I-74 Rivalry or ‘War on 74’?
(St. Louis, MO) – “A rose by any other name…” One of the great rivalries in college basketball and one of the most significant match ups in the Missouri Valley Conference is between Illinois State and Bradley. The ‘I-74 Rivalry Series‘ are the games that every Braves fan and each Redbird backer circles on the calendar the moment the schedules are published.
Bradley and Illinois State have banged heads 124 times and the Braves hold a two-game advantage (63-61) advantage in what the old-timers called ‘The War on 74‘. I called the rivalry by that name in print last season and those on social media took me to the wood shed.
So I visited the head coaches of the two traditional foes to find out what the rivalry meant to them and to their teams.
Illinois State head coach Dan Muller has been at the Redbird helm for the past five seasons and played in those rivalry games as an all-conference player. As a coach Muller has dominated the ‘Rivalry Series’ with an 8-2 record. He tells us that Bradley head coach Brian Wardle does an outstanding job of recruiting and developing talent.
Wardle is beginning his third season on The Hilltop and has never won a game in the storied series, but his Bradley program is improving. He says his counter part at Illinois State inspires tenacity and passion in his players.
Both coaches agree the rivalry is of the utmost importance to fans and alumni, and both coaches want this particular game to be truly competitive. Lopsided rivalries cease to remain interesting and each coach is hopeful that the improving Bradley program will make the ‘War’ more compelling and bring more sizzle to the twice per season event.
Oh, and they both called it the ‘War on 74’.
Wardle grew up in Willowbrook, Illinois (Hinsdale Central High), and Muller played in the rivalry series. They both understand the significance for people all along the I-74 corridor and beyond. The two schools are separated by less than 40 miles and whole generations of loyalists are divided like the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Montagues and Capulets, and even like fans of the Cardinals and Cubs.