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The venerable Illinois cheer, "Oskee Wow Wow," has been in the news lately. At the Big Ten football press conference, Tim Beckman described it as an acronym, "Our Success equals Knowledge, Effort, Energy."

Some anti-Chief activists deride it as a pseudo-Native American chant. So, what does it really mean?

The "authoritative" Urban Dictionary defines "oskie" as "a term used in football to let the lineman know to block the closest person on the other team when the ball is intercepted or a fumble is recovered." It is a term in the lore at the University of Tennessee and at Cal Berkeley where its mascot, Oski the Bear, is named after its cheer, Oski-Wow-Wow.

The first University of Illinois reference I have found for the phrase Oskee Wow Wow is in the 1908 University of Illinois Song Book under cheers.

Oskey Wow Wow

Skinny Wow Wow

Illinois, Illinois


The popular bleacher tune of the same name was penned in 1912. Its lyrics refer to the football team. "When your team trots out before you, Ev'ry man stand up and yell, Back the team to gain a victory, Oskee-wow-wow, Illinois."

One thing is certain — the cheer and the song predate the Chief by 18 and 14 years respectively. Likewise, the term "Fighting Illini," which was coined in 1920 to refer to Illinois alumni and students who fought and died in World War I, predated the Chief by six years.

There is no reason for either of these cherished traditions to be called into question.


Vice president, retired

UI Alumni Association