For many people their first love is a romantic, beautiful one mine begins with a demon that was blue and resided underneath the el tracks on the northside. My mother got her master from DePaul University a year and half before I was born and thus I bleed blue.
I was raised in the glory days of Coach Ray, Dave Corzine, Terry Cummings, Mark Aquirre & Tyrone Corbin. As I learned to dribble (and not just slobber on myself), the hoops squad from the “little school under the el” was the team of choice. We cheered our house for the Blue Demons, I knew their names, loved their game and couldn’t wait to get older and be a Blue Demon.
And as I got older the team waned a bit, Coach Ray retired, his son Joey took over but now I had a new coach to root for with new players, Stanley Brundy, David Booth, Rod Strickland & Kevin Edwards. But my love never requited, though the Flyin Illini made a pass at my hoops heart, I was still in love with Fullerton Ave and not Champaign County.
Then I reached high school and though college hoops was less regional with more national powers to cheer for, Blue Devils, Running Rebels, Wolverines and the arch rival Fightin Irish. I walked the line like Johnny Cash and stayed with the Demons in blue even as those years were lean the team still held my heart. And as it was time for me to choose a school, one quickly came to mind, that same northside institution, though I applied elsewhere, that was just back up plans but my heart still wanted to be on Sheffield.
And one cold day in February 1994, my dream was answered, I was accepted to be a Blue Demon (though I had to go to summer school, they called it “Bridge”), but still I could stay home and be true to the blue. So in late July 20 years ago I came to Sheffield Ave and began to fulfill my dream.
And as life would have it, my roommate was a basketball player so I got the inside look of the team (because mediocre doesn’t begin to describe my basketball skills), and it honestly wasn’t always as pretty as is it from a distance. Didn’t matter, still my team and my school. Once the program was over that summer I moved back to the south side but drove to school everyday and often stayed late. I stayed up enjoying being a blue demon, classes during the day, pick up games (even a few times with the team at Alumni Hall), after school, sometimes parties at night. Good friends, good times, the life of a freshman.
Then sophomore year comes, some friends are gone and my love is getting expensive and hard, now I’ve got financial aid, had to take a part time job, no matter still attending the school that had my heart, worked harder than I ever did before, learned to concentrate and zone in and got a good handle on another love, that of writing. Here I was at the school that meant so much and then found the thing I was meant to do, that I was good at and gave me purpose and drive.
So I wrote, often wistfully while on the top floor of Richardson Library, looking down on the Lincoln Park world (was especially enjoyable during the spring rain), and still enjoying everyday while learning about myself, history and the world. Even have a mentor (whom I’m connected with to this day), who guides me along and all they I’m always proud to say where I go to school, still feeling like that small kid watching games on TV.
And it took my five years to finish my degree (in English no less, though I started as a Marketing major), and I progressed more in those five years than in the decade previously and during the last few years the team had a resurgence, new great players Q, Bobby and others along with a new coach and logo. It felt like a significant other with a makeover.
I graduated and was off campus but still behind the team, so much so that three years later I became a season ticket holder, saw every game but one, including watching the team tie to clinch the Conference USA regular season title. I remember standing there ten years ago under the banners of winning years past thinking how great it was and to come from a little kid on the south side watching this team on Channel 9 to being a bonafide fan.
I got to meet Coach Ray that year, he used to sit upstairs to almost every game and was in a wheelchair by then but if you hung around after games, he’d come down and would talk to every remaining fan and give you his thoughts on the game. No disrespect to religious leader but you felt his presence in the lobby of Allstate Arena and many of us who grew up watching him yell, loved to just listen to him.
I had a partial season ticket package the year after and the team was going down, less people at the game, Coach Ray passed at the end of that year and the team was struggling.
When I met my wife a couple of seasons later (and we were still dating), I brought her to a game, she had to see what was such a big part of me and the game was no disappointment, three overtimes to beat Syracuse. For most people that were close to me over the last decade, I took them to Blue Demon game but as of late I haven’t been, the team has been outright miserable at times, my life is busier and busier. But if I game is on TV, I still stop what I’m doing, sit down and watch and I read the website (including game notes), fairly often during the season.
I’m not sure if this new stadium idea is good with so much of the city struggling with basic needs, I thought them playing in the United Center was good and I miss the late Alumni Hall, that was the love shack of Blue Demon hoops, but time brings on change.
Its been 15 years since I graduated but my diploma hangs proudly on my home office wall, I still have at least four Blue Demon shirts and even bought a Tyrone Corbin jersey last fall.
I just don’t know how to quit being a Blue Demon.
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