Phil Pash’s Simply Sports: Three tough games ahead for Illinois

Coaches say they like to play ‘em one at a time, but the next three games could be especially tough for top-ranked, unbeaten Illinois, now a record 18-0.

The Fighting Illini entertain Iowa Jan. 20 in Assembly Hall, play at Wisconsin Jan. 25 and host Minnesota and Rockford Guilford grad Aaron Robinson Jan. 29. Wisconsin is always tough at home. The Badgers had a 38-game home winning streak, the longest current streak in Division I and a school record, after beating Michigan State 62-59 Jan. 16.

Illinois beat Northwestern 78-66 Jan. 15 for its best start in school history. The Illini’s 17th straight victory—90-64 over Penn State Jan. 12 in Assembly Hall—tied the school record set by the 1988-89 team, which was the last Illinois squad to reach the Final Four. Now, the record belongs to the 2004-05 team.

The win over Penn State also made Illinois the 15th NCAA team to reach 1,500 victories.

Luther Head scored a season-high 26 points to lead Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston. Roger Powell scored 15 points and Dee Brown 12 for the Illini, who are 4-0 in the conference and have won 14 straight Big Ten games.

The Packers stripped Mike Sherman of his duties as general manager last week. Ted Thompson, hired by team president Bob Harlan to fill that role, knows all about green-and-gold and the legacy of Lambeau Field.

For one thing, he comes from the Seattle Seahawks, where former Packer coach Mike Holmgren holds sway. For another, he worked in Green Bay for eight seasons under Ron Wolf, architect of the Packers’ revival in the 1990s.

Wolf brought in Holmgren and that outstanding coaching staff that has produced at least six NFL head coaches, and Brett Favre.

Thompson said he planned to meet with Sherman last weekend to talk about the coach’s future. He also said he expects Sherman, who is 55-31 in five seasons at Green Bay, to stay on as coach in 2005.

Sherman has won three straight NFC North division championships, but is just 2-4 in the playoffs, including the only home postseason defeats in franchise history.

Harlan said Sherman still will earn the $3.2 million he’d been slated to make as coach-general manager in 2005. Harlan decided to split the jobs in October after determining that Sherman was spreading himself too thin with personnel and football matters. He immediately targeted Thompson at Wolf’s suggestion.

In Major League Baseball, USA Today’s highly-regarded baseball columnist, Hal Bodley, said he thinks MLB and the players union deserve applause for coming together on a new steroid testing policy.

“Critics of baseball’s new steroid testing policy don’t get it,” he wrote. “If they understood the seemingly never-ending torturous relationship between players and owners, they’d be applauding today, not booing.

“Maybe the penalties should be more severe. Maybe amphetamines should be included. But the point is baseball now has a much stronger testing procedure for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

“This is not about what has happened in the past—the suspicion about certain players and their achievements. This is about a deterrent for the future—beginning next season.”

Maybe so, but Joe Average Fan isn’t buying into it. America OnLine (AOL) asked a discussion question: How long do you think until baseball becomes steroid-free?

Seventy-two percent of 47,984 respondents, as of Jan. 15, said never. Fifteen percent said 1-3 years, seven percent said 4-7 years and only 5 percent said immediately.

Baseball has two big jobs ahead: The actual testing and restoring the fans’ faith in current players and what they are doing to the game itself.

Also, the Selig family’s 35-year reign over the Milwaukee Brewers ended when baseball owners unanimously approved the team’s sale for $223 million to a group headed by Los Angeles investor Mark Attanasio.

Bud Selig bought the Seattle Pilots in bankruptcy court in 1970 and moved the team to Milwaukee, where it was renamed. He was team president until 1998, when he was elected baseball commissioner. At that time, he put the right to vote his shares in trust and his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, became the Brewers’ head.

Attanasio, 47, has been a group managing director of the Trust Company of the West, a money management firm, since 1995. He is committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee, where the team has a 30-year lease to play in Miller Park.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!