Column: Homecoming may mean more when you return to relive past

By Steve Contorno

I’m still trying to figure out why Homecoming is supposed to be a big deal for me.

Unfortunately, I’m not in a fraternity, so I’ll be tailgating and most likely partying after the game but it won’t be with alumni.

In high school, we’d have Spirit Week for the five straight days leading up to the big Homecoming game where everyone would dress up goofy all week. And then, on the final day, everyone would be decked out in school colors capped off with a big pep rally.

I think Illini Pride might be having a happy hour sometime.

In the hours before our big high school football game, the entire town would come to a parade. The night before the big Illini game there’s a parade the townies attend. I guess there’s nothing for me that makes Homecoming too special.

At least not now.

I look forward to 15 years from graduation when sometime between juggling carpools and a nine-to-five job I’ll glance at the sports section of the Tribune and discover the Illini are playing, and wouldn’t ya know it, it’s Homecoming. I’ll send out an e-mail to a few close buddies from the college days – the ones I still keep in touch with through Christmas cards and the “We should get together” phone calls – and see if they’ll want to ditch a Tee ball game to go see Zook’s undefeated, defending National Champion, No. 1 Fighting Illini in action.

“It’s Homecoming,” I’ll say. “And I wanna know if you wanna meet up with an old friend and go tear up the Champaign campus like we used to.”

We’ll pack a minivan with beer we were too poor to afford in college and hit the road listening to music our kids make fun of us for. Before the game we’ll grab a drink and a burger at Murphy’s or Legends because we remember how creepy it was to see old dudes at Kam’s or Joe’s. Then we’ll head to Memorial Stadium, argue over what year the students got screwed over and moved to the north end zone, and watch the game.

For those hours, from kickoff to the final whistle, we’ll be college kids again. It’ll be our town and the real world will be too big and far away.

But then the game will be over. Maybe we’ll grab a few beers before we pass out at the time we would probably head out when we were students here.

We’ll wake up early, head back home and promise to hang out soon. I’ll say, “Hey, come by next week to watch the Bears game.” Maybe we we’ll get together. Maybe we won’t.

But we will always have Homecoming.