Now that the Maryland Terrapins are in the Big Ten Conference, I think it is time to start meeting some of the Terps’ new opponents. So in no particular order let’s start with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Fighting Illini. That is actually a lie as I grew up mere miles from the campus and am still a fan of this university, besides being a Maryland fan.
The university is located in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, approximately two hours south of Chicago and two hours west of Indianapolis. Cubs and Cardinals fans divide the baseball hearts of the area, with the White Sox having almost no local allegiances. The Chicago Bears are the favorite NFL team, with some local sentiment to the Indianapolis Colts (sorry Baltimore fans….).
Champaign is the larger and more development-friendly of the two cities, with Urbana holding more to tradition and the past. Most of the University is in Urbana, which is why the institution has that city first in its name, although residents typically call the area Champaign-Urbana, or just CU.
Most Illini fans are still bitter about the use of Chief Illiniwek being taken away from. I also side with these fans as the Native American tradition of “The Chief” was done with total respect and dignity. My guess is that Illinois was not eager to pay off the remains of the Illini tribe as Florida State did with the Seminole Nation. Either way, expect to hear the CHIEF chant for years to come at game halftimes.
The best sport on campus is the men’s basketball team. Longtime coach Lou Henson is still a legend in the area and former players are shown quite a deal of respect. The loss in the national championship game in 2005 to North Carolina was a blow, as this highly successful school was hoping to finally get that first win. The coach of that team, Bruce Weber, lost the team and fans over the years and was replaced by fiery young coach John Groce. With good recruiting the program looks like it will be on the way back up. Golf, tennis and women’s volleyball are other successful sports for the Illini.
The worst sport at Illinois is also the one with the most storied history: football. Red Grange and Dick Butkis are not just two of the most famous alumni, but two of the best to ever play the college game. Unfortunately the team has shown little success, except for an occasional bowl game over the past 50 years or so. The team does not look to be on the positive side of things for a while. The NFL is littered with former Illinois players, as recruiting had been successful under former coach Ron Zook, just not wins.
If you visit the area, stop in at Papa Del’s for incredible deep dish pizza and Monicals for their amazing thin crust pizza. It is the type of town where you can enjoy two different pizza styles.
Anyone, except for drunk college students, should stay away from the Campustown bar scene. Instead, enjoy the thriving bar scene in downtown Champaign. Best bets are Distihl, Blind Pig Brewery and the iconic Esquire Lounge.