before or since, and every week it just seemed that, no matter what transpired, we would win the game.

The same thought began to cross my mind while sitting in the stands Saturday. The first quarter ended with the Salukis up 7-0 and SEMO had shown signs that it was only a matter of time before they tied the game or possibly took the lead.

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But for some reason, I wasn’t worried. I kept thinking SIU would win the game. Somehow, no matter what the Indians did, the Dawgs would counter it and eventually pull out the win.

And they did. Of course, in the end it didn’t even seem like much of a game. The Salukis manhandled SEMO so much that it pulled its star quarterback before the end of the first half.

By the time halftime did roll around, my friends and I headed to a bar across the street and ended up staying through the third quarter. We were there when the Salukis got screwed over by the refs on what was clearly a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Once head coach Jerry Kill finally brought his blood pressure back down to a reasonable level, the SIU defense showed everyone in the stands and in the bar why the Salukis are a force to be reckoned with this year.

The Dawgs put the officiating snafu behind them and held SEMO on a four-down stand that may later be looked at as the turning point of this season. After that, SIU marched down the field to score another touchdown and put the game out of reach.

As I sat in the bar and watched all of this transpire, I ran into that same guy from high school that I had seen earlier in the stands. We sat there and talked about various things and eventually started comparing the SIU sports scene to that of SEMO.

He said overall SIU’s teams were probably better, but as far as support from the fans, SEMO won hands down. He talked about the fact that people in Cape actually care about Indians Athletics and follow all the games, something that is not necessarily true for the people of Carbondale.

When I heard this, I started wondering what the Salukis’ reception will be like when they return to McAndrew Stadium this weekend to take on Murray State, another hated rival.

If SIU is as talented as the media are hyping it up to be, then one would think more people would actually leave the tailgating area to watch the game. Perhaps this will be the case.

At SEMO, the school closes the tailgating area 15 minutes before kickoff so that people will actually head to the stands. Maybe this is blasphemy, but what would the stands look like at McAndrew if SIU adopted a similar policy?

I enjoy the pre-game warm-up of beer and brats as much as anyone, but I also remember how much fun those high school games were.

And I didn’t even drink back then.

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