The schedule does not get any easier this week as we host the University of Illinois in the 501st game in Big House history. Coming into this game, the Wolverines should have a little bit of momentum following the big comeback last week against a ranked Wisconsin team. On the other hand, Illini were humbled last week at Penn State on prime time national television. Historically Michigan has dominated this series, having won 66 of the 89 meetings (with two ties), including the last six in a row and nine of the last ten. What else do you need to know about Ron Zook's current employer?
History: The Morrill Act of 1862 (signed by President Abraham Lincoln) granted each state in the US a portion of land on which to establish a major public state university. The University of Illinois was founded in 1867 under this act and was originally called Illinois Industrial University. Classes began in the spring of 1868 with two teachers and a small number of students. As with most land grant colleges of the time the actual mission of the university was a hotly debated item. On one side was support for a classical liberal arts curriculum and on the other side was a practical focus on providing an “industrial education” to the people. By 1885 the classical education faction had triumphed sending the industrial education market to daytime TV. They changed their name to the University of Illinois to denote the support for a comprehensive academic program. In 1982 the name of the university was again formally changed to The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, indicating the flagship status within the University of Illinois system
Location: The campus is divided almost exactly between the central Illinois towns of Champaign and Urbana. Most people just say Champaign because it is the larger of the two places. The campus is located due east of the state capital and it is quite a remote location, surrounded primarily by farmland. I have never been on campus, but people that went to school there swear that it is quite nice. In 2002 NFL season, the on campus Memorial Stadium was the temporary home of the Chicago Bears while Soldier Field was being renovated, but like most Illinois graduates, the Bears moved back to Chicago as soon as they could. But they did leave a nice scoreboard behind.
There are plenty of computer nerds and high-tech jobs here. The University of Illinois is often regarded as a world-leading magnet for engineering and sciences (both applied and basic). The campus hosts the site of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).
Nickname: They call themselves the Fighting Illini. The actual term Illini (or Illiniwek) is a used to describe the group of six Native American tribes (Kaskaskia, Peoria, Michigamea, Moingwena, Tamaroa and Cahokia) that lived in the area, and for whom the state is named. These Indian tribes were removed by the US government to settle in Kansas in 1832, then in 1867 when the US wanted to open Kansas to white settlers, they were removed into what is now Ottawa County, Oklahoma.
The first known appearance of the term “Illini” for the school was in 1874 when the student newspaper changed its name from The Student to The Illini, attempting to give the paper a Greek or Latin sounding name. At this time the athletic teams were called the Indians. It wasn’t until 1921 that the Fighting Illini became their name.
Mascot: They don’t have a mascot any more. And depending on who you talk to, they may never get another one. Chief Illiniwek represented the university from 1926 until 2007. The first Chief Illiniwek was a student named Lester Leutwiler. Relying on his keen interest in Native American lore and the knowledge he gained as an Eagle Scout, Lester prepared a homemade costume complete with a war bonnet made of turkey feathers. He first danced at the 1926 Illinois vs. Penn football game and it was a big hit. Over the 80 or so years, 36 different students (35 of which were white males) danced as The Chief. For many Illinois fans the pre-game and halftime performances were the highlights of their Saturday.
The university never officially called the Dancing Chief a mascot; instead using they called him a "symbol". Regardless, they started to get some appeals to remove the Chief as early as 1989. Those were ignored, but in 2005 when the NCAA ruled the Illiniwek symbol to be “hostile and abusive” -- the Chief’s fate was sealed. The school eventually agreed to remove the Chief and his final performance was at a basketball game against Michigan on February 21, 2007 before a tearful crowd at the Assembly Hall.
Colors/Logo/Helmet: They wear orange and blue. They had many different combinations for the first 25 years including silver+cardinal, blue+white, yellow+black, and the ever popular crimson+olive green. Finally, in 1894, the university officially adopted blue (for steadfastness and stability) and orange (for freedom) as their official colors. 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.
It is my opinion that the current Illini helmet is the worst design in the Big Ten and among the worst in the country. It’s a simple orange helmet with Illinois spelled out on the side. Obviously the person that designed it was a NY Giants fan. In general, the Illini helmet evolution is orange, ugly, and boring.
Fight Song: Oskee Wow Wow is the official Illinois fight song. The song was written by two Illinois students, Howard Green and Harold Hill in 1911 -- only after the school discovered that its official school song, Illinois Loyalty was not well suited to rousing a crowd during a game.
Old Princeton yells her tiger, Wisconsin her Varsity.
And they give the same old "Rah-rah-rah! at each university.
