We asked a few Illini sports greats what they remember most about the day they said “I do” to C-U. Here’s star offensive guard Tim Simpson, who set a school record for starts (48), played in four straight bowl games and was named the UI’s male athlete of the year as a senior.
“When I was being recruited, the only signings that you ever saw were those attached to Division I signings. Nowadays, it seems like there is a signing ceremony for everything.
“It seemed like your word meant more back then and coaches didn’t poach as much. Coaches nowadays seem to play more mental games with young athletes.
“My commitment was just the beginning of what I call a charmed career. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would start every game in my career, play in four bowl games, beat the eventual national champions, be named a first-team All-American and be drafted. Not to mention that I earned an education from the premier university in the state.
“I fell in love with the University of Illinois watching the ’83 Rose Bowl team on WMBD while growing up and staying up late watching the Mike White Show. Fast-forward early into my senior year and I was still toying around with wrestling (in college) until I went to the Illinois-Nebraska game in 1986.
“There was a jersey retirement going on that day and by chance I ended up getting to talk with Dick Butkus. After some time he says, ‘Timmy, Illinois would be a great place to play college football and get a great education.’ I smiled real big and said: ‘Yes, sir.’
“Mike White asked if that was my commitment, and I confirmed it. I then went into the meeting room with Coach Karm and he wrote ‘THANK YOU’ on an early smartboard and the screen revolved and it printed it out on a piece of thermal paper. I thought: How cool.
“Fast-forward about one quarter of football. Illinois is down 14-0. My recruiting hostess turns to me and asks if I’m sure I wanted to come here. I told her yes, Mr. Butkus said it would be a great place to play college football and get a great education. He wasn’t lying.
“On signing day, I remember being with my coaches and my parents. I was wearing a black sweater with a skinny red tie. I knew that it was the beginning of something special.
“It wasn’t about all the hoopla back then. I saw it as both parties celebrating a commitment. My loyalty to the program ran deep. I’ve always felt that way about Illinois. When I look back, other than my sophomore year of high school, I’ve never worn a shirt or hat with another university on it.
“On a side note, we went to Alexander’s in Peoria to celebrate that night and I became a member of the Beefeater’s Club.”