The Michigan football team goes back on the road to face the Fighting Illini this week. We are looking to win our sixth game of the season and notch our first road win. Historically we have dominated these guys to the tune of 66-22-2 record and we have won 8 of the last 10 games. We have not lost at Memorial Stadium since 1983. None of that matters as much as the fact that we got spanked at home last season 45-20 in one of many frustrating games in the season of horror and pain. But this season Illinois has been a nightmare and seems to have stepped back to a greater degree than we have improved. Here are some fun things you should know about this weeks foe:
History: The University of Illinois is yet another Land Grant School, in fact it is the third straight Morrill Act school we have played in a row. The stories of all these schools are all basically variations on the same theme. The school was founded in 1867 under the name Illinois Industrial University. That year the school’s first president, John Milton Gregory came to Illinois from Kalamazoo College to organize the university as the "West Point for the working world." Classes began in the spring of 1868 with two teachers and a small number of students. Two years later (1870) the Board of Trustees voted 5 to 4 to admit women to the university.
As we have seen with almost every land grant school, the educational mission of the institution was the source of significant internal struggle. On one side you have the idealistic proponents of a classical liberal arts curriculum and on the other side you have a more practical crowd focused providing an “industrial education” to the people. By 1885 the classical education side of the argument had triumphed prompting a name change to the University of Illinois. This new name helped denote the support for a comprehensive academic program and to avoid confusion with existing schools of the day for delinquents.
In 1982 the name was formally changed to The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, indicating the flagship status within the multi-campused University of Illinois system.
Location: The campus is located in the towns of Champaign and Urbana. The campus is equally split between the two, however most people just say Champaign because it is the larger of the two places. The towns are located in the center of the state, east of the state capital.
Although it is in a very a remote/rural location, all of the people I know that actually went to school there absolutely loved the campus and location. In 2002 NFL season, the campus 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.
Illinois is the home for the famous National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). This place provides powerful computers and expert support that help thousands of scientists and engineers across the country better understand the world. With the computing power available at NCSA, researchers simulate how galaxies collide and merge, how proteins fold and how molecules move through the wall of a cell, how tornadoes and hurricanes form, and other complex natural and engineered phenomena.
Nickname: They call themselves the Fighting Illini. The term “Illini” first appeared in 1874 when the student newspaper, seeking a more a Greek or Latin sounding name, rebranded itself from The Student to The Illini. In 1921 the school adopted the moniker “Fighting Illini” replacing the previous name: Indians.
The actual term Illini comes from the word Illiniwek, which is a made up word used to describe the group of six Native American tribes that once lived in the area (Kaskaskia, Peoria, Michigamea, Moingwena, Tamaroa and Cahokia). The state is also named for these tribes. These Indian tribes were removed by the US government and forced to relocate in Kansas in 1832. They were then up-rooted in again 1867 after the US wanted to open Kansas to white settlers, this time to Oklahoma.
Mascot: Officially Illinois does not have a mascot. They used to have a “symbol” called Chief Illiniwek. This Native American character represented the university since 1926. The first Chief Illiniwek was a student named Lester Leutwiler. A former Eagle Scout, Lester had a strong sense of Native American tradition and knowledge. He used this knowledge to make homemade costume complete with a turkey feathered war head-dress. Leutwiler danced at the 1926 Illinois vs. Penn football game and according to the students and alumni at the game, the dance was a big hit. A new tradition was born and over the next 80+ years, 36 different students (35 of which were white males) danced as The Chief.
Illinois started to get some complaints and requests to remove the Chief as early as 1989, but those were ignored. In 2005 the NCAA officially ruled the Chief Illiniwek symbol to be “hostile and abusive” – sealing the Chief’s future. After a couple of court dates, the school eventually agreed to remove the Chief. His final performance was at a basketball game against Michigan on February 21, 2007 before a tearful crowd at the Assembly Hall. For many Illinois fans the tradition of the performances was one of the highlights of their Illinois sports experience.
As I have stated before, I think the NCAA is inconsistent in their application of this political correctness. I don’t understand how schools like Florida State and North Dakota can keep their Native American nicknames and mascots with the approval of the specific tribe, but Illinois was unable to keep their “made up word” nickname. Who exactly was Illinois supposed to ask for permission? Also, there are still NCAA teams out there that call themselves “Braves”. What is up with that?
Additionally, why is the NCAA mandate on sensitivity limited to Native Americans? Why is Notre Dame allowed to keep their “Fighting Irish” nickname and mascot? I am sure there are plenty of Irish people that find the characterization that they are all short and overly aggressive very demeaning. What about the Holy Cross Crusaders? Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns? Ole Miss Rebels? Penn Quakers? San Diego State Aztecs? You get the picture.
Colors/Logo/Helmet: They wear orange and blue. For the first 25 years of athletics, they had many different combinations including the ever popular crimson+olive green. In 1894, the university officially adopted blue (for steadfastness and stability) and orange (for freedom) as their official colors. You may have noticed it is the same color scheme used by Chicago Bears -- it’s no coincidence. Bears founder-owner and long-time coach George Halas was a graduate.
