Electricity bills will be lower in Iowa this weekend seeing that the entire state population including the band made their way to Champaign. Illini fans seemed to be in attendance merely as a diversion until basketball season. That truth became evident when four former Illini basketball stars were honored during the first half at Memorial Stadium. The excitement for those four athletes in street clothes brought on more cheers than the football squad’s performance. Yet, that is the nature of Illinois football right now. The gloomy, overcast skies reflected the emotions of the orange and blue. Head coach Ron Zook in his second season with the Illini is still searching for a conference victory. Upon my visit to the bathroom before the game and listening to swarms of Hawkeye fans screaming their fight song, something gave me the feeling that today wouldn’t be Zook’s day.
The Hawkeyes stumbled through the first quarter and the Illinois defense looked top notch. But, a few turnovers and an excellent performance by Iowa quarterback Drew Tate would be too much for the home team. Late in the first half, Iowa drowned any notions Illinois might have had that their defense alone would win this game for them. Three touchdowns later, the Illini stared up at a 21-0 deficit, while fans were forced to look forward to the halftime show.
Due to the ineptitude of the football team, the much-beleaguered Illinois mascot became the “chief” reason to attend today’s game. Chief Illiniwek has been criticized as being offensive to Native American heritage during his halftime performances. Speaking with Illinois fans, the Chief represents honor and pride for the university and is not intended to be harmful. Despite the tradition of this historic symbol, the Chief’s days are numbered and will not be a fixture on campus much longer. Watching the crowd’s reaction to their beloved mascot made me proud to be here to see this Big Ten icon one last time.
Iowa controlled the second half by defending their large halftime advantage. Little scoring occurred, yet little was needed. The Hawkeyes celebrated a 24-7 victory by rushing over to their fans, shaking hands, and belting out their traditional victory song, “In Heaven There Is No Beer, That’s Why We Drink It Here!” The black and gold striped overalls and straw hats would be heading home happy this weekend. The differences are staggering while the Hawkeyes will face top ranked Ohio State in Iowa City for what should be a classic showdown, while Illinois will be struggling to avoid their eleventh straight conference loss.