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Bill Nack

Bill Nack

Sports Illustrated legend | Died in April 2018 | Class of 1964

Long before he went on to become one of the greatest long-form writers of his generation, Sports Illustrated alum Bill Nack logged untold hours on the Quad.

Correction: the Quadrangle, as Nack will always know it.

“I was a track and cross country runner in high school, and I remember many nights — after working as an editor at the Daily Illini at night — walking to that Quadrangle to run around its entire circumference, all alone, in the dark, as fast as I could," Nack told us before his death in April 2018.

"I would stop in front of the Union and take a few deep breaths and then do it again. It was a joyous experience. 

“This was also the Quad where Roger Ebert and I would sometimes walk, after drinking coffee at the Illini Union, and talk about literature, about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Albert Camus, about T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, about Hemingway and Nabokov. Roger was the editor of the DI and I was his sports editor, and we shared a common vision about the world of words — about their rhythm, their poetry — that spoke to everyone. 

“That Quadrangle became like a womb nurturing my growth as a student, beginning in 1959. Let’s see, that was the autumn, my freshman year, when Robert Frost came to campus to read his poetry in the Auditorium on the Quad. The place was packed. Frost stood at the podium after his introduction and the whole audience rose and gave him a standing ‘O.’

"Frost tried to get the audience to sit down but they refused to stop, refused to sit. He raised his arms and lowered them. No sooner had they quieted down than they rose again as he began to speak and gave him yet another standing ovation.

“Finally, as the crowd grew hushed, this little man with the white hair looked out over all of us and said, ‘If you do that again, I’ll tell Carl Sandburg on you!’

“He had invoked the name of Illinois’s greatest poet, and we all laughed and came to our feet again as a kind of salute not only to Sandburg, Chicago’s poet, but to America’s finest writer of verse.

“That is what I still love today about that Quadrangle — that Auditorium, that Union, that place to run and fall in love with literature and learning.”