"I was almost literally crying with excitement watching (Luther) Head and (Deron) Williams bring us back from the brink. As soon as the ball left Williams' hand, my buddy next to me said "GOOD!" We were behind the basket on the Illinois side — GREAT view. ... Only minutes before I had been sitting (head in hands) as it looked like the game was getting out of reach. I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach (luckily, the Illini didn't). ... My buddy (an avowed Wisconsin fan) taps me on the shoulder and says, 'You really need to stand up and start watching again!' Best. Advice. Ever."
"I was at that 2005 Illini game, along with my husband, parents and our two kids (11 & 5 at the time). All of us (but the kids) are Illinois grads.
"At the time of that game, my husband was working for Oklahoma State. We flew to the regional because we could see both Okie State and Illinois in one shot. We arrived at the game in Okie State clothing and a change of shirts for each of us. We cheered for Okie State the first game then quick ran into the restroom to change into our Illini duds. The people around us were like, 'what's going on'
"Deron took that shot from the opposite end that we were sitting at. We had been pretty quiet just before the shot, so frustrated. But then when the pass came in and I was assuming they'd take it down and pass around until the clock ended so I almost couldn't even process that it was US that had shot the ball! And when I've rewatched it over the years, I still don't know how Dee (Brown) knew Deron was there to pass it to.
"Our son (11 at the time) wore this HUGE foam orange cowboy hat to the game. He met Dee Brown before the game and after the game actor Bill Murray came up to our son and asked if he could wear that hat! It was a night we will never forget. Our son and I were fortunate enough to be able to attend the Final Four games as well that year."
"I was at the game in 2005 and I was a senior at Illinois that year. I grew up in Urbana so I remember the 1989 team even though I was 5 years old. I remember with four minutes to go I was looking around and people were in disbelief about what was going on. I looked at the Arizona band and saw them passing out Final Four T-shirts, as soon as I saw that I'm like, 'Oh, my God, this is over' but it can't end like this. As we know the story, Illinois cut it to three and with every shot the crowd seemed to believe we could do it. So there we are with 45 seconds left down by three and I'm thinking to myself 'OK, play defense for 35 seconds, get the ball back and let's have a shot to send this to overtime.' I saw Jack Ingram (in my class that year) tip it in the air and I thought it's going to be a foul but no whistle. Luther (Head) came up with it and passed it to Dee right away so I'm thinking they will back out to run some offense to get a good shot. Well, he slinged it over to Deron and my eyes lit up when I saw Jack Ingram coming over to set a screen because I knew Deron (also in my class) would have a open look and he drained it. My feeling as soon as it went in was this is unbelieveable as I was screaming, high fiving and jumping up and down while looking up toward the ceiling thanking God because it was Easter Saturday night and I had missed Mass for this game (went to Mass the next morning with the biggest smile ever). I had a smile for a week and I still have the ticket at home."
"My wife and I were at 'THE' game, sitting in about the seventh row behind the basket that Illinois was going toward on offense the second half. This gave us a great view, especially because the basket was essentially at our eye level.
"We had two Arizona fans next to us ... a DePaul alumnus had those tickets for the Wisconsin-Milwaukee game the day before but told me he intended to sell the Elite Eight game tickets — which he did, but I didn't think he would sell them to Arizona fans!
"Anyway, I was very dejected, of course, at the 10-minute mark of the second half and things only got worse as the minutes ticked by. My wife can tell you that I even refused to look up at the five-minute mark. All the while the Arizona fans next to us were getting very rowdy and obnoxious, since they were otherwise surrounded by UI fans.
"What I remember most in the comeback is the look on the faces of Deron (in particular), Luther and Dee. The determination (and even anger — who dares to try to beat us?) was something I've rarely seen. This can be seen in the DVD I subsequently bought (TV broadcast) and I've replayed that at least yearly for my own emotional lift, considering the state of Illini sports lately,
"Although I don't live in Illinois now, I was raised in C-U since I was 1 year old; my parents were both UI professors, and I did not leave C-U until I graduated from UI. I do bleed orange and blue (diehard Cardinals
baseball fan also by the way) and the last few years of Illini sports have been hard to swallow.
"I wish that Weber could instill, and that the players could instill in themselves, that 'look' — that 'growl' that Deron had after the tying shot. He had it even more after the first three in OT.
"The noise level at the tying shot was deafening and the scene was almost a little nauseating — everyone in orange jumping up and down and the Rosemont Horizon actually shaking. (I looked to my side after the final buzzer to say something to the Arizona fans but they were long gone.) Several 747's could have overflown and nobody would have noticed ... it was ectasy for die-hard Illini fans —- and yes, I cried as Weber did.
"Because I had just a single ticket I ended up setting by myself, surrounded by people I didn't know when I got there but they were like lifelong Illini friends after the game. Admittedly, we were beginning to feel the game was probably lost right before the famous rally began. When Deron hit the shot the place was crazy. Everyone in my section was jumping up and down, hugging and screaming even though most of us didn't know each other. At that point we were an Illini family and celebrating together. We were in the game and knew we had a chance. I actually snuck a camera into the game and before the end of the game I had traded emails with some young alumni that worked at Motorola and shared some photos with them afterwards. I remember how we felt after the win. We didn't want to leave the stadium. We knew we had seen one of the greatest moments in Illini sports history. Everyone stayed to watch the team and coaches cut down the nets. After the game I got calls from my nephew who had been watching at home in northwestern Illinois with friends. He told me they were all sitting on the sofa arm in arm just like the players on the bench and yelling for every point. It was Easter weekend and I left Chicago to drive to my parents near Morrison, Ill., after the game. It it about a three-hour drive to the western edge of the state. When I got home my parents were still up and too excited to go to sleep. I remember them telling me they had taped the game and had already watched the end several times to be sure we actually had won. It is one of my all-time favorite Illini memories.
