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  • James Kim

Memorial Stadium - Illinois Fighting Illini

Photos by Richard Smith, Douglas Wood and Matthew Clegg, Stadium Journey.

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Memorial Stadium 1402 S 1st St Champaign, IL 61820

Year Opened: 1923

Capacity: 60,670

Illinois Football: “Oskee Wow-Wow”

Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois, is home to the Illinois Fighting Illini football team, which competes in the Big Ten conference. Opened on November 3, 1923, Memorial Stadium sits at the south end of campus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and boasts a capacity of 60,670 seats. The stadium has been the home of national championship-winning teams and iconic players such as legendary Illini and Bears players like Dick Butkus and Red Grange.

Food & Beverage 3

When visiting Memorial Stadium, fans can expect a pretty traditional concessions experience. The essentials like hot dogs, sodas, popcorn, and nachos are all covered but are not always the highest quality. I found the food to be dry, especially the chicken tenders, but about what you would expect from stadium food.

The various food vendors will have long lines, as with any major sporting event. The wait times can get particularly bad at halftime, but while the game is ongoing, the lines are much more bearable.

Atmosphere 4

The atmosphere at Memorial Stadium has been fantastic, coinciding with the team’s recent success. The Illini ranked for the first time since 2011, has begun to excite a fanbase that has been more used to witnessing disappointment than it has been to watching success.

Memorial Stadium has a horseshoe design that loops around the field, with the student section placed separately from the rest of the seating at the north endzone. With students coming in droves to watch and support the team, the energy in the stadium is high, and the atmosphere is something special. The majority of the seats at the stadium are a basic bench design that doesn’t come with back support, and you will likely begin feeling the effects by the fourth quarter.

Once the game kicks off, fans can expect to hear the signature ILL-INI chants in full swing. The giant jumbotron provides instant replays, score information, fan cam, and many other fun visuals during the experience, although it’s important to note that it is above the horseshoe seats at the south end of the stadium. It might be annoying to constantly turn around to see the giant screen behind you if you’re sitting in that section.

Besides the game itself, a big draw for a lot of people coming to Memorial Stadium is to see the Marching Illini, one of the premier college bands in the country. The Marching Illini provides pregame and halftime entertainment and sits in front of the student section during the game.

Expect to hear the signature ‘Oskee Wow Wow’ fight song played as well as a wide variety of songs in popular culture. You could go from hearing the alma mater ‘Hail to the Orange’ played to the famous ‘Imperial March from Star Wars. Even if things aren’t going so well on the field, the Marching Illini add a lot of extra enjoyment to the game day experience at Illinois.

Neighborhood 4

Memorial Stadium is on campus, and the town is only a short drive away. While walking from the stadium into campus takes a little longer, it can be very well worth it due in large part to the scenery, especially if you visit in the fall. Taking a stroll through the main quad and passing by the statue of Alma Mater can top off a great day of Illini football (or calm the emotions in the case of a defeat).

Green Street is a popular area that boasts a plethora of different places to eat and have a good time. There are many popular bars: Legends, Murphy’s Pub, and Joe’s Brewery, as well as KAMS and Red Lion, that are especially popular amongst the student population. There are a variety of choices, from sit-down restaurants to fast-food joints.

Whether you’re in the mood for Chipotle or want to try some top-quality sushi at Sakanaya, the overall quality of food options nearby is high, and there will likely be something for you along Green Street.

In terms of lodging, you have the typical hotels, such as Best Western or Hilton Garden Inn, that are nearby. If you’re looking to stay at an iconic location on campus, the Illini Union is a superb option. Located on the north end of the main quad, the Illini Union offers rooms and has numerous restaurants, shops, and entertainment located throughout the building. A personal favorite spot of mine in the Union would have to be the Illini-themed bowling alley.

Fans 4

Illinois football has been on a tear in 2022, and the Illini fan base has rewarded the teams’ improvement by filling the seats of Memorial Stadium. While the football team doesn’t sell out games like the men’s basketball team at Illinois, the attendance numbers have still been growing.

The Illini haven’t been able to fill all 60,000 seats so far, and it takes a lot to convince a fan base that they are the real deal. However, the stadium has been about 75 percent full as of late. Depending on the opponent, the atmosphere around Memorial Stadium can vary depending on the energy of the crowd; against a fierce Big Ten rival like Iowa, the atmosphere is hostile.

As mentioned previously, expect to hear the ILL-INI chants throughout the night. The student section, in particular, is always engaged and extremely loud, maintaining the high energy felt around the stadium when the teams take the field. The fans are passionate, and while the frustration can be felt when things aren’t going to plan, the place goes berserk after when things go right.

Access 4

The process of visiting Memorial Stadium is a smooth and straightforward experience. The inside of the stadium is not confusing to navigate, and for public transportation, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District serves as the primary bus service that takes fans to the stadium. While the buses are free to students and staff of the university, there is a $1 bus fee for everyone else.

Parking fees typically range from $10-20 at Memorial Stadium. There are six lots that fans can go to for parking, and there are a limited number of handicapped spots (available on a first-come, first-served basis).

Return on Investment 4

When the team is good, and the excitement around the program is as high as it is in 2022, fans can expect a high return on their investment when visiting Memorial Stadium. While still a long way from ever being known as one of the best college atmospheres in the country, Illinois football brings an exciting gameday experience that won’t disappoint.

However, while the lowest-priced tickets may seem appealing at around $30 each, you must be sitting in the horseshoe at the south end of the stadium. The view isn’t as great in the horseshoe, you’ll be sitting pretty far away from the actual field, and the large jumbotron will be behind you.

With parking and public transportation priced lower, it all comes down to how the team is playing. Illinois’ football program has been known to struggle in recent years, but during the special seasons like 2022, seeing the team at its best is truly something special.

Extras 3

The first two bonus points are Dick Butkus and Red Grange-related. Make sure to glance up at the west side of the stadium to see the names of these two legendary players. Their numbers (50 and 77 respectively) are displayed above the press boxes. Butkus and Grange’s names loom far above anything else at Memorial Stadium as a constant reminder of the prestigious football history that exists at Illinois. Below, you can also find the years of the Illini’s national championship triumphs and their Big Ten championships proudly displayed.

The second bonus point goes to the statues outside the stadium. If you’ve ever wanted to pose with Butkus or Grange, you can do so next to their larger-than-life statues. The Butkus statue is just outside the Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center (slightly northeast of Memorial Stadium) and outside the entrance along Fourth Street. Grange’s statue is located outside the stadium on the west side, within Grange Grove. Grange Grove is the primary tailgate spot before Illini games and is a great place to hang out before kickoff.

The third and final bonus point goes to the giant ‘Memorial Stadium: Home of the Fighting Illini’ sign that’s outside the stadium’s south end. It can’t be missed and is another fantastic photo spot where fans can go to capture their trip to Champaign in full Fighting Illini style. While standing by it, you can also look at State Farm Center, the arena where Illinois basketball plays its home games.

Final Thoughts

Memorial Stadium may not be the biggest in college football, but its rich history and strong culture make it a worthwhile visit. The fan base at Illinois is growing, and when the team is doing well, the atmosphere is something you can’t miss.

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