But the yell that always thrills me, and fills my heart with joy
is the good old Oskee-Wow-Wow that they yell at Illinois.
Oskee-Wow-Wow, Illinois! Our eyes are all on you.
Oskee-Wow-Wow, Illinois! Wave your orange and your blue (rah, rah!).
When the team trots out before you, every man stand up and yell.
Back the team to gain a victory. Oskee-Wow-Wow, Illinois!
(There is also a second verse, which is rarely sung)
Teddy Roosevelt may be famous, and his name you often hear.
But it's heroes on the football field each college man holds dear.
We think with pride of Roberts, Artie Hall and Heavy, too.
Oskee-Wow-Wow for the wearers of the Orange and the Blue!
Academics: In the 1983 movie Risky Business, Tom Cruise believed he fumbled his Princeton interview and quipped “…looks like the University of Illinois...” This essentially sums up the status as a safety school. According to the most recent US News' ranking of America's Best National Universities, Illinois is ranked as the 40th best school in the country, just ahead of Case Western Reserve University. That ranking puts them 4th in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern, Michigan and Wisconsin. Nearly 90 percent of the undergraduate students come from the state of Illinois, and most never leave the state moving to Chicago upon graduation.
Athletics: Illinois is a charter member of the Big Ten. But, when you ask a Illinois fans who their biggest rival is, they kinda struggle for a good answer. One would expect in-state Northwestern to fit the bill, but not really. Perhaps border rivals Purdue or Indiana? Not so much. Many Illini consider Michigan to be their largest rival -- but our rivalry plate is already full. So the Illini are kinda stuck playing in the Big 10 and hating on Missouri.
The university offers a surprisingly low 10 men’s and 11 women’s teams, including classifying cheerleading as both a men’s and women’s varsity sport. Given the equal scholarship requirements of Title IX and the fact that they have a football team, I don’t know how they do it. The Fighting Illini can claim twenty-five National Championships dating back to 1900. However, they have won just two National Championships since 1958 — Men's Tennis in 2003 and Men's Gymnastics in 1989. No women’s team has ever won a national title.
The football team has won a total of 15 Big Ten championships (the last in 2001) and 6 bowl games (the last the 1999 MicronPC Bowl). They have four football national championships, all claimed in the 1910s and 1920s (two before they were called the Illini). They also have producted three of the greatest football professional players in history: Red Grange, Ray Nitschke, and Dick Butkus.
Like our local land grant college in East Lansing, most fans think of Illinois as a basketball school. They have won 17 Big Ten titles and been to five Final Fours. Sadly, their basketball success has always ended in ruin as they hold the record for playing in the most NCAA tournament games without a winning a championship. Most importantly to Michigan fans, they lost in the 1989 Final Four Semis to eventual champion Michigan – after they had twice routed the Wolverines in the regular season.
Famous alums: Nathan C. Ricker was the first person to graduate from Illinois with a degree in Architecture in 1873. Since that time, the Illinois’ has pumped out a pretty impressive alumni list with 21 Nobel laureates and 20 Pulitzer Prizes. Famous names include actor Gene Hackman, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, fat Conan O'Brien sidekick Andy Richter, Lincoln Memorial Architect Henry Bacon, Phoenix sports owner Jerry Colangelo, BET founder Robert Johnson, annoying TV financial person Suze Orman, former GE Chairman Jack Welsh, and Harlem Globetrotters creator Abe Saperstein.
It is safe to say that without the University of Illinois this blog (all blogs for that matter) would not be possible: They have the guy that developed the first graphical web browser Mosaic (Marc Andreessen) and the co-founders of YouTube (Jawed Karim & Steve Chen). Plus they claim Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy) and Will Leitch (founder of Deadspin). Oskee-Wow-Wow !!
If you are keeping score… Illinois has zero presidents (one presidential loser in 1980, John Anderson) and five NASA astronauts.
The Game: Before last weeks improbable comeback against Wisconsin I had this game clearly on the “L” side of the bracket for Michigan. This is not one that I see us getting easily. There was no doubt that Illinois fits the mold of teams that historically gives Michigan trouble: experienced, talented, mobile quarterback, spread offense. But I don’t really know what to think about this Illini defense as they have given up a ton of points to solid Missouri and Penn State teams. Can our defense continue to carry the load? Which Steven Threet will show up? Can we hold onto a punt or kickoff? Will Ron Zook panic and call a flanker screen?
I am not confident our offense is good enough or we can contain Juice this week. Sadly, this is not going to be one of our six wins this year.