Their logo is the incredibly boring “orange block I” with “Illinois” spelled out in front of it (see above). It is a huge step backwards from their previous logos that featured proud looking Native American Chiefs. I just don’t get it.
I said this last year, and my opinion has not changed. The current Illini helmet is the worst design in the Big Ten and amongst the worst in the country. It’s a bright orange helmet with a white facemask featuring Illinois spelled out on the side in italics. I honestly think the person that designed this helmet did so using Microsoft Word. Barf.
Looking at the putrid history of Illinois football helmets has motivated me to start a project in which I re-design every Big Ten football helmet into something more interesting. Once the season ends and things get slow around here again, I will share what I come up with.
Fight Song: The official Illinois fight song is called Oskee Wow Wow. The song was written by two Illinois students (Howard Green and Harold Hill) in 1911 – but only after they decided the official school song (Illinois Loyalty) was not very good for getting the crowd fired up 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: Thanks to Tom Cruise, Illinois has a national reputation as a "safety school" for midwestern kids that can't get into to their first choice college. Actually this is a pretty good school. According to the most recent US News' ranking of America's Best National Universities, Illinois is ranked as the 39th best school in the country. That ranking placed them as the 3rd best school in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern, Michigan (They are tied at #39 with Wisconsin). Last year they accepted nearly 70% of the applicants, which seems like a pretty high number to me. Nearly 90 percent of the undergraduate students come from the state of Illinois.
Football: The Illini started playing football in 1890. Over the years, the team has won 15 Big Ten championships, the last coming in 2001. They have been to 15 bowl games and win 6 of them, the last was the 1999 MicronPC Bowl. They have won or shared five football National Championships, two of them before they were called the Illini. The last coming in 1951.
They play in some interesting "trophy games" including the ever important IlliBuck trophy game with Ohio State. Up until 1933, Illinois was always Ohio State's last game of the season. Originally the "trophy" was a live turtle picked for its long life expectancy as a symbol of the long life of the rivalry. Since the original turtle died, there have been nine wooden replica Illibucks carved with the scores from games on its back. The Illibuck is the second oldest trophy passed between Big Ten Football programs (the Little Brown Jug is the oldest).
From an individual player perspective, it is hard to top the Fighting Illini. The school has produced three of the greatest football players in the history of the game: Red Grange, Ray Nitschke, and Dick Butkus. The university actually dedicated a new statue of Red Grange outside of Memorial Stadium this year. Pretty Impressive.
Athletics: Illinois is a charter member of the Big Ten. The university offers a surprisingly low 10 men’s and 11 women’s teams. They actually classify 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 major college football team, I don’t know how they do it.
The Fighting Illini can claim twenty-five National Championships dating back to 1900. Surprisingly they have only won two National Championships in any sport since 1958 — Men's Tennis in 2003 and Men's Gymnastics in 1989. No women’s team has ever won a national title.
Like our favorite 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 recently the 2005 team that went undefeated until the last game of the regular season (where they lost to Ohio State) and lost in the NCAA Finals game to North Carolina. Also, important to Michigan fans, they lost in the 1989 Final Four Semis to us – after they had twice routed the Wolverines in the regular season.
Famous former Illinois athletes include NBA stars Derek Harper, Eddie Johnson, Nick Anderson and Kendall Gill. Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau. NFL top pick Jeff George and Pro Bowler Simeon Rice.
Famous alums: The list of famous people that attended Illinois’ is pretty impressive. They claim to have 21 Nobel laureates and 20 Pulitzer Prize winners. Famous names include Playboy Hugh Hefner, actor Gene Hackman, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Congressman and Presidential candidate John Anderson, Lincoln Memorial Architect Henry Bacon, Phoenix sports owner Jerry Colangelo, BET founder Robert Johnson, former GE Chairman Jack Welsh, and the creator of the Harlem Globetrotters 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 produced the developer of the first graphical web browser Mosaic (Marc Andreessen) and the co-founders of YouTube (Jawed Karim & Steve Chen).
For those of you are keeping score… Illinois has zero presidents and five NASA astronauts.
The Game: Who the heck knows anymore? From all indications Illinois is one of the worst Division I football teams in the country. They have only won one game this season, against Illinois State (a FCS school). They have gotten rolled by Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State. Juice Williams has regressed so badly that he has lost his starting QB job. Ron Zook appears to be working the same great recruiter/poor coach magic he worked at Florida.
I am not buying it. This is going to be a tough game for us. No matter how bad they are, we are still a very young team on the road. We need to not turn the ball over and make defensive stops to get a win, and we have not been doing either very well lately. We can and should win this game, but it will rest on the defense. Gotta get this one to take the pressure off for next week against Purdue.
I am not comfortable at all with this one, but here we go...