EVANSTON — Tim Beckman’s actions and reactions are nearly always based on the football lessons he has learned throughout his life.
The University of Illinois head coach draws on tricks he learned from his father, Dave Beckman, a former coach and football lifer like himself.
He turns to inspirational methods used by the men he has worked for like coaches Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Urban Meyer when they were together at Bowling Green.
So it was not unexpected that rather than refer to this week’s opponent by name — Northwestern — Beckman instead muttered about today’s rivalry game against “the team upstate.”
That’s something he picked up while on the Ohio State coaching staff, where they refuse to give rival Michigan the respect of first-name recognition. Indeed, carrying on a tradition that began many years ago, this week within the Ohio State football complex, on signs that speak of the rivalry, the word “Michigan” is covered with athletic tape and markers have been used to hand-letter the words, “that team up north.”
Illinois-Northwestern is not on a par with Michigan-Ohio State, but there are many of the ingredients necessary to a salty rivalry.
There’s history. Today’s game is the 106th meeting between the schools with Illinois holding a 54-46-5 edge.
It’s a “trophy” game, with the winner taking home a souvenir. From 1947-2008 these teams played for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk. But when native American symbols were frowned on by the NCAA, the schools switched to the more politically correct Land of Lincoln Trophy.
When Northwestern coined the marketing slogan “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” they slapped it on billboards and used it in advertising campaigns. Not to be outdone and unwilling to yield its claim to the home state, Illinois this year launched its own competing jingle, putting its marketing wheels into motion with the phrase and logo: “Illinois. Our State. Our Team.”
And now there’s talk of revenge, which is appropriate for a rivalry game.
Illinois has won the last two meetings including a 2010 showdown at Wrigley Field in Chicago, and a come-from-behind 38-35 victory last season in Memorial Stadium.
In each of those victories, Illinois gouged the Northwestern defense. And after Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase directed a late, game-winning touchdown drive last season, the music “Sweet Home Chicago” was heard blaring throughout Memorial Stadium.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald claims he didn’t hear it at the time, but it was brought to his attention and Wildcat players this week said it’s now part of the revenge they seek.
“There’s a lot of trash talking and late hits in this game,” Illini offensive tackle Hugh Thornton said. “But at the end of the day you still have to go out and execute. We’re all fired up and passionate about it.”
Perhaps more important for Northwestern is that with a victory, the Wildcats would finish the regular season at 9-3 and would strengthen their claim on a New Year’s Day bowl game.
“I think we have a pretty attractive resume,” Fitzgerald said. “But you want to be hot going into Selection Sunday and the way to be hot is to win out in November. This is a huge opportunity for us.”
Illinois will again be without linebacker Jonathan Brown, who will end up missing the final three games of his junior season. A candidate to leave early for the NFL, Brown has yet to address that subject.