Coming into their game against the Illini, Michigan has won five in a row (since a couple losses you might have heard of to open the season) and are tied atop the Big Ten. The Illini were upset last week by Iowa, falling to 5-2, and have to win on Saturday to have a chance at the Rose Bowl. Miracle of miracles, this game will be on ABC. Imagine that, a real live network that people can actually watch on. So now that you know all of the on field particulars, it’s time to learn more about who the Wolverines play. And that’s why the MZone is proud to present this week’s rendition of KNOW YOUR FOE.
History – The University of Illinois was founded in Urbana, Illinois as Illinois Industrial University in 1867, a land grant college. Classes began in the spring of 1868 and for the next couple of decades the mission of the university was a hotly debated item. On one side was the first president, John Milton Gregory, who espoused a liberal arts curriculum. On the other side were many state legislators and citizens who wanted the school to focus on an “industrial education.” Gregory was forced out in 1880, but he essentially won the battle when, in 1885, the university changed its name to the University of Illinois and incorporated agricultural, mechanical and liberal arts curricula. Gregory’s grave is still located on campus and he is considered the father of the university. The name of the university was formally changed to The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1982, but most people refer to it simply as Illinois, or U of I.
The university campus hosts the site of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), which is responsible for Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser, the Apache HTTP server, and NCSA Telnet. U of I has the largest engineering library in the country and one of the largest Greek systems, with about 20% of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority. It truly is THE University of Illinois as it has the ninth highest proportion of in-state students in the country, with almost 90% of incoming freshmen in 2006 from Illinois.
Location – Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. The campus is almost equally divided between the towns of Champaign and Urbana. Champaign is almost twice the size of Urbana (75,000 to 38,000), which is probably the reason that when Illinois natives are asked where they went to school, they say “In Champaign.” Buckeye fans will be honored to learn that both Champaign and Urbana are named for counties/towns in Ohio. While not nearly as bleak as West Lafayette, Champaign-Urbana just doesn’t stack up to fellow Big Ten college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison. Its remote location and surrounding farmland lead many graduates to flock to Chicago two and a half hours north, rather than stay in Champaign-Urbana. This despite the availability of plenty of high-tech jobs. But for an area of its size, Champaign-Urbana has produced a number of well-known people. Musically it covers the gamut with cheesy rockers REO Speedwagon, rapper Ludacris and bluegrass artist Alison Krauss all calling the area home. So did movie critic Roger Ebert, gold medal Olympic speedskater Bonnie Blair, former 90210 hottie Jennie Garth and up-tight political nerd George F. Will.
Nickname – Fighting Illini. The history of this truly unique name is a bit unclear. The first known appearance of the term “Illini” was in 1874 when the student newspaper changed its name from The Student to The Illini. This appears to be a coined term, possibly to give the student body a Greek or Latin sounding name. Illini referred to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University, as well as to the campus as a whole. At this time the athletic teams were called the Indians. It wasn’t until 1921 that Illini, and specifically, Fighting Illini became the name by which the athletic teams were known. The name gained popularity during the fundraising for the building of Memorial Stadium. At that time the “fighting” part of the name referred to the Illinois students, alumni, and staff who died in World War I. But “Fighting Illini” was attached to the team throughout that decade and the name has remained since.
Illini is also sometimes used as a term to describe the Illiniwek or Illinois, a group of six Native American tribes that lived in the area, and for whom the state is named. But while you’ll find plenty of Illini in Illinois who went to school in Champaign, you won’t find many true Illini in the state. They were removed in the 1830s.
Mascot – None anymore. And maybe not ever, depending on who you talk to. There’s no dispute that Chief Illiniwek represented the university from 1926 until earlier this year. In 1926, the assistant director of bands, Ray Dvorak, came up with the idea of having a Native American war dance performed at halftime at the Illinois-Pennsylvania game. Lester Leutwiler, a U of I student put together a home made costume and the Chief was born. Thirty-six different students – all white males, except for one female during World War II – danced as The Chief for Illini football games. For many Illinois fans the pre-game and halftime performances were the highlights of their Saturday – especially considering the performance of the football team over the last 50 years.
