It is believed that Illini football invented the homecoming tradition in college athletics. Other schools make similar claims, but the University of Illinois has as much of a claim as any, and this is a Chicago based website run by a University of Illinois alum (did the colors give it away? The Chicago Bears actually got their colors from UI, and my high school also was orange and blue too). In addition to its traditional on-campus homecoming Oct. 26 vs. Michigan State, Illini football will host a “Chicago Homecoming” this fall for the thousands of UI alumni in Chicago when the Fighting Illini face the Washington Huskies at Soldier Field on Sept. 14.
The only other time the Illini played at Solider Field it was also versus a team from Washington State. They lost a very low scoring contest to Ryan Leaf and the Washington State Cougars in 1994. The last time the Illini played in Chicago, they defeated Northwestern 48-27 at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It was the famous “both teams going the same direction” and Mikel Leshoure rushing record game.
As part of the Chicago Homecoming festivities, there will be tailgating and a special Chicago-style Street Fest area located just outside Soldier Field for fans and alumni to take in the home of the Chicago Bears. As the Illini borrow the Bears home for a day, remember the Bears borrowed the Illini home, Memorial Stadium for 2002 while Soldier Field was being renovated.
The Illini and the Bears are more inter-twined than just the colors.
“We show them (recruits) a DVD of Red Grange,” Illini head coach Tim Beckman said.
“The importance of what Red Grange meant to not just the University of Illinois, but also the Chicago Bears had to the success of both professional and college football.”
“The Illini football game at Soldier Field in September will be an outstanding opportunity for our fans and alumni to experience a game at one of the nation’s iconic football venues,” Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said. “We’ll bring as much tradition and Illini game-day atmosphere as possible to the Windy City as we celebrate a Chicago Homecoming. I have no doubt this will be a very memorable day for fans of all ages.”
The Illini are hoping to play in Chicago at Soldier Field in possibly alternating years; years they don’t play at Northwestern. This will be a huge boost for recruiting. Not only because it will increase visibility in the Chicago area, but it also gives future Illini players a chance to play in an NFL venue.
“Everybody knows the opportunity to play on Sundays in the NFL is very very small,” Illini coach Tim Beckman said. “But to say that you had the opportunity to play in an NFL stadium as a college athlete is not something everybody gets to do.”
I’ll have more on this when I publish my exclusive with Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas in the next couple days.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of visitors. He’s an author who also contributes regularly to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker