Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
The year was 1983. I had graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign the previous spring, and I still had my gaudy orange key ring that boldly if hilariously proclaimed: “The ’80s Belong To The Illini.” And, in fact, between the as-yet-unsanctioned football and basketball programs run by Mike White and Lou Henson, respectively, that claim wasn’t altogether outrageous.
After an early non-conference loss to Missouri, the 1983 football Illini began to look like a legitimate contender, rounding out the month of September with victories over unranked Stanford and Michigan State. Then came October. A win at home over the fourth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. A road win at Wisconsin. Another home win over No. 6 Ohio State (Illinois’ first victory over the Buckeyes since 1967), followed by a 35-21 drubbing of the Boilermakers in West Lafayette, Indiana. And then the coup de grâce: A gritty 16-6 home win over the arch-rival (and then-No. 8) Michigan Wolverines – the hated Michigan Wolverines – which clinched the Orange and Blue’s first Rose Bowl berth since a guy named Dick Butkus roamed the sidelines of Zuppke Field.
November was icing on the cake. The Illini crushed Indiana 45-21 in Champaign, then traveled to their home-away-from-home in Evanston, Illinois, where they beat once-lowly Northwestern 56-24. Do I feel bad that Illinois fans tore down Northwestern’s goalposts and threw them in Lake Michigan? Yes, I suppose I do. It wasn’t very sporting, after all. But here’s the thing. With that win, the Illini accomplished something no other team had done before or has done since: They beat every other Big 10 football team in a single season.
You can look that up.
Anyway, by season’s end, Your 1983 Fighting Illini Football Team was 10-1, champions of the Big 10 Conference – which then, oddly enough, had only ten teams – and was ranked No. 4 in the AP poll. More than that, the Illini seemed destined to break the Big 10’s Rose Bowl curse (the conference having won only two of the previous ten games), going up against the unranked, 7-4-1 UCLA Bruins. The Bruins, with the fourth-best overall record in the Pac 10 that year, fell ass-backwards into the Rose Bowl by virtue of going 6-1-1 in conference – the only record that counts for purposes of earning a Rose Bowl bid.
On paper, at any rate, the Illini seemed like a lock, heading into New Years Day with an offense led by future NFL quarterback Jack Trudeau, a loaded defense, and a ten-game winning streak. The Bruins, on the other hand, were lead by one Rick Neuheisel – answer to the question, Who?! – a walk-on who’d finally taken the reins of the Bruins his senior year, and who would go on to play for the (ahem) San Antonio Gunslingers of the ill-fated USFL. What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out, you actually have to play the game in order to determine who wins and who loses.
And play he did. Neuheisel, that is. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 298 yards … with no interceptions and a Rose Bowl record four touchdowns. The Illini, on the other hand, were dismal. Normally reliable Jack Trudeau completed 23 of 39 passes, but threw three interceptions and just one touchdown – a fourth quarter pass to running back Thomas Rooks after Illinois’ fate was all but sealed. Final score: UCLA 45, Illinois 9.
After his short-lived USFL career, Neuheisel eventually coached at Colorado and Washington, both of which ran afoul of the NCAA for alleged rules violations, before returning to UCLA as head coach in December 2007.
Nonetheless, Rick Neuheisel’s crimes against humanity – from his remorseless slaughter of my beloved Illini in the 1984 Rose Bowl to his controversial tenure at Colorado and Washington – pale in comparison to his latest outrage. According to Deadspin, Neuheisel recently appeared by telephone on The Dan Patrick Show and favored listeners with a parody version of … “Stairway to Heaven”:
College football TV analyst Rick Neuheisel was on The Dan Patrick Show today, and he closed out his appearance with a special rendition of “Stairway to Heaven,” called “Stairway to Playoffs.” Neuheisel doesn’t even need that TV job with his guitar skills.
The actual performance starts at the 1:30 mark, and damn, Neuheisel can shred. He also rhymes “Oklahoma” with “aroma,” which is top-notch lyricism. Stick around until 6:45 for the group air drum solo.
Okay, first of all, Deadspin is never allowed to use the term “shred” again, vis-à-vis the playing of rock ’n roll guitar. Listen to the video if you must, but if Neuheisel “shredded” the guitar on his little Led Zeppelin parody, then I’m a Pulitzer Prize winner.
But that’s beside the point. The real point is, “Stairway to Heaven”?
Look, I’m no Led Zeppelin fan in the first place, but I get why people like them. They were fast and loud (and often slow and loud, but loud nonetheless); they were heavy and raunchy, and – when they weren’t getting sued for copyright infringement – pretty darn original for their day. But “Stairway to Heaven”? Really? That’s quite possibly the single worst cliché in the history of rock music. It’s a terrible song, even by Led Zeppelin standards. It’s pompous and repetitive and ridiculously full of itself. And if one isn’t a fan of Robert Plant’s voice, it’s nearly unlistenable.
Besides, everybody knows there’s only one acceptable parody of “Stairway to Heaven”: “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island”. And that only works because the lyrics to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song happen to fit perfectly – eerily perfectly – to the tune of that hackneyed, overblown, pretentious, hideous rock anthem. So, that’s it. The entire universe of acceptable “Stairway to Heaven” parody songs is comprised of exactly one. And it’s been done.
But you, Rick Neuheisel, couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you. No, sir. You could not. That you came from nowhere to destroy my Illini in the Rose Bowl is one thing. That you may have lacked institutional control, as the NCAA trolls say, during your stint at Colorado and/or Washington, that’s, well … meh. Who cares, really?
But an anemic “Stairway to Heaven” parody? Sir. That’s beyond the pale.