Whether Chief Illiniwek was a mascot of the university is a matter semantics. Most fans considered him such, but the university never officially called the Chief a mascot, instead using the term "symbol," claiming that a mascot hangs with the cheerleaders and cheers from the sideline, things the Chief never did. Regardless, the university started to get some appeals to remove the Chief in 1989. Those were rebuffed due to the passion of alumni. But when the NCAA deemed the mascot/symbol to be “hostile and abusive” in 2005, the Chief’s fate was sealed. After all, the designation was going to cost the university money. So despite some appeals, the university agreed to remove the Chief at university functions. His final performance was at a basketball game on February 21, 2007 before a tearful crowd at the Assembly Hall.
Colors – Orange and Blue. For the first 25 years of its existence, the University of Illinois changed colors more often than the leaves on the campus trees. They originally used silver and cardinal. Then in 1891, blue and white. In 1892, yellow and black were used, while in 1893, Dartmouth green was used in an event by the Athletic Association. They had also previously used black and yellow, crimson and olive green, while the Alumni Association had used old gold and black or orange and black. Finally, with company coming over for the dedication of the Engineering Hall building in 1894, the university officially adopted blue (for steadfastness and stability) and orange (for freedom) as their official colors.
The blue and orange combination is a surprisingly rare one in college football. Only four other schools use the combo with Florida and Boise State’s blue being lighter than the Illini’s. Only Virginia and UTEP join Illinois in using navy blue and orange. Of course the NFL’s Chicago Bears use the same combination, and it’s no coincidence. Bears founder and long-time coach and owner - and Illinois alum - George Halas adopted the colors for his professional team.
Logo/Helmet – Since the phasing out of the Chief, Illinois has gone the Michigan route by having an orange block I with “Illinois” across it in blue. Not great but not bad considering they can’t use the Chief anymore. And, ignoring political arguments, that’s a shame because the prior university logo was a classic.
And how about this logo that was used in the middle of the 20th century?
As great as those old logos were, the current Illini helmet has to be the worst in the Big Ten and among the worst in the country. It’s a simple orange helmet with Illinois spelled out on the side. It’s obviously modeled after the incredibly lame New York Giants helmets of the last quarter of the last century. And though the Giants won a couple of Super Bowls with those designs, the Illini have pretty much won nothing in theirs, so it might be time for a change. It would even be an improvemment if they went back to the style that they had until 1987, though they really looked like toy helmets back then.
(As always, all images of the helmets are from the incredibly thorough Helmet Project site, and the logos are from the equally brilliant SportsLogos.net. )
Fight Song – Illinois Loyalty. Though it’s one of the oldest fight songs, it’s lame. And not just because it competes in a conference with many of the best fight songs in the country. The tune is entirely forgettable. It’s been around for 100 years, yet only the most die-hard of Illini fans even know the song’s tune or lyrics. Most alumni are more familiar with the music set played during the Chief's performance, which consisted of portions of three separate works and were referred to as "the 3 in 1." The lyrics to Illinois Loyalty refer to the colors, a Know Your Foe favorite, but otherwise are long and don’t make much sense. Sand? There’s sand in Illinois? Maybe at Oak Street Beach, but not in Champaign-Urbana. And what’s with that final section? It sounds like it belongs in an old communist marching song.
We're loyal to you Illinois,
We're "Orange and Blue," Illinois,
We'll back you to stand
Gainst the best in the land,
For we know you have sand, Illinois,
So crack out that ball Illinois,
We're backing you all Illinois;
Our team is our fame protector,
On! boys, for we expect a vict'ry from you Illinois!
Che-he! Che-ha! Che-ha-ha-ha!
Go Illini go!
Che-he! Che-ha! Che-ha-ha-ha!
Go Illini go!
Illinois! Illinois! Illinois!
Fling out that dear old flag of Orange and Blue,
Lead on your sons and daughters, fighting for you;
Like men of old, on giants placing reliance, shouting defiance
Amid the broad green plains that nourish our land,
For honest Labor and for Learning we stand,
And unto thee we pledge our heart and hand,
Dear Alma Mater Illinois.
