There are so many different ways to attend a road game as an Illini fan. Some go full-on orange shirt so that they'll stick out in a crowd. Some (like me) feel more comfortable with the blue Illinois shirt because it's less in-your-face and more, I don't know, respectful. Some go as far as an orange wig with face paint, others go as subtle as the white quarter-zip with a small "I" on the chest, and some keep the dark jacket on until the game is in hand and then they peel off the jacket to reveal the orange t-shirt.
And others wear their white Andre Curbelo jersey to an Iowa "blackout" and arrive at the game two hours early to be first in line so they can get to the front row of the Iowa student section wearing their Illini jersey. That would be Matthew Crasko.
That's him in the center of the photo above. The white jersey surrounded by all the black Iowa shirts. After taking that photo, I zoomed in (with my phone) and took another grainy photo. I planned to tweet the photo right after we won (and not a moment sooner), but then I forgot.
At the bar a few hours later, the bartender told us he was an Iowa student/Illinois fan. That made me think of the photo, so I tweeted it:
Almost forgot. Shoutout to the guy in the front row of the Iowa student section in a Curbelo jersey. pic.twitter.com/FPaWvdv8WX— Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) December 7, 2021
And then, an hour later, this reply:
When I woke up this morning in my Iowa City hotel room, the tweet was everywhere. And since I'm tagged in most of the responses, I had a fun time scrolling through everything people were saying to Matthew:
Then I drove back to Champaign. Not long after I got back, assistant coach Chester Frazier tweeted at Matthew:
Now I really wanted to know the story. So I sent Matthew a DM and asked if we could chat. He agreed. So I set up a Zoom call.
I'll be honest here - I did have this whole internet/catfish "wait, how do we really know that the guy in the photo is the guy saying 'that's me'?" thought. I'm fairly trusting, so I could get duped. Well, Matthew put that to rest in the first 10 seconds of the Zoom call. He was wearing the Andre Curbelo jersey. "Had to put it back on", he said.
I wanted to know basically everything but I figured the best place to start was probably his backstory:
"I'm from Chicago. Both my parents went to Illinois. I grew up going to Illinois football games and I went to a couple basketball games growing up. Last year, as you know, Illinois was outstanding at basketball. so I started to get a little more into it with college basketball. Unfortunately I couldn't go to any games because of Covid.
"I had enrolled at Iowa but I wasn't going to become an Iowa fan. I was still an Illinois fan. So I still wear my Illinois stuff at Iowa. Unfortunately I missed the Illinois-Iowa football game, but I was not going to miss the basketball game."
OK, so this is making sense. If he's an Iowa student, that he has the option to get Iowa student tickets. That's how he got into the Iowa student section. But how did he get to the front row? His answer was simple. Student seats are general admission, so he got there two hours early to try to get in the front row. I'm loving this kid's gumption.
But then there's an obvious question here. Here's an Illinois fan in a white jersey during a "blackout" game, standing in the front row of the student section. Uh, what are those students saying about it?
"Nobody said much to me until the game started and Illinois got out to a lead. The guy behind me was kind of a real jerk about it. The mascot (Herky) - obviously there were no evil intentions - but the mascot took my hat and ran away with it. He would also stand in my way. But every time he'd stand in my way another three would get knocked-down by Illinois so I didn't really mind it. As long as we were scoring I didn't really care.
"Most of the people around me were like 'aren't you in the wrong spot?'. A security guard came up to me and asked 'how did you end up in the student section?'. And I kept telling him 'I go to school here'."
Did he have to show his ID to anyone to prove it? No, he said. Just the ticket. You can't get a student ticket without a student ID, so if you have digital ticket on your phone for that section, you've been pre-screened as a student.
So I'm trying to think through this scenario. One Illinois fan. Hundreds of Iowa fans surrounding him. Was he intimidated at all?
"I let the game play out. I let the play of Plummer and Grandison speak for me. I didn't need to say anything. I just needed to cheer very obnoxiously (when good things happened)."
I love that he chose Plummer and Grandison there. Most of us would go Kofi or Trent. But he was there, watching the game (from the front row!). This game ball gets split between Plummer and Grandison.
I just wrote out this next part