Hi, I’m Drew. I’m one of the newer writers here at The Champaign Room. You might have read that headline and thought “So what? Iowa and Illinois aren’t even rivals.” And for most Illini supporters that might be the case — but my case is quite different.
I was born and raised on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, just across the Mississippi River from Iowa. Growing up I experienced quite a bit of crossover; you either supported Illinois because it was the state school, or you supported Iowa because it was geographically the closest major college program to us. Hell, even when I went to college in Indianapolis I ran into quite a few Illini fans, and it really wasn’t that hard to explain. IU fans (IU fans!) even understood and didn’t really make a stink about it.
Fast forward to 2013. After spending a few years in the southeast I made my way back to the midwest. Cedar Rapids, to be specific — black and gold central — roughly 20 minutes from Iowa City. I’d always been sort of indifferent about the Hawkeyes. I obviously never rooted for them but never really disliked them, either. Now I’m smack-dab in the middle of Hawkeye country. About a year after moving to Iowa I met a girl. And, as you might expect, this girl was crazy about the Hawkeyes. Despite this obvious character flaw we hit it off and started spending more and more time together. I met her friends — one of whom literally has the “tiger hawk” logo tattooed on his arm — and started attending Hawkeye watch parties and even tailgating at a few games here and there. The most recent Iowa football game I tailgated at was also the last time Illinois played at Kinnick Stadium (I appreciated the few spirited responses to me chanting “I-L-L” but did not appreciate seeing Mike Epstein get injured and being subjected to Jeff George, Jr. playing QB. Ugh).
Fast forward (again) to last summer. This girl who was crazy about the Hawkeyes was still crazy about me and we got engaged. And — as of the completion of this post — we’re less than one week away from walking down the aisle. It will eternally be a house divided, though she at least chose blue as one our wedding colors. #SmallVictories
At this point, I feel less like I’m in “enemy” territory and more like I’ve just been adopted into a different family. I don’t openly root against Iowa (except when playing Illinois, of course) but I mostly just keep my mouth shut during games (except when playing Illinois, of course).
The fandoms between the two programs are a lot alike, actually. There’s a borderline-irrational passion that flows through both fanbase’s veins. Either the sky is falling or hope springs eternal. Both football teams have coaches that don’t really say anything of much importance, and both men’s basketball teams have coaches that are — I’ll go with “animated” or “fiery” — on the sidelines and that have had mixed results. Hawkeye fans and Illini fans each think their teams should be better than they are, no matter the outcome.
So as I head down the path of being married to an Iowa fan I have to come to terms with a few things:
- At some point, Illini football WILL be back (and I won’t have 63-0 shoved in my face anymore).
- The Hawkeyes will, for some unexplained reason, always shoot 30 more free throws than Illinois.
- The “Kinnick Wave” is pretty damn cool.
- A school that uses “In Heaven There Is No Beer” as one of its fight songs can’t be that bad...right?
- It could always be worse: she could root for Michigan or Ohio State.