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Why I’m An Illini Fan: Brandon Birkhead

Sorry, no pictures of the writer as a youth today. This writer doesn’t do photos.

Illinois v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Unlike most of the Illinois faithful of my age, 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.

*Also it should be noted that I’m not much of a college basketball fan still and wouldn’t watch it if Illinois didn’t play in it. Honestly, college basketball just ain’t that good and you’re lying if you don’t admit it. Go watch another series of pointless ball screens for 25 seconds if you disagree.

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 No. 1 Ohio State on the road on their way to a Rose Bowl birth, and ended with a two-loss National Champion. Hell, 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-fledged 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 — in-state tuition y’all. 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.