CHAMPAIGN — When James McCourt’s kick sailed through the uprights and hundreds of fans stormed the field to celebrate Saturday, campus police had three priorities.
Protect the coaches. Protect the referees. And protect those Memorial Stadium goalposts.
“Years ago in the ’80s, they used to rip ’em down,” Deputy Chief Matt Myrick said. “Really, the priority is that no one goes up and climbs on them, falls and hurts themselves.”
Other than McCourt’s teammates telling the Illini kicker he appeared to temporarily lose consciousness in the postgame player pile-on, Saturday’s celebration was incident-free, said Myrick, who as head of football game day security watched Saturday’s thriller from a command post near the top of Memorial Stadium.
“From the command post, everybody just seemed like they were happy,” he said. “I didn’t notice or see any problems at all.”
Prior to Saturday’s 24-23 shocker against No. 6 Wisconsin, it had been years since an Illini football team pulled off a win so unexpected that guarding the goalposts would even come into play.
But keeping fans away from coaches and officials — on both sides — is an every-week priority, Myrick said.
“A lot of visiting teams bring officers with them, too,” he said. “We want to make sure the visiting teams and refs can get off the field as soon as possible.”
No issues were reported on either end, he said, and when the PA announcer eventually asked fans to leave the field, they did.
Some college conferences — including the SEC and Big 12 — ban rushing the court or the field and use fines as a deterrent.
But the Big Ten and UI don’t; Illinois fans last came flooding out of their seats in February, when Brad Underwood’s basketball Illini knocked off Michigan State at State Farm Center.
There was no bad behavior reported on that night, either.
“Everybody was obviously really excited about (Saturday’s) win,” Myrick said. “Everybody was in such a good mood. ... The fans did great.”