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Profiles of the Big Ten: Illinois Fighting Illini

Researching this program has been much more interesting than I thought it would be. I'll claim ignorance here, as I was pretty sure that I'd be digging deep for fun "Illinois" things to write about.

Based on what I've read, I'll be heading to Champaign on a regular basis...assuming this conference expands to include the Cornhuskers. Not only is there some good tradition and history behind this school, but some of it is surprisingly recent. If there is one thing that I am learning about the Big Ten, it is that there is more than just the big names. Purdue's lock on the Big Ten's basketball crown. Wisconsin's "cultural" offerings (beer and cheese). Minnesota's hospitality eh?

Illinois is yet another B10 school that offers plenty in the way of culture, athletics, academics, and traditions. No disrespect to Michigan, OSU, and Penn State....but without these others in your conference, the Big 10 would be pretty boring. Makes me wonder if outsiders would find the same about the "other" schools of the Big 12?

Here's what I found on the Fighting Illini:

Location: The University of Illinois has 3 public campus locations. Chicago, Springfield, and the largest at Champaign-Urbana. With the main athletic centers being in Champaign, the drive from Lincoln would cover 520 miles, equating to 8.5 hours of drive time. Situated southwest of Chicago, Nebraska fans in Lincoln could actually take one of two routes. The northern route heading across Iowa would allow for some leisure time if you diverted to Chicago, while the southern route through Missouri would take you through St. Joseph.

History/Traditions: Founded in 1867, the school was first called the Illinois Industrial University, and soon changed their name to simply "The University of Illinois". The Fighting Illini got their moniker not from a reference to Native Americans -as one might think, but rather as a tribute to the men from Illinois that fought and died in WWI.

The University is one of only a few in the U.S. to own and operate an airport. As an aviation buff, I think that's just damn cool. Along with it's aviation school, the University seems to be a magnet for engineering types. The foundations for Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox were built here, which demands a proper nod from us bloggers here on the info superhighway.

From facts to fantasy - Illinois has quite a few fun ghost stories. The schools first president, John Milton Gregory, is actually buried on campus. The Psychology building as well as the campus YMCA have reported numerous supernatural sightings. My wife and I love old ghost stories, so this might be fun to investigate while drinking with Illini fans on gameday. Apparently the old English building is still haunted by a female student who committed suicide. Bring it on baby!

Not sure what is sung at sports events, but I've seen "Hail to the Orange", "Illinois Loyalty", and something called "Oskee-Wow-Wow". Someone please explain.

Football: The Fighting Illini also play home games at their own Memorial Stadium, located in Champaign-Urbana. Nebraska holds the all-time edge in this series with a 6-2-1 record. The only modern-era meetings were back in '85 and '86, which the Huskers won easily (52-25 and 59-14) Big Ten champs just 3 times in the modern era, Illinois' last conference title did come in 2001. By far their most noteable bowl victory came at the 1964 Rose Bowl, with Dick Butkus leading the Illini over Washington. Not so much in terms of team success, but man oh man...check out this list of former players: Red Grange, Dick Butkus, George Halas, Ray Nitschke, and Simeon Rice. (I would include Jeff George,  Red-freaking-Grange? Yowzer!

Basketball: Much more success here in terms of team records. The Illini have won six Big Ten Championships since 1984, with four coming in this decade. Though never winning a national title, they did play in the National Championship game versus North Carolina in 2005. Nebraska will likely have it's hands full here. Some former players to note? Kendal Gill (always liked this guy), Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, and Eddie Johnson.

Other Sports: Illinois kicks ass at tennis. Gotta mention that. Oh, and Men's gymnastics too. I know these are lesser watched sports, but it's impressive whenever you see a school dominate like they have. Husker fans take note - the Illini volleyball team has reached the NCAA tournament almost every year since 1985, and has reached the final four twice.

Fans/Students: Last time I posted a harmless jibe at someone's fan population, I got flamed for it. So here ya go Illini fans......

 The fans live in Illinois, and probably other places too. They are people, and they probably like their team. Some are girls, some are boys. They might be smart (nerds), and they might not be. You will probably see a bunch of them on gamedays, and they may be wearing orange. (If you haven't noticed the sarcasm dripping from the screen, then you shouldn't be reading a blog...and should probably go find the sports section of your local newspaper).

Trophies: The guys in orange play the Buckeyes for the "Illibuck"...the Boilermakers for the "Purdue Cannon"...and Northwestern for the "Land of Lincoln Trophy". I say we steal that last trophy, and use it for Nebraska-Illinois series. I mean, our capital city is named for the former President, and most famous Illinois resident. Whether Nebraska or Illinois wins that game, the trophy would be appropriate. Maybe it could just be a big bronze sculpture of Lincoln's top hat?

That's all I have for now, please add any fun gameday traditions or stories....