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TBT: The underdog Illini stole the show 20 years ago

Was the 1999 Bowl game a coming out party for Kurt Kittner and the Illini?

I remember it like it was yesterday. Well, sort of. This was the first NCAA Football game I watched as a kid. At 14, I didn’t have a huge interest in college football. I did have an interest in the Packers and Brett Favre, who had struck gold a couple years prior.

Coming in to the 1999 Bowl, the Illini were a two-point underdog against the Virginia Cavaliers and the total spread sat at 56.5.

The Illini would lay waste to both those figures by the end of the evening.

With both teams coming in to the match at 7-4, this was expected to be a tight game for two well-balanced teams. The only person on the field that everyone expected to light it up was Thomas Jones, the Cavaliers stud running back. Jones still had a 100+ yard day, but he wasn’t the stud running back on this day.

Rocky Harvey was a man amongst boys. On a mere 10 rushes, Harvey racked up 122 yards and two touchdowns, including an early 47-yarder that was the start of a 35-0 run for the Illini. It wasn’t just Harvey, though. Former Atlanta Falcon and Madden 2002 MVP Kurt Kittner hit the trifecta, scoring through the air, on the ground, and off a reception from my all-time favorite receiver Brandon Lloyd.

Lloyd never really got enough love as a player in my book, from either local or national media. He ranks in the top-five in most statistical categories in Illinois history. Had he not suffered a broken femur in his sophomore season, he likely would have set the records.

With 63 points scored and a 42-point victory, the Illini were, without a doubt, world beaters that day. With 611 yards of total offense, the Illini broke 22 school and MicronPC (now Camping World Bowl) records.

Kittner had this team ready to go from the outset, and this game was just the beginning of some great things for the orange and blue.

Following a paltry 5-6 season, the Illini were able to get to the 2001 Sugar Bowl, where a great LSU team lied in wait. For Illinois, it felt like the beginning of a renewed program. Now, 20 years later, fans pine for a six-win season just so we can see what the postseason is like again. Please, QB1, Coach Lovie, Coach Rod, anyone who may see this, let us taste the sweet, sweet nectar that is a bowl game this season.

Writer’s Note: I had to do some research on who MicronPC was as a company before writing this. General curiosity. Turns out they made cheap computers for the government and schools. Even in 1999 there were far too many bowl games.

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