Thursday, February 22, 2007


Last night I left a business entertainment function early to find a spot to watch The Last Dance. I was accompanied by coworkers from around the Midwest. We went to a quiet sports bar here in Big XII country. And I watched a painful first half of basketball.

Then ESPNU skipped most of their standard halftime show to let us see it. The Last Dance. As the Chief stood at the entrance of the floor, you could see grief on the normally stoic face. I choked up. As he ran out onto the floor, I sang the 3-in-1 to myself, mesmorized by the familiar, passionate dance of Chief Illiniwek. I saluted the Chief with the crowd, even while trying to explain what this meant to my coworkers. And tears came to my eyes. Then, as he was leaving the floor, the Chief did something I had never seen before -- he turned around and returned to the center of Assembly Hall for a final salute. And I cried.

Those around me were generally sympathetic and understanding of the significance of the event. I was relieved to see a stronger second half performance by the team -- even though Rich shot way to deep for my taste a few times, I thank Rich, Warren and Marcus for playing hard and helping us pull away to win on their Senior Day and, most significantly, The Last Dance. This was a game that would have been crushing to lose, along with our symbol.

Grieving is a part of life, and I have given myself permission to mourn the end of this era at the University of Illinois. I love my alma mater, but I hurt today. As I sit at the airport and watch the talking heads on ESPN saying it was time for this tradition to go, I get angry. As I write this, I find myself tearing up again.

Eventually I will move on to acceptance, but I won't forget. I won't forget the excitement of watching the Chief for the first time with my family at an Illini football game in junior high. I won't forget sharing the tradition with my baby sister, who was not quite 2 at her first Illini football game. I won't forget the pride I felt knowing some of the founders of Save the Chief, or the excitement of visiting a former Chief's home. And I won't forget that the Chief is part of my pride in being a member of the Illini Nation.

May Chief Illini live on in the heart of the Illini Nation, if not on the fields and courts of the University of Illinois.


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