It has been reported today that the War Chant is no longer approved for use at Illinois Fighting Illini athletics events.
As a frustrated football fan, I say good riddance for a number of reasons. From a tactical standpoint, up-tempo offenses are so widespread in college football now that I’ve experienced numerous Illini home games where the defense will get a stop on second down, the drums will start, and the visiting offense will rush to the line in relative silence and snap the ball before the band can even come in with the War Chant. Scripted play sequences and no-huddle offenses have made the War Chant a relic that actually makes less noise happen on third down than on second down.
The proliferation of hurry-up offense in the first quarter isn’t the only thing that makes the War Chant anachronistic, however. Sure, it may consist solely of drums, horns and clapping, but let’s all be honest with ourselves: this was based on cartoon stereotypes of Native American music. I know I’m not the only one who’s heard it referred to as “the Indian song.”
From my understanding, the War Chant dates back to the basketball band developing a little theme song in the 1980’s that caught on as a thing to play during timeouts and introductions. Given how easily it is compared to the Florida State “War Chant,” I am surprised it’s taken as long as it’s taken to phase it out.
It was somewhat unique, mildly cool and mildly offensive, if you thought about it, and not a very effective crowd-noise generator.
But it’s over now, and if the War Chant so defined your game day experience that you’re never going back, then you’re not really much of a sports fan. I’d have the Marching Illini play nothing but Skrillex if it meant the football team would win eight games for three years in a row. It’s not too different from the mascot debate; people will get excited and connect with the team when they inspire confidence that they can win.
If Illinois were to bring back Chief Illiniwek just as he was circa 2006, return the Chief logo, put the Chief logo on our helmets and have Butkus-era throwback jerseys, UI could sell out a home football game, if the University promoted it right. But if we lose that home game 42-3, guess what: we’ll be right back at 40,000 attendance again in a couple weeks.
My best Illini memories were from times when the crowd was full and excited about the Fighting Illini. That’s the atmosphere I want to have at Memorial Stadium and the State Farm Center, and the only way to get that back is to inspire confidence that the teams can win. If you threatened to cancel your season tickets over the removal of the War Chant, but didn’t do the same over the Bill Cubit being named head coach in November 2015, then you have no idea what’s going on with Illinois football and are probably not a season ticket holder.
Let’s hope whatever the band — or Memorial Stadium video board — plays on third down can’t even be heard over screaming Illini fans.