CHAMPAIGN — It’s been almost 36 years. But to Andy Hoggatt, it seems like only yesterday.
On a beautiful late October day in 1983, Hoggatt sat in Memorial Stadium’s west balcony (Section MM, Row 16) with his dad Phil. And 76,125 of their closest friends.
“My dad and I have been going to the games since the ’70s,” Hoggatt said.
In front of the largest crowd in school history, Illinois played Michigan for the Big Ten title. Both teams were undefeated in conference play for the 11:35 a.m. kickoff. CBS televised it nationally.
Fans arrived early. Very early.
“We used to tailgate almost every home game,” Hoggatt said. “We got over to park in our lot at 6:30 and there was traffic at 6:30. It was a great, great atmosphere.”
Hoggatt stood for most of the game.
“You didn’t want to sit down,” Hoggatt said. “The anticipation of us finally possibly beating Michigan, I was just so happy to be there with my dad.”
The Illini hadn’t beaten the Wolverines at all since 1966 and at home since ’57.
Derrell Brame sat a few rows behind the Hoggatts. Brame, then an associate pastor at Webber Street Church, saw Andy leave his seat late in the game and asked, “Where’s he going?”
“I said, ‘This is my one chance to rush the field. I’m going to rush the field,’” Hoggatt said.
Hoggatt took Brame with him and they hurried down the ramps toward the field. The entrance was guarded. Loosely.
“There were enough of us that we were able to get past the guy,” Hoggatt said. “Once :00 hit, we rushed the field.”
They ran around and hugged everyone in sight.
“There really wasn’t any kind of plan of attack,” Hoggatt said. “If you look at the YouTube video, there’s a gentleman who is almost skipping across the field. I’m pretty sure that was Derrell.”
The pastor had moves.
“The goalposts came down within the first two minutes,” Hoggatt said.
He wasn’t able to get close.
“The kids from the Block I went after those right away,” he said.
Whatever happened to the twisted scraps of metal? I asked around and nobody seems to know. A local barber reportedly had a piece of it. Or was that from the Ohio State game the same season?
Though there were thousands on the field, Hoggatt never felt in danger.
“It was a surreal scene,” Hoggatt said. “It was a memory I will never forget.”
A story Hoggatt passed along to his son, now 29. Legendary.
“I still talk about those games,” Hoggatt said.
It ranks with the best year ever for Illinois football fans. Wins against Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan.
A perfect 9-0 Big Ten season.
Orange and Blue heaven.
After sprinting onto the field, the celebration was only getting started for the Hoggatts.
The game ended in the middle of the afternoon. Nobody wanted to leave.
Hoggatt stayed on the field for about 30 minutes. He stayed in the parking lot for another couple hours.
The fans lined Irwin Way. The Michigan travel party loaded buses for the short drive back to the airport.
“The streets were just packed, waving them out of town,” Hoggatt said. “Basically, ‘Have a great trip back to the airport and thanks for coming.’
“Bo Schembechler was in the front seat of the first bus. He just had his arms crossed with a scowl on his face, staring at everybody.”
Back then, Illinois and Michigan played every year.
Home one year, on the road the next. With a 14-team Big Ten and a nine-game league schedule, the matchups are infrequent now. Saturday’s meeting will be just the second since 2012.
“I think it’s great that we’ve got them back in town,” Hoggatt said. “Wish we could go back to the days where we could play all the teams. Obviously, with two divisions that’s impossible.”
Hoggatt, 53, lives in Champaign. He is the longtime director of maintenance for the YMCA and works Illinois games, keeping track of timeouts.
Chad Barringer started going to Illinois games at a young age with his parents, Larry and Betsy. They sat just under the balcony.
For Illinois-Michigan in ’83, Barringer had a different view ... from the field.
Back then a student at Rantoul High School, Barringer was a drummer for the Eagles’ marching band.
Illinois’ Band Day that year happened to fall on Oct. 29. All the attending musicians were given spots on the field.
“There wasn’t anywhere else to put the band members,” Barringer said.
The bands played at halftime. After they were done performing, Rantoul’s director allowed the students to take their instruments back to bus. They were given a chance to roam.
“A few friends of mine and I found our way right by the Michigan cheerleaders in the southwest corner of the field,” Barringer said.
When the game ended, they stormed the field.
“Everybody else did, too,” Barringer said. “It was mass humanity. For some strange reason, I was smart enough not to head toward the goalposts.”
It was a happy mob.
“You beat Michigan, which put you in the driver’s seat to go the Rose Bowl,” Barringer said.
Barringer doesn’t remember the building rocking quite the same since.
“I don’t know if it can ever get that crazy again,” Barringer said. “Would I like to see them get back to that again? Of course I would.”
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.