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Fans get ready to say goodbye to Chief Illiniwek

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."