Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sadness amidst celebration

My wife (Oskee Mom-Mom) celebrated her 30th birthday last night, which meant I took her and my daughter out for dinner, we sang Happy Birthday, she blew out candles, we ate cake, opened presents, and did everything else that goes into celebrating a birthday. Overall, it was a fun evening, but I couldn't help but feel a sense of sadness at the end of it.

Thanks to ESPN, we couldn't watch the Illinois-Michigan game last night. They decided to broadcast it on ESPNU and, for some reason ($$$), were not willing to open it up to any other stations for broadcast in Champaign or the Chicago area. Thus, we listened to the game on the radio in the car and then at home.

We were home in time for halftime and I want to thank WIND-560 in Chicago for broadcasting the entire final dance of the Chief. My wife and I are both Illinois alums and so we stood as the band played the 3 in 1 and the Chief performed. We did the motions as we remembered them from our time in Champaign-Urbana. My daughter, the Illinette, tried to do the motions too and then swayed with us as we sang Hail to the Orange.

What saddened me immensely is that as we listened to the crowd roar for the Chief, I realized that my daughter will never have the chance to see the Chief perform in person. While I don't know if she will one day choose to become an Illini (although a dad can hope), I do know that I had plans to take her to football and basketball games once she was older (She did make it to part of a Homecoming game as an infant but won't remember that). I had looked forward to teaching her about Illinois traditions and the Chief and having a chance to share the halftime performance with her. That won't happen now. Yes, we will probably still go to the games but it won't be the same.

The Chief danced his last dance last night. His opponents will celebrate. His supporters will mourn. The arguments from both sides have been made over and over again and I have no intention of rehashing them here.

Let me close by saying the following. Whether as a student, as an alumn, or as a supporter of the University of Illinois, I have always been proud to call myself an Illini. To me Chief Illiniwek was not a mascot. He was a symbol. He was not a symbol of bigotry, hate, abusiveness, or hostility as some would argue.

He was a symbol who stood for bravery, courage and strength. A symbol who was respected, honored, and revered. If you don't believe that, then you have never been to an Illinois game and seen how he was treated by the crowd. It was demonstrated again last night, not only during his peformance, but also when he walked off the court.

Instead of going on down the tunnel and leaving as he always does, he instead turned around and came back to center court where he proceeded to face all corners of the arena one last time before departing for the final time. The roar of the arena was deafening and the thousands of flash bulbs going off from the cameras were blinding. Those in attendance were showing their thanks and appreciation to the Chief for what he has, does, and will always stand for whether it be in-person or now in spirit.

My wife and I wish we could have been there to see him one final time. I wish my daughter would have had the chance to see him. Last night amidst a big birthday celebration, the fun was tempered by sadness. Thank you for the memories Chief Illiniwek and may your spirit live on in each of us.

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