It was August of 2001 when I first set foot in Champaign-Urbana. The next few years I spent living there would be some of the most memorable and important years of my life.
I lived through 9/11 after only being in Champaign-Urbana for a week, which wasn't nearly as enjoyable as turning 21 and discovering the freedom of knowing I could buy alcohol without worrying my fake ID wasn't good enough. I met many new people, made many new friends, a few enemies and found drunken best friends at many different parties.
I saw Kurt Kittner and Ron Turner lead Illinois to the Sugar Bowl in 2001, even if I choose not to remember the result of the game.
I saw Bill Self take a team comprised of players like Frank Williams, Robert Archibald and Brian Cook to the Sweet Sixteen a year after an Elite Eight appearance. I also saw Self leave for Kansas a season later. Something I haven't forgiven him for to this day, and every Final Four at Kansas only makes the anger burn brighter.
I had linebacker Jerry Schumaker charge at me while on crutches like a crippled bull one night at a house party. Why, I never did find out.
I saw Brandon Lloyd take a girl I'd been talking to for 30 minutes away from me in only 30 seconds at a different party.
I frequented the bars on Green Street and had a cabinet full of logo glasses from Murphy's. I drank pitchers full of rum and coke for $5 at the White Horse, may it rest in peace.
I've climbed to the roof of Brothers with friends, where we downed six-packs of beer as quickly as possible so we could escape before the police showed up.
I was on campus to see Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head lose to Ohio State in the final game of the regular season to ruin an unbeaten record. I was there to see them lose again to North Carolina in the title game as well.
Occasionally I even made my way into one of those buildings that surround the quad.
Even though I haven't lived in Champaign or Urbana -- I will never call it Chambana -- for years, these are all memories that are still fresh in my mind, and memories I still smile about today. Just because you leave a place doesn't mean you stop caring about it.
Now it's time to make some new memories and that's why we're here.
Welcome to The Champaign Room, SB Nation's new blog for University of Illinois athletics.
I am your ringleader, Tom Fornelli. You may remember me from previous blogs such as Foul Balls, the original Chicago sports blog, Blog Ten, where I wrote about Big Ten football or FanHouse, where I covered baseball and college football while trying not to get punched by Jay Mariotti.
Currently you can find me covering the Big Ten over at CBSSports.com's Eye On College Football blog.
Here at The Champaign Room we are going to try and bring you everything you need to know about Illinois sports. Whether it's news, analysis, opinion, entertainment or outright stupidity, we plan on putting it out there for your consumption.
So bookmark us, subscribe to our RSS feed, join the conversation and spend every free second of your life on this site.