Fans get ready to say goodbye to Chief Illiniwek

Updated: February 18, 2007, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As the clock counted down during Illinois win over Northwestern on Sunday, the Assembly Hall fans chanted a simple, one-line wish.

"Save the chief! Save the chief! Save the chief!"

It seems unlikely that wish will come true.

Sunday was the first Illinois basketball game since the university announced this school year will be the last for Chief Illiniwek, the school's 81-year-old American Indian mascot.

The halftime of Wednesday's Michigan-Illinois basketball game will see the last performance for the chief.

Students are circulating e-mails and messages on social-networking Web sites with plans for, among other things, a vigil this week outside university President Joseph B. White's house.

Those at Sunday's game appeared to be unanimously unhappy about the decision but low-key in their dissent.

"Halftime will definitely be different," said 19-year-old freshman Kim Cozza of Rolling Meadows, a member of the Orange Krush student section.

But it would have been hard to not notice that something was different about Sunday's game.

Dan Maloney, the graduate student who portrays the chief, danced to far more camera flashes than usual and full stands. Few people left their seats at halftime until the chief's dance was finished.

Maloney showed no emotion on the arena floor, but said afterward that Wednesday might be different.

"I don't even want to think about that right now," he said. "I'll take a little bit longer, get here a little bit earlier, walk around a little bit."

In the arena's concourse before Sunday's game, a 48-37 Illinois win, program vendors reminded prospective buyers the program included a picture of the chief.

"Chief Dogs! Chief Dogs!" Howard Rubin shouted from behind a food stand nearby.

Rubin, who said his daughter and son-in-law are students at Illinois, said the $3 hot dogs were no different than those sold at any other Illini game.

"Adding the chief name makes them a little crunchier, a little juicier," he joked.

Some students wondered Sunday what, if anything, will replace the chief after Wednesday.

Board president Lawrence Eppley said after Friday's decision the board probably wouldn't be heavily involved in that decision. But he said, as long as a new mascot didn't involve American Indian imagery, "the sky's the limit."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press