HOOSIER SCOOP SAGE TAKE OF THE DAY, Nov. 6, 2012
Wise coaches contend that the biggest game is always the next one.
In Indiana football’s case, that just happens to be especially true this week.
Wisconsin’s big bad Badgers of Bret Bielema come calling at noon Saturday with a clear path toward representing the Leaders Division at the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis at stake.
How will IU’s football fan base, such as it is, react?
Cynics might suggest that, for many years, perhaps the question worth pondering wasn’t so much why Indiana couldn’t draw more fans to its football games as why it kept drawing as many as it did. But there was always an redoubtably loyal core of 30,000 or so. Good weather and/or good matchups, and even occasional spells of play deemed encouraging, have augmented that number.
Weather was one factor why the fans maybe deserve a bit of pass for last Saturday, even though this Indiana team had certainly played in a manner meriting support and had an important matchup against Iowa on tap.
Rain, wind, sleet and hail combining with sub-40-degree temperatures tested even the loyalists that afternoon — even before lightning prompted two delays that shoved kickoff back by over an hour. It was the sort of raw day where the cold gets right into your bones. Especially for folks with kids in tow, that was fairly daunting stuff. Watching the game on TV someplace warm and dry probably seemed a perfectly viable option. The “crowd” that actually made it into Memorial Stadium stayed pretty sparse, though those who did arrive were admirably fervent and steadfast.
Indiana doesn’t have the sort of football tradition engendering fan hordes that always brave the elements, packing the place come hades or high water. That’s not yet part of IU’s cultural context, which is just one of the things coach Kevin Wilson and his hard-working crew are endeavoring to change.
But after IU posted its second straight Big Ten win to set up this week’s showdown with Bucky Badger, a blizzard shouldn’t keep any true fan away. This stacks up as the biggest IU home football game since, maybe, the epic Old Oaken Bucket tilt in 2007. And as it happens, the extended forecast for Saturday is partly sunny and temps in the mid-60s. So no meteorological rationalizations need apply.
Plus, potential Big Ten title game ramifications aside, Bielema makes for a perfect foil in the eyes of many Hoosier fans painfully aware that his Badgers have hung a combined 142 points on Indiana the past two years. That includes the 83-20 result in 2010 that held IU up to national ridicule and helped cost Bill Lynch, as good and decent a man as one could find in coaching, his job.
Bielema actually called off the dogs a bit in last year’s 59-7 rout, but some IU fans remain pretty frosted about what they perceive was his running up the score the year before.
The Wisconsin coach probably wasn’t necessarily out to win Hoosier hearts and minds during Monday’s press availability when he noted, matter-of-factly, that Indiana is “a 4-5 football team that has a chance to win a championship and is talking Rose Bowl and all that jazz, so they’re playing with really good confidence, and I’ll give Kevin (Wilson) credit for that.
“For us here at Wisconsin to have a game in November that matters really isn’t new, but I get where you’re coming from, from Indiana’s point of view. But hey, they’ve earned their right to get there, and they’re going to try to defend it to the fullest.”
To defend The Rock to the fullest, so to speak, Wilson’s Hoosiers would very much benefit from a big, engaged Hoosier crowd urging them on.
They should get one. They deserve it. They’ve played hard and competitively in every game this season, playing a generally exciting brand of football and exceeding everybody’s expectations but their own while overcoming some fairly significant adversity along the way (wherefore art thou, Tre Roberson?)
Maybe someday soon people will consider Memorial Stadium the place to be on Saturdays in the fall, whomever the opponent and whatever the weather. Regardless, those who consider themselves true IU fans and wish to live up to that designation should probably find a way to be there this particular Saturday.