Academics – According to the most recent U. S. News' ranking of America's Best Colleges, Illinois is tied for 38th, along with Wisconsin and UC-San Diego. That ranking puts them tied for 3rd in the Big Ten, behind only Northwestern and Michigan. Engineering and computer science is the strength of the university though, as is shown in the alumni list below, it’s a well-rounded school. It’s national reputation takes a hit because of its large in-state enrollment and the fact that so many of those students stay in state following graduation. There are plenty of companies, law firms, and hospitals throughout Chicago that are overflowing with Illini alums. It also suffers a bit from those in-state who view it as a “safe school.” When Joel Goodson thought he flubbed his Princeton interview in Risky Business, Chicago area movie goers howled with laughter as he said “Looks like the University of Illinois.”
Athletics – Illinois is a charter member of the Big Ten but doesn’t really have any rivals in the conference. Northwestern represents an in-state rival, but the fervor is limited. The campus is closest to Purdue, but there’s no rivalry to speak of. Hysterically, many Illini consider Michigan to be a rival. The university offers 10 men’s and 11 women’s teams (Michigan has 24 varsity sports). Most of the Illini’s athletic success is recorded in grainy black and white film and yellowed newsprint. Illinois can claim over 25 national titles, but only two in the past 50 years – men’s tennis in 2003 and men’s gymnastics in ’89. No women’s team has brought a national title to Champaign (or Urbana).
The football team has won 15 Big Ten titles, though only three in the last 44 years. The four national championships in football were all won in the 1910s and 1920s. The Illini have only been to the Rose Bowl once since 1964. In that same period of time they’ve had two winless and three one-win seasons. Despite the fact that Illini football has been a non-entity for most of the past 50 years, its given the world three of the greatest football players – and three of the greatest names – ever: Red Grange, Ray Nitschke, and Dick Butkus. Most Illini fans think of U of I as a basketball school. The men’s team has won 17 Big Ten titles and have made five Final Fours. But those championship runs have been met with heartbreak. In 1989 they lost in the semi-finals to eventual champion Michigan – who they crushed twice in the regular season – and lost in the finals in 2005 to North Carolina. Illinois holds the dubious distinction of playing in the most NCAA tournament games without a championship.
Famous alums – Illinois’ alumni list is as impressive and varied as any school in the country. Know Your Foe has found it interesting that so many huge Big Ten schools (we’re looking at you, Sparty and Penn State) have such lame lists of famous alums. But Illinois does not disappoint. First of all, they have a bunch of famous computer guys who we’ve never heard of but have done things that have made this blog and the wonderful series of tubes that you’re using now possible. Despite U of I’s strong engineering and computer reputation, there are a ton of well-known alums in other fields. In business, the founder of Black Entertainment Televsion, Robert Johnson, and former GE CEO Jack Welch are Illini as are the CEOs for Eastman Kodak, International Paper, Coldwell Banker, and Beatrice Foods. Actors Gene Hackman and Jerry Orbach, along with director Ang Lee all went to school at U of I. MacLean Stevenson and his M*A*S*H character Henry Blake proudly wore the Illinois sweater. Writers and journalists who went to Illinois include Roger Ebert, Dave Eggers, John Chancellor, Robert Novak, Suze Orman, Dan Savage, and Gene Shalit. ‘60s comedian, singer and satirist Allan Sherman was kicked out of U of I for being in female dorm past curfew.
Illinois has also had one alum, John Anderson lose a presidential election but, alas, no U.S. Presidents.
And all readers of this blog are indebted to several Illinois alums who made/make the MZone possible. This list includes Marc Andreessen, the creator of Mosaic (the first graphical Web browser) and Netscape, and Steve Chen, the co-founder of YouTube. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, graduated from Illinois as did Will Leitch, the editor of a little sports website you might have heard of called Deadspin. From the bottom of our blogging hearts, thanks guys (especially to Will, since Hefner never seems to link to us).
The Game – Before last week, there was no doubt Illinois was going to be favored in this game. But the Illini showed their youth and lost to a horrible Iowa team. Meanwhile, Michigan played their best game of the year, shellacking Purdue at home. So which Illinois team will show up? Which Michigan team will show up? Illinois has a mobile QB, and Michigan’s defense has been stellar...except against mobile QBs. Will that be enough to topple the Wolverines? Not this year: MICHIGAN 20, ILLINOIS 13.