As a lifelong Chicagoan and avid sports fan, I've read every year about the annual Big Ten football luncheon held in the city, and since I had never attended it I decided it was time to finally check it out.
I'm glad I did. I've always been a Big Ten fan, but in this pro sports crazy town, whether I'm on the radio, writing a column or just talking to my pals at the gym, what dominates the conversation is usually what's wrong with this pro team or what a great year a certain player is having.
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But when I got to the Chicago Hilton and Towers Thursday, it was quite evident there is no shortage of Big Ten fans and alumni.
As I walked from my car to the banquet room, I was greeted by happy and hopeful guests -- from the well-dressed business man and woman to people proudly displaying their school shirts and colors, and I even took pictures with some Michigan-clad fans and some in Indiana garb.
The master of ceremonies and Big Ten studio voice, Dave Revsine, graciously directed me to where I should go for my media pass. I couldn't stay for the whole luncheon because of a deadline, but despite some issues facing a couple of schools, the talk was mostly about football.
When I walked in, I saw longtime Commissioner Jim Delany sitting in the center of the dais flanked by a great group of coaches -- the true boys of fall: guys like Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan's Brady Hoke. It was an impressive setting filled with promise for the season.
As I looked around, I couldn't help but think of the evolution of college sports since the days of Rex Kern, my favorite college player when I was in high school. Kern, a quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes, played in the pros as a defensive back for the Baltimore Colts (before they left for Indianapolis) and the Buffalo Bills.
And he played when the Big Ten actually had only 10 teams.
So now the burgeoning Big Ten has two divisions and BTN, its own television network.
When I'm on national radio during football season, the SEC followers (they are everywhere) call in and we debate about which conference is better. It's not surprising they only call during football season since they pretty much go away during basketball.
The Big Ten manages to hold its own in all sports. And not only is it a great conference, but it is a thriving business.
So right now, as always, hope springs eternal and everyone is undefeated in the Big Ten.
Watch me on "Mancow" on WPWR Ch. 50 at 6:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
• Mike North's column appears each Tuesday and Friday in the Daily Herald, and his video commentary can be found Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at dailyherald.com. For more, visit northtonorth.com.