Through the Trifocals

Illinois football games are a spectacle to behold for much more than just football. There are too many performers and others competing for attention to observe them all. Illinisports believes they should combine forces to inspire the fandom and players on to victory and offers suggestions in this column.

I received a unique gift prior to the UCLA game. I walked into Memorial Stadium 45 minutes early and proceeded to a restroom on the main level. I happened to be the only one there at the time five Marching Illini Sousaphone players entered the facility. So while I stood at the urinal, I was serenaded with "Ghost Riders In The Sky."

What a thrill! I love the deep bass sound, and that particular song is ideal for it. The Sousaphone players love playing songs in small enclosed places because their deep, resonant tones reverberate loudly while bouncing off the walls. I doubt they played to serenade me but to enjoy their own sound. For those lucky enough to have heard this, the Sousaphone players also enjoy standing in the stairwells at the North and South ends of Memorial Stadium and allow the echos to enhance their brilliant tones.

There are so many talented groups and individuals who perform as part of the pageantry that is college football. There is more than any one person can absorb or even notice. It is like going to a circus and trying to watch several rings of performers simultaneously. It is simply impossible to watch and hear everything. And that is in addition to a game between two major college football teams. The game becomes an afterthought for some people, even when the Illini are winning.

Associated with the Marching Illini band are the Illininetts, Flag Corps, Chief Illiniwek, and Mandy the semi-permanent baton twirler. They work together and independently to provide significant entertainment to the gathered throng. But they are also joined by the cheerleaders, with their acrobatics and feats of pyramid-building. And our new scoreboard shows instant replays, messages running concurrently beneath the main screen, periodic music, and announcements apart from the main announcer.

The Block I has been rejuvenated somewhat this year by associating it with Illini Pride, and they help provide spirit for the Illini Walk and other weekly and game day activities to inspire the team while also continuing their long-held tradition of halftime card shows. Their halftime performance pales by comparison with their predecessors from 30-40 years ago. In fact, it appears to be about half of its past length, and the same pictures are repeated in subsequent games. But they try.

I suppose it is impossible to expect students distracted by cellphones, ear phones, and other forms of modern technology to raise the correct cards at the correct time. And I know they would be more concerned about their appearance if only there was a second Block I in the West balcony as used to be the case. That way, they could question why they are holding up a card color that is not part of the picture. Still, they are another fun diversion for the fans besides being the loudest cheering section.

But I have become more aware this year than ever before that we are not taking full advantage of all these talented and enthusiastic people. Part of the problem has been the placing of the Marching Illini high up in the South end zone where their sound tends to dissipate in the open air more than when they were a part of the main stands or even in temporary bleachers close to the field. People in the far reaches of the Stadium can barely hear the band play, minimizing their impact on the game. After all, any attempt to rouse the fans to support the team through appropriate music falls literally on deaf ears if the sound doesn't reach the fans.

When I look around the Stadium, I see many true Illini fans who want to support the team but find it difficult to do so on their own. As a result, they tend to sit on their hands and watch rather than feeling part of the action. They may yell louder for important plays, and they are certainly boistrous with a big Illini effort. But they are being underutilized, in my opinion. Comparing it with basketball games, if 16,000 fans can cheer in unison at the Assembly Hall, 50,000 can cheer in unison at Memorial Stadium. If only there was some way to encourage them.

Football fans in the South are true fanatics. I wasn't at the 2002 Sugar Bowl, but I understand that LSU fans were choreographed to function as one loud organism throughout our game with them. There was something specific for the fans to do on each occasion that warranted it. Illini fans were impressed by the LSU effort. I believe the same thing can be accomplished at Illinois.

Granted, there are many super athletes in the South, and many Southern fans are accustomed to winning or at least seeing outstanding football. But I believe there are a couple basic reasons for their fanaticism that we could exploit at Illinois as well.

One, they want to protect their home turf. They don't take kindly to any foreign team coming in and beating them. Regardless of the quality of their own teams, the fans desire to stand as an impenetrable barrier to anyone invading them. To them, a visiting football team is like the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor. A war is inevitable.

And secondly, there are personal vendettas that are exploited to help their teams win. Northern teams are all resented. After all, the South is still fighting the Civil War; Yankees are welcome to spend money but are not accepted or allowed to escape without a major fight. And opposing Southern teams are resented out of general principle. Vengence is sought for past losses and for the recruiting theft of their home grown talent. The need for personal victory over natural enemies is intense, and it guarantees tremendous fan support for their football heroes.

I don't like seeing opposing teams waltz into Memorial Stadium expecting victory. And I especially don't like seeing loyal fans who want to do something to help their team feel powerless simply because they have no one leading them toward that end. Fans can be a major factor in a home team's positive effort and an opposing team's failure. And Illini fans are just as capable of providing this support as anyone. We just need some guidance and leadership.

