CHAMPAIGN – The last time you could find something like this at Memorial Stadium came nearly two decades ago, when a team adopted Champaign as home for one season.
That was October 7, 2002, when the Chicago Bears welcomed “Monday Night Football” to the campus of the University of Illinois.
While Soldier Field was being remodeled, the Bears played their home games at Memorial Stadium, which included a Monday night game with the Packers. Brett Favre enjoyed another strong game against the division rivals as the Bears lost 34-21 in what would be a part of an eight-game losing streak for a team that would finish 4-12.
Fast forward to Monday night, where Illinois decided to finish up their spring workouts in style under the light at Memorial Stadium. What made this version of “Monday Night Football” special, however, was the fact that spectators were allowed to be there.
For the first time since their season finale in November of 2019, a limited amount of fans were allowed to watch the Illini during the spring game. During their 2020 season, no spectators were permitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Bret Bielema at the helm, the offense-heavy spring contest went to the “Orange” team who defeated the “Blue” team 65-15. The contest included a few memorable highlights, including a one-handed touchdown catch by tight end Luke Ford.
Illinois men’s basketball also had their 2021 Big Ten Tournament championship banner reveal during the contest, including a few speeches from the team as well.
In a fun moment in the second half, the Illini designed a play for Big Ten Network sideline reporter Elise Menaker, and she converted it with a touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Barker.
Now Illinois looks ahead to the start of the Bielema era on August 28th against Nebraska in Champaign, with the coach getting what he needed out of his unique scrimmage on Monday.
“I wrote some things before the game that I’d like to see today and take care of the football and make good decisions,” said Bielema. “Have good balls security, really wanted to see how we caught it in these windy conditions. Defensively I wanted to see how we tackled and we had some opportunities to see that.”
For the first time in a while, some fans got to see them do that.