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Editorial: Take a seat on the Illinois football bandwagon

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Editorial: Take a seat on the Illinois football bandwagon

Students wear body paint spelling out Lovie's name cheer during the football game against Murray State.

Students wear body paint spelling out Lovie's name cheer during the football game against Murray State.

Austin Yattoni

Students wear body paint spelling out Lovie's name cheer during the football game against Murray State.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Students wear body paint spelling out Lovie's name cheer during the football game against Murray State.

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

Recent students of the University have witnessed quite possibly the lowest amount of student interest in the football team in the program’s history.

This was never more evident than when Deadspin, the sports media website founded by Illinois and Daily Illini alumnus Will Leitch, ran a short article in November 2013 titled, “The Illinois Student Section Is The Saddest-Est.”

The post includes two pictures of the Block I student section, located in the northern block of seating inside Memorial Stadium. The stands are almost empty — perhaps more barren than in your 8 a.m. Friday discussion section that doesn’t take attendance.

One commenter ended up with an unofficial head count of 132 students in total. In the two years following the post’s publishing, Illinois fired two head coaches and an athletic director — all while students, completely apathetic to the team’s suffering, were day-drinking in bars miles away from Memorial Stadium.

But since the hiring of Josh Whitman and Lovie Smith, the Illinois football program has been on an unending upswing.

The stands at last week’s home opener against FCS opponent Murray State were as full as they’ve been since the beginning of the 2013 season. Illinois won that game 52-3, and the only item in question after the first quarter was the eventual margin of victory.

It was a treat to see students leaving the stadium early not to shield their eyes from horrors, but to celebrate with some hard-earned air conditioning.

Put plainly, the time to hop on the Illinois football bandwagon is now.

If you’re a freshman, you should come for the potential coronation of the most accomplished head coach in Illinois football history. If you’re a senior, then you should come for what will undoubtedly be the loudest opening kickoff you’ve heard since you arrived.

This incoming North Carolina team is favored, but within reach. The game is at night, which gives students plenty of time to adequately, you know, “prepare.” The darkness should also mitigate the sweltering heat of the Champaign summer.

Only 3,000 public tickets remain available at publish time, according to Associate Athletic Director Jason Heggemeyer. There are still student section tickets available but given last week’s attendance, those are likely running thin.

Two Daily Illini social media polls found that 64 percent of students surveyed are planning to attend the game, and an additional 12 percent are considering it.

Memorial Stadium is going to be packed with or without you, so it’s simply up to you whether you want to experience the electric atmosphere in person.

This game will not only be a litmus test for Lovie’s Illini, but a test to see if the student body can come together. A win for the team would be thrilling, but a win for the students could be the only thing sweeter.

Win or lose, the Illini student section should never be described as the “saddest-est” again. Our first challenge starts Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.

Be there.

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