Illinois State Redbirds Gain A Fan

It all seems surreal now. Standing up in the press box watching fans and medical personnel below me. Watching two football teams who had been battling for hours in hopes of landing that spot in the championship game. Battling and now on their knees in prayer.




The clock showed just over a minute left in Eastern Washington’s season. The Illinois State Redbirds were just over a minute away from that championship game. But, it was all secondary that night. Word spread that medical personnel were tending to the father of one of the EWU players.

It was.


John Rodgers, father of EWU All-American lineman – Jake Rodgers, passed away on Friday, December 26th.  Families of football players sometimes form their own community. They feel the wins and losses right along with their sons. They’re fans of their sons and his team. They bond. When one hurts, they all hurt. 

The Eagles family mourns. But, their foe that night mourns along with them – albeit from a distance. 

As the Redbirds prepare to face three-time defending champion North Dakota State in Frisco, TX on Saturday, the Redbirds will be taking both Rodgers men with them on the field. Illinois State will be honoring Jake and his dad by wearing the #65 (Jake’s number) on their helmets.

Eastern Washington Athletic Director Bill Chaves said Illinois State’s gesture, “really went beyond the game.” I asked Chaves about Coach Beau Baldwin’s reaction and he said, “Speechless. Here they are preparing for a championship game and they take the time to do something like this. It’s incredible.” Chaves told me that Jake and the Rodgers family gave Illinois State the go-ahead. The idea, Chaves understands came from ISU Head Coach, Brock Spack.

A helmet sticker is a simple gesture, but approval was still required from the NCAA. The Redbirds were able to get that approval, get enough stickers made and added to helmets in time for Saturday’s game. 

If you looked up the word “class” in the dictionary today, the Illinois State Redbirds would be in it. They gained a new fan for Saturday. 

Go Redbirds! 


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Posted by Sunny Cadwallader

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One thought on “Illinois State Redbirds Gain A Fan”

  1. Wow–I was going to cheer for them anyway, but now I will be cheering for them for real. It is truly a classy move. Thanks for this–great piece.

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