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Why I’m An Illini Fan: Austin Jabs

Illini fandom starts at home, even for those that never attend a class at the University of Illinois

Purdue Boilermakers v Illinois Fighting Illini Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Here at The Champaign Room, we have all been discussing why we are all fans. I am one of only two writers for this site that is not a student or alumnus of the University of Illinois. For me, my fandom was not bred through campus pride or civic duty. My fandom was bred at home by a father who wanted nothing more than to see success come to Champaign-Urbana.

When I was a kid, I was a typical nerd. Video games (the Mega Man revival on the Nintendo Switch brings back a million memories), comics, movies. I was never a sports fan. Sure, I was generally aware of sports ball. I knew some basic ideas thanks to a youth basketball league that I am confident I went an abysmal 0-20 from the field in. Too scared to think about football, terrified of getting hit by a baseball, at an early age sports were not something that interested me, other than pro wrestling and the electric Heartbreak Kid.

One day, though, that would change. My dad was watching the Bowl, and his Illini were going up against a good Virginia team. What followed was a thorough beatdown of the ACC. I remember my dad explaining plays to me, teaching me about the game he loved as a young person before two knee injuries shortened his playing career.

What ensued and what was bred from that singular game was a love of Illini sports like nothing else in my life, aside from my wife and daughter. I remember the 2002 Sugar Bowl and what I honestly believed would be one of the greatest comebacks of all time in college football. I remember my first basketball game, a drubbing of Minnesota, two rows from the top of the C section, back when Illinois Basketball tickets were a near impossibility to come by.

I remember the Illinois-Arizona Elite Eight matchup. I still get chills when watching that comeback. I remember the heartbreak that came a week later, my first real heartbreak in life. I remember the Juice Williams game against Ohio State. I also remember the Big Ten droughts in football, the down years in basketball. Still, though, my fandom has never changed. I remember meeting Nathan Scheelhaase and his mom at Gordman’s in Champaign. My wife said I smiled more in that picture than I have in any picture with her.

My wife (left), Nathan Scheelhaase (center), and Me (right) - Probably Assumed

Through the ups and downs, my fandom and faith has never wavered. I believe the undying loyalty to a school I never attended will pay off some day, and some day soon. For now, I will enjoy the ride while instilling the same love and passion I have for Illinois Athletics in my daughter.