Why should we fans lay down for the likes of Michigan and Ohio State? They resent anyone challenging them for supremacy in the Big 10 Conference, and they have repeatedly conspired to keep Illinois down. And what about Iowa, Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern and the others? They have stolen our high school talent after lieing to them about us. They have arrogantly acted as if we were inferior to them in our own home. They have worked diligently to keep us down so they could look good by comparison. Why would we ever allow them march their troops into Illinois unimpeded, regardless of the quality of our own team? We as fans must help our teams send all opponents back to the neverlands from which they were spawned. In a sportsmanlike way, of course.

Thus, I propose something like a "Department Of Home Field Security" for our football games. This could be composed of representatives of all the interest groups who perform at home games, but it must be led by one or more people who can unify and choreograph the different groups so their efforts can be directed for specific purposes to help the team win. Rather than have every group doing its own thing, we can encourage preplanned activities to express a unified front.

This cooperation could do a great deal toward helping the fans become more involved. I am certainly not the most creative individual, so my thoughts are just preliminary and minimal. But I definitely would like to see small speakers set up in different areas of the main stands and both balconies. These would not conflict with the main announcer speakers, but they could be used to pipe in Marching Illini music and cheerleader calls to all corners of the Stadium.

Of course, the band would need to prepare music specific for specific occasions. While they enjoy playing fun music during timeouts, and some of this music is designed specifically for the Illinettes or Flag Corps, they could also play 8-16 bars of music known to stimulate fans into specific actions during game action. One musical segment could be used for a defensive stand. One could be used to inspire an offensive thrust. There could even be short musical phrases appropriate for particular players (i.e. quarterback, halfback, etc.), and more sinister sounds could be reserved to arouse the fans' ire toward opposing coaches or teams.

If the Marching Illini cannot be used for this purpose (perhaps additional speakers and amplification is cost-prohibitive), at the least the scoreboard speakers could be used to advantage. Whoever runs the scoreboard has their own agenda, and it does not presently include arousing fans or the team. Why not take advantage of its many functions and not just use the scoreboard for advertising or entertaining children? Choreographing the scoreboard in conjunction with the Marching Illini, cheerleaders, and actual game action could become a repetitive stimulant to encourage mass reactions by the fans.

And speaking of the cheerleaders, few people can actually see them well enough to appreciate their efforts because they are usually limited to one small corner of the Stadium. Other than watching them run the two giant flags up and down the field, they have almost no chance of encouraging cheers. Even their fine acrobatics are wasted on most fans, either because they are too far away or are distracted by competing activities.

Why not have the reserve cheerleaders placed in different areas of the Stadium to help with specific cheers? A simple walkie-talkie system could help the cheerleaders choreograph cheers that could reach the entire stadium. Of course, a loudspeaker system could aid the cheerleaders' efforts, but even megaphones would help. The main thing would be to get everyone on the same page at the same time. Why even have cheerleaders if they can't lead cheers? I bet a lot of fans would participate willingly, if only they had some encouragement and knew they weren't just individual voices in the wilderness.

The Block I may not have the financial support for this, but I would like to see them use a card system to spur on the fans as well. All color cards are numbered, so there could be a few cards that could be kept at each seat throughout the game to use for specific situations, and not just at halftime. Granted, the head of Block I would have to know what the band, scoreboard and cheerleaders are doing, but this could be arranged.

A big blue "D" on the orange background could stimulate Illini defensive efforts. An arrow pointing downward could pop up when protesting an opponent's play. A star could be used for positive effort. Again, other people could be much more creative than this. I think the Illini Pride would take their name to heart and make this idea work, if given the chance. After all, I believe our Block I was the first of its kind, so it should also be the best.

Perhaps some might think this is superfluous and unnecessarily complex for students to accomplish, but it would add further strength to the overall effort. The point is to make everyone involved in the effort to push back the invading hordes from our territory. Can there be a more worthy cause for all Illini at the games?

I know some will say they cannot become fired up with a mediocre football team. But that is not the point. All Illini fans feel powerless after a loss, as if we were personally dominated by our opponent. Why should we begin the game feeling powerless as well? Why not stand up with our team against the opponent? That way, we will at least know we did everything we could to help us win. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the football coaches and players must play the game on the field. But it is the rest of us who can create an emotional energy barrier that can intimidate opponents, making them more vulnerable to our football team.

Illinois has long been known for its football traditions, and it was once an innovator in this effort. But sometimes, long-standing traditions lose focus and become passe if they do not occasionally receive an infusion of new ideas and new energy. Right now, it seems everyone is just going through the motions. We are all doing our thing, but we have no real direction or purpose. We need some new, innovative traditions that can stand the test of time.

In my opinion, we need to combine forces and get the fans into a unified frenzy for every home game. That way, we can enhance our chances of victory, and we can have much fun in the process. Call me an idealist if you will, but anything is possible when we all pull together as Fighting Illini.

Go Illini!
If you would like to e-mail Illinisports, you can do so at

Illini Inquirer Top Stories