Attend any Illini game live, or tune in on TV, and you’ll see him everywhere. On shirts, hats, and pretty much any other orange-and-blue-clad paraphernalia you can think of, you’ll see him.
Chief Illiniwek may be gone, but he has definitely not been forgotten. Six years since the University of Illinois was forced to retire the symbol or face an NCAA postseason ban, just about the only place you won’t see him is on the court. Or the football field.
You’ll also see him featured prominently in the student cheering section (a.k.a. the Orange Krush). Even though many of these kids weren’t even in high school at the time of his exile, Chief Illiniwek remains steadfastly popular among the overwhelming majority of students at the U of I.
However, another registered student organization, known as the Campus Spirit Revival, recently asked students to come up with a new symbol, and 46 submissions were received. An open vote among students ended February 1, and the top five reportedly will be presented to university officials for consideration.
My guess is this consideration will last all of ten seconds. Campus Spirit Revival posted the submissions on Facebook for the rest of us to see. A few of them are tolerable. Most are downright laughable. Submitted for your perusal are some of the most interesting (read: absurd) examples:
Entries like these make you wonder if this was a serious contest or a cry for help for a larger grant for the art department.
From left to right we have Rabid the Squirrel, followed by Colonel Kernel, Trouble the Tractor, and Mr. Twister. Although they would make for an outstanding 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup, we’re not so sure about their viability as a symbol of a flagship state university.
Our favorite among these nightmarish monstrosities is the good Colonel because, well, after all there is a lot of corn in Illinois. Here’s another that’s at least somewhat representative:
This entry best embodies how I feel after driving three hours and paying money to watch the Illini football team. It could also double as a symbol for the state’s budget negotiations. Therefore, it has promise, unlike this guy:
Yeah sure, we’re the Illinois Fighting Panthers…or Leopards, whatever man. Some sort of jungle cat. Just pass me the bong. I know, how about the Tigers! Nobody’s using that one are they? Wildcats?
Then there’s the inexplicable obsession with some sort of mythical squid beast known as The Kraken.
One of the reasons the creator lists for using the Kraken is that “this beast sends shivers down the spines of even the toughest of sailors.”
Tougher than sailors, eh? Sounds good enough for me.
Then there’s the obvious attempt to cash in on the recent Abraham Lincoln craze. Daniel Day-Lewis eat your heart out.
As much as I like the idea of portraying Lincoln as a maniacal, ax-wielding maître d’, I think we can do better, Illinois.
Surprisingly, this is one of the frontrunners. Say hello to “Chef Illini”. Not to be confused with Chef Goldblum.
All together now: Bwahahaha. Even if it wasn’t a galactically stupid idea, I’m not sure how an orange, pissed-off sushi chef is any more culturally sensitive than Illiniwek.
Speaking of symbols based on terrible puns, meet the Fire Chief.
Question: Why no face? Is he a ghost? Some sort of alien being? Is this to prevent anyone from possibly inferring any sort of ethnic background? Other advantages listed by the creator include the possibility of a Dalmatian sidekick. He could also put out fires, presumably at halftime or during timeouts.
Sure, let’s set fires inside Assembly Hall, what could possibly go wrong there?
Of course, one has to keep in mind that these submissions are from students. They’re just kids. If we opened up the field to a more mature audience, such as alumni, surely we’d get only serious entries right? Wrong.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the future in fan entertainment enforcement, Farmbot.
The few submissions that weren’t a total disaster were an homage to an offshoot of the term Fighting Illini, as it was sometimes applied to soldiers from the state during World War I. The football home of the Illini, Memorial Stadium, is also named for these veterans.
Not to just sit on the sidelines and criticize, I have my own idea for a new symbol, which I’d like to present for consideration at this time.
That’s right, how about we just stick with nothing. Personally, I don’t want a symbol, or mascot, or whatever, that high-fives cheerleaders, dunks off trampolines, noogies toddlers, or – as cool as it may seem in theory – sets and extinguishes fires. After Chief Illiniwek, the “normal” mascot thing just seems cheap and gimmicky.
At least the NCAA can only force Illinois to remove its symbol, not adopt a moronic new one. At least for now.