Thursday, October 30, 2008
This evening, when I was innocently procrastinating vacuuming the condo, I noticed that a documentary on the University of Illinois' Memorial Stadium would be airing later. I am a proud alumni of the University, so of course I tuned in...and it was FASCINATING. Seriously.

Did you know that...

- every single brick used to make the stadium came from nearby Danville

- the stadium was designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche who built just about every building that is visually associated with Chicago, and was at one time partnered by John Wellborn Root who was one of the the master architects of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition

- each of the 200 Doric columns built into the stadium bears the name of an UIUC alum who perished while fighting for the United States? (along with one Michigan alum and one University of Chicago alum - both done out of sportsmanship)

- On September 22, 1985, Memorial Stadium hosted the VERY FIRST Farm Aid concert? The show featured the likes of Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Jimmy Buffett, the Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Huey Lewis, and the list (quite literally) goes on...

- there have only been two football jerseys retired in the 100+ year history of UIUC Football - the first (#77) to Harold "Red" Grange, and the second (#50) to Dick Butkus - Grange would go on to be one of George Halas' first NFL recruits, and Butkus is one of the top 5 players (arguably) in NFL history

- Memorial Stadium was the site of the first live sports broadcast in American history

I could go on, but that would be boring to most of you, no?

I vividly remember one night during my junior year of college...early in the football season, and it was just turning chilly out. We (the dance team) were practicing on the field (a rare opportunity) and lost track of time. I guess the evening maintenance dude must have assumed we'd left, because in the middle of a high kick drill, all the lights went out. And by "all," I mean ALL OF THE DAMN LIGHTS EVEN THE EXIT LIGHTS OMFG WE'RE LOCKED INTO A PITCH BLACK 85,000 CAPACITY STADIUM WITH NO ROOF. HOLY SHIT, WHAT WAS THAT?! DID YOU JUST BRUSH MY ARM? GAHHHH WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE IMMEDIATELY. Let's just say that I didn't think a flashlight was a necessary addition to my practice bag. Eventually, we made our way out through an utility tunnel that led to a very tall chainlink fence that we scaled McGyver style.

But I digress. What I'm trying to say is that I feel an intrinsic connection to the stadium - it only takes an instant to close my eyes, and I can hear the full house and see all those arms waving back and forth, feel the cold and ridged bleachers, smell the turf and stinky players sweating into their polyester jerseys. I loved every minute of those games - I can recite the order in which the concession stands are placed in the first floor concourse, the tacky blue plywood and cracked concrete floors.

Whatever you feel for your own alma mater, I'm sure it's similar to what I'm lamely attempting to describe. I just found it so amazing to hear that the place I loved for some weird reasons is historically significant for so many other reasons. This film is a "must-watch" for any football fan and/or Illinois fan. For more information on this amazing structure (nerdy as it might be), click here.