We asked some of the 39 men who portrayed Chief Illiniwek: What was your funniest, most forgettable experience while wearing the beaded buckskin?
Here’s Chief No. 22, Matt Gawne, now a U.S. export manager for global development markets at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati:
“In 1979, Illinois was on the cover of Sports Illustrated: ‘Big Doings in the Big Ten.’ The campus was abuzz.
“I was living at Beta Theta Pi, and the house phone rang. I heard a brother yelling for me to answer it. After I ran down several flights of stairs, the conversation went like this:
Caller: "Hello, Matt, this is Mr. Star of the Chicago Tribune."
Gawne: "Ha ha, Joe. What’s going on, you (bleep)?"
Caller: "Excuse me?"
Gawne: "Joe, Joe. Nice try. What’s happening, you (bleep) dog?"
Caller: "Let me start again. This is Mr. Star of the Chicago Tribune."
"Me after a pregnant pause, realizing this was not a former grade school buddy I grew up with, who was a serial practical joker: ‘I beg your pardon, I thought you were a someone I grew up with ...’
“Mr. Star was calling to speak to me, as Chief Illiniwek, for a front-page article for the Tribune. He wanted some insight about the mood on campus as the Illinois basketball team was 15-0. I’m just glad the reporter omitted the superlatives I used in the front part of our conversation.”