By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) I was offended on Thursday.
Pat Forde labeled Illinois as “the worst” in the Big Ten.
Now, the Yahoo! Sports college football expert wasn’t talking about Illinois’ college football team (that I wouldn’t argue about). Nor was he talking about the university itself (that I would).
Rather, Forde was referring to the city where my alma mater resides, calling Champaign the “Worst Town” in the conference as part of his “Big Ten at a glance” previewing the upcoming season.
Unlike his other league ratings – such as “Best Defensive Player” Ryan Shazier of Ohio State, about whom Forde wrote “Weakside linebacker into everything offense tried to do last year – 115 total tackles, 17 for loss, five sacks, 11 passes broken up, one interception, three fumbles forced.” – he offered no explanation for his tabbing Champaign as the pits.
All Forde offered up was a pretty photo of Memorial Stadium with fans striping the stadium in orange and blue – remarkably, the stands were full (without Photoshop!) – along with the four ugly words: “Worst town: Champaign, Ill.”
Forde also didn’t offer any elaboration for the selection of his favorite Big Ten locale either – “Best town: Madison, Wis.” – but we all know the reason for that.
It’s cheese, right?
In all seriousness, Madison is a very fun town – it deserves its props. But Champaign is too, and really so are the rest of the Big Ten’s college towns, as well as its lone metropolis up in Minneapolis. Because, here’s the thing, while fans like to bicker back and forth and snipe at each other, there really is no true “worst town” in the Big Ten.
West Lafayette, home to Purdue, doesn’t have a whole lot going on – but it still has Harry’s Chocolate Shop, and that’s something. Evanston can be Dullsville on a winter afternoon, but it still offers Lake Michigan vistas and is just a short “L” train ride from Chicago.
Lincoln? It’s a whole lot more fun than you’d think. Same for Iowa City, which may be surrounded by, well, Iowa but didn’t earn the No.1 Party School ranking from the Princeton Review by accident. Speaking of which, can a college that’s ranked the No. 3 Party School in the country – as Illinois just was – really be in the “worst town” in the Big Ten?
I’d argue no. But Champaign is more than just a campus bar scene. It’s certainly not going to beat out Boulder or Palo Alto in any beauty contests, but the modern architecture on the Engineering Quad is truly stunning and the historic architecture on the original Quad is breathtaking enough that it once stood in for Harvard during the graduation scene of the 1994 Brendan Fraser-Joe Pesci flick “With Honors.”
Green Street is as lively as any main drag in the conference. And away from Campustown, the nightlife scene in downtown Champaign is light years ahead of what it was when I was in college during the late ’90s.
On that topic, veteran Champaign News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate suggested Thursday in his annual welcome piece to freshmen that they, “Make it to downtown Champaign on a weekend before the weather breaks … bands on street corners, folks packed into outside tables at the Esquire, Cowboy Monkey, everywhere … it’s a happening. I don’t know who got this ball rolling, but it’s working.”
It really is, even if Forde doesn’t think so.
But, hey, everyone is entitled to his opinion – even University of Missouri alums like Pat.
Which, come to think of it, might explain everything about why he doesn’t like Champaign.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.