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Why I’m a fan of the Illinois Fighting Illini

Drop by and tell us why your cheer for the Orange and Blue!

Trevor Vallese

Welcome to the refreshed Champaign Room! To celebrate the new look and feel of SB Nation’s sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts [link here] to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here [] and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

Jim Vainisi

Well, I graduated from Illinois about a week-and-a-half ago, so I suppose I’m stuck with this decision forever? If so, I’m 100% fine with that! I don’t really have a special story about the Fighting Illini — I was kinda just raised into this madness from the moment I was born. I grew up in St. Charles, IL (about an hour West of Chicago), and eventually going to school at Illinois was always a goal of mine. I had four older cousins that attended the university, and starting in maybe 2007, my family was making frequent trips down to campus for football games as a result.

Oh, and I was also a regular at the basketball team’s father/son Summer camps back when Bruce Weber was still in town. I hardly remember the 2004-05 squad, but I’ll never forget the day I was able to meet Dee Brown at the Armory — it was incredible!

Brandon Birkhead

First off, I was never much of a basketball guy growing up so the 2004-05 Illinois basketball team didn’t really effect my fandom. I remember watching the National Championship game and Sean May destroying the Illini. Unlike many here, that team didn’t change my fandom.

I grew up in metro-east St. Louis, which is ground zero for the Illinois-Mizzou rivalry, and growing up I was caught in the middle of it. Even though I grew up with an Illinois address, I lived closer to Missouri. Growing up with St. Louis sports’ media, I was exposed to news mostly about Mizzou Football, and the first college season I remember following was the amazing college football season of 2007 — the year Mizzou was in contention for the National Title, Illinois somehow beat #1 Ohio State on the road on their way to a Rose Bowl birth, and Kansas was even good!

I was a fan of both Illinois and Mizzou that season — which made the first game of the season tough to watch as the Tigers and Illini played a fantastic game in St. Louis that Mizzou narrowly pulled out 40-34. It was great to see both teams have great years with some great QBs. Chase Daniel is still one of my favorite college QBs — short people can play sports too! — and Juice Williams was electric at times.

What turned me into a full fledge Mizzou hating Illinois fan was when I decided that I wanted to attend a Big Ten school for college, and it was obvious that Illinois was the move. Starting since 2008 the dream was to graduate from the University of Illinois, and I became a huge Illini fan. Wish there was a better story, but sometimes you just pick your team. I just wished someone told me that the 2007 Illinois football season wasn’t the norm.

Brad Repplinger

When it came to University of Illinois, I was hooked from the start. My Dad is an alumni of the Engineering Program and the Marching Illini trumpet section (‘84 Rose Bowl years), so my “recruiting” trips to Champaign began when I was three years old. Once a year roughly around Halloween, my parents would take me and my siblings to Champaign for the weekend to take in the “college-town experience” and enjoy a football game from the East Balcony of Memorial Stadium.

My first game was October 1st, 1994 on Homecoming Day. Staying in the Chancellor Hotel at the corner of Kirby and Neil (now a Hilton Garden Inn), breakfast on gameday meant enjoying a meal from the top floor of the hotel (or at Aunt Sonya’s next door). Stationed near a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, I would enjoy my daily bowl of Frosted Flakes with a view of Memorial Stadium in the distance. Walking to our tailgate (usually near the Northwest Lot of Assembly Hall), the pulse of the band would resonate through me and I immediately found myself walking to the beat. After a hefty dose of parking lot football and tailgate food, it was time to make our way to the stadium.

Walking through the turnstile, we ventured towards the Southeast tower and up the ramps to the balcony. As the crowd echoed through the walls and the band took the field, I walked through the tunnel in section Q. Having only seen the field on TV and not really knowing what to expect, my heart leapt at what I saw. It was the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. The orange endzones with white lettering, the rich warm sound of the Marching Illini, the sight of two Block I flags being carried by cheerleaders out of the tunnel, Jim Sheppard’s voice booming over the loudspeakers, the sound of 70,000 fans cheering for the team, those classic navy blue uniforms and orange helmets glistening in the sun, the smile on my Dad’s face, I couldn’t help but think “this is where I’m supposed to be.”

From day one, it was my dream to be apart of that gameday experience. I was lucky enough to live my dream from 2009 to 2012, and anytime I set foot in Champaign-Urbana it’s as if I never left. The loyalty, pride, tradition, and excellence I feel when I say “I’m an Illini” is why I am (and will always be) a fan of the Fighting Illini.

Austin Jabs

When I was 14, my dad surprised me with basketball tickets to see Illinois play Minnesota. At the time, I was just a nerdy kid (I still am) that did not have much interest in sports, but thought it would be cool to see a game. The environment was absolutely electric. We were in the C section, The People’s Section, two rows from the top. Illinois went on to win the game, and it was a great opportunity for my dad and I to spend some time together. From that point on, I as hooked. I would look at box scores, I did my first March Madness bracket (Illinois didn’t win the National Title that year as I foolishly predicted), and I didn’t miss another televised game the rest of the season. From that point on, I’ve had some low years, and I have had some tremendously high years, but one thing remains: no matter how rough some seasons may be, I will forever be an Illini fan.

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