"I attended the 'greatest game in the history of the NCAA' by buying a ticket in the parking lot of Shoeless Joe's in Rosemont. The best $300 I ever spent! The game was electric with more crowd noise than I can remember at any other game I have ever attended. I think the crowd almost willed the team to victory in the final four minutes! I had exchanged seats with the guy sitting next to me to change the karma. He was a stranger, but we became fast friends. When Deron made that three-pointer to tie the game we jumped up and down holding each other by the arms, doing a little dance by our seats. I have never done that before or since. Then we had to endure the final part of the game hoping the Illini could hold on! They did, and the place erupted! We did not want to leave the arena, but eventually did, returning to Shoeless Joe's for some celebratory beverages. It was a night that will never be forgotten in Illini basketball lore. It continues to bring comfort from the disappointment of the title game. This was the second time, in my opinion, when we had the best, and most fun, team to watch in the country."
"My wife (Angie) and I were at the Illinois-Arizona game in '05. I was finishing grad school and dipped into our meager savings to make the game. My first memories of the Illini came during the '89 season (I was 7) and then my last year on campus was '05 — a dream season. The Arizona game and then subsequent Final Four games were without a doubt the best sporting events I've ever experienced in person.
"At the timeout near the four-minute mark when we were down 15, the guys behind us said 'It isn't a question if we are going to lose, but by how much.' Angie looked at me and said, 'Do we have a chance?' I motioned back making a very small gap between my thumb and index finger — although I'm not sure about how much I really believed it.
"Like many others who were there and have probably responded I was pretty distraught with 4 minutes to play and down by 15 points. I was really upset thinking about what kind of articles I was going to see in the papers the next day by the likes of Jay Mariotti and others taking down the Illini as choke artists etc. I don't know that any of us will ever see a team like that one. When I say team, I mean a group of selfless players that were all about the team and not individual glory. Back to the game — when Deron hit that three, the noise was deafening. We were pretty close to the Arizona fan section and they all had that deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces. I'm not sure if there are enough adjectives to describe being at that game. All I know is that after the victory, I couldn't find enough people to hug. What a game."
"My wife and I were at the game sitting about halfway up in the end zone seats behind the basket that Deron made the shot. I can honestly say I had not given up on the game even when we were down 15. It was after a timeout and I remember telling my wife we have to make a run now or it's over. ... The crowd was incredibly loud and it was the most amazing thing I had witnessed in illini basketball. I have attended 90 percent of the home games since the fall of 1976.
"I normally would not spend that much for a ticket for a game from a scalper, but the week before I got lucky at the casino and won some money so thought why not. Thank you Harrahs!
"I was sitting seven rows up in section A32 when Eddie Johnson hit the game winner against Michigan State, too. It was the only game that my dad ever went to at Illinois when I was a student. That was lots of fun, too."
"Went to game with husband Bill Erickson, whose dad, Bill Erickson, was honored as one of the top 30 players in Illinois history. I was sitting seven rows behind the Arizona bench. Lots of amazing images and memories come to mind!
"I was sitting in the seconnd row of the balcony. As the clock wound down to 4:00 to play, the crowd was so despondent. I remember a really empty feeling when we were down 15. As we started to come back, there was a mounting feeling of guarded hope, but as Illini fans we have been conditioned to disappointment. There were a few comments like 'well, too little too late.' Then the series of plays and events in the game cascaded our way until we were down three with Arizona inbounding the ball under our basket. A deflection by Big Jack to Luther, then Big Jack sought out Deron's man for the pick of the century and Deron catching a pass from Dee, a couple of dribbles left and with no hesitation, buried the game-tying three. I have never before or since been in a crowd that electric and loud. It was a different kind of loud. Michael Wilbon described it as a 'guttural Roar.' All those pent-up emotions of 16,000 Illini fans released at one moment in time, knowing we were witnessing the greatest live sporting event any of us will ever have the privilege of being a part of. After that, I told my friend Jeff, 'Well, we have to win it now.' And they did. After the game, no one wanted to leave, even after the nets were cut down. There were many grown men wearing orange with tears in their eyes, me included."
"I was at the game. I sat in the corner opposite from the Illinois bench. Most people remember me from that game as Mr. Blue Hands. ... I painted myself orange, had two big blue hands with orange "I"s painted on them. Well, with about 6-7 minutes left people started bailing on the team. I'm not sure if it was my belief in the team or just delusion at the time, but I never once thought we were out of it. I couldn't understand why people were leaving. I even yelled at people, 'We've come all this way, and you're giving up on them NOW? All we need is five three-pointers!!' For whatever reason, all I thought was, five threes on four-plus minutes ... we can do THAT! But people left anyway ... little by little space that was once packed with people became open and clear. Then it started to happen. A steal, a three, a deflection, another three. I just remember the energy and the pure electricity in the building. Other than the people leaving around me, I don't remember feeling anyone else had given up ... chip by chip by chunk we kept clawing back ... we were IN this ... and then Deron hit that three! I was staring at his back as he went up and the ball just floated forever. And SWOOOSH! If the arena would have exploded and crumbled around me, I wouldn't have been surprised. It was indescribable! I look over at Lute Olsen and the Arizona bench and they're just stunned. I find out later that the people moving around behind them were taking away the Final Four T-shirts and hats!! hahahaha (It still makes me LOL)
"As the game ends and we win in OT people come up to me, taking pictures celebrating, etc. One guy just walks up and wipes as much paint off my arm as he can and says, 'Dude, I just got to have some of your paint to prove I was here with you watching the greatest game in tourney history!' I stood there euphoric ... laughing and shocked all at once...yeah, I was there."
Ceasar M. Perez