Earlier this week, The Southern’s Les Winkeler and Bucky Dent gave their thoughts on Murphysboro and Nashville making it to the state finals in football.
Both columns were written by informed, reasonable sports writers, but their scopes are limited by the “no rooting in the press box” mantra. There’s no doubt Les and Bucky will be happy for the local teams if they win. Still, even if they feel any extra thrill, they certainly don’t make a habit of expressing it.
Me, on the other hand, I don’t work for The Southern. I write one column a week. I do it because I enjoy it. I can be as biased as I want to be. Better yet, I can be a fan.
With all that said, let’s go!
It’s incredibly exciting to have two local teams playing for all the marbles. I’m a little disconnected from the Nashville crowd, but Murphysboro hits close to home.
I didn’t go to Murphysboro High School, but I attended plenty of Red Devils football games in the ’90s. My sister’s boyfriend (now my brother-in-law) and cousin played for Murphy then. I spent plenty of Friday nights stomping on metal under the bleachers and listening to my grandma’s cow bell.
My wife and I have lived in Murphysboro since 2006. Our kids will be Red Devils. The community has become part of our lives. I may not quite bleed crimson and corn, but it’s seeping into my veins more and more every year.
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The last few weeks have been pretty cool. The entire town has become taken with this team. The excitement has multiplied after each playoff win.
Last week, I saw neighbors piling into an RV and others starting a small caravan to Effingham. I could hear the horns blaring as the team got back into town later that night.
This week, community members took a break from Thanksgiving to give the team a send-off worthy of state title contender. The mayor helped secure three full-size buses to send a decent percentage of the town to DeKalb.
For the game, every local establishment will be showing the game on TV. Planning the perfect viewing party is second only to planning the perfect turkey dinner.
Southern Illinois doesn’t have the strongest history in the state football playoffs. When I did work at The Southern, and for a few years after, I had the joy of picking winners each week for the local high school football games. When it came to the playoffs, I had one simple rule: When in doubt, pick against the local teams. Unfortunately, I got a lot of picks right by doing so.
I don’t point that out to make anyone mad. It was usually true. Local teams lost more than they won. I point that out to show how special it is to have two teams make such a run.
Win or lose, both teams will be treated as conquering heroes, but if they win, they will have changed the narrative for all Southern Illinois teams. No pressure.