Sure, Northwestern is geographically closer to the city of Chicago than Champaign, but Northwestern isn't a land-grant university, or public. Plus, Illinois has a satellite campus within the city limits of the Windy City. That means I'll just have to come up with all sorts of private sector and nerd jokes in a few weeks instead.
TIM BECKMAN WAS PROBABLY THERE AND MADE DUMB JOKES: The University of Illinois was one of the founding six members of the Big Ten Conference in 1896. A representative from each school gathered at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago and agreed to form an intercollegiate conference athletic association. Few records remain from that era, so we'll never know if the words "footprint" and "expansion" were uttered in the same breath.
FAMOUS ALUMNI THEY CAN BE PROUD OF: Roger Ebert and Hugh Hefner. One guy got famous for his way with words. The other was Roger Ebert. Incidentally, Ebert published an academic paper as a student titled, "An Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life," in 1967.
EVERYTHING I'VE LEARNED IN LIFE HAS COME FROM JOHN HUGHES FILMS: Director and producer John Hughes preferred the Chicagoland area as the setting for his movies. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Home Alone 1 & 2, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, The Breakfast Club, and non-John Hughes film The Blues Brothers are set around Chicago. The fictional Soul Food Cafe in Blues Brothers was located on Maxwell Street a short drive from the U of I campus.
ILLINOIS HAS WORK TO DO TO ACHIEVE MICHIGAN'S LEVEL OF MOVIE NOTORIETY: A few scant references to U of I occur in some pretty big films. Colonel Henry Blake of M.A.S.H. was an Illinois alumnus, and the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey was developed in an Illinois laboratory. Ron Zook once asked HAL to help him recruit, and HAL short-circuited.
CAMPUS LANDMARK AND/OR WHERE TO GO FOR FOOD AT 2AM: Memorial Stadium is one of the great stadiums of the Big Ten, and on dedication day in 1924, Red Grange scored six touchdowns against Michigan. And that was before Michigan ever thought it'd be a good idea to hire Greg Robinson or play Oregon in football.
Some investigating has revealed Kam's bar to be the dive bar of choice for Illini students. In 2004 they got LCD televisions in time for Illinois' NCAA tourney run!
The center of Illinois' campus also has a statue of a woman dressed in scholarly robes, called The Alma Mater. It has been there since 1929, and has an inscription that reads, "To thy happy children of the future those of the past send greetings." Except if you're Anthony Thomas. He's likely still not welcome in Champaign.
O, CHIEF ILLINIWEK, WHERE ART THOU? Seven years ago, Illinois had a mascot problem. At basketball and football games, a man dressed in traditional Native American clothing danced around, doing general mascot-type things, and generally minding his own business. Then people got upset at a prominent university using Native American symbolism in that way. The University retired the chief at a basketball game that year.
He'll always be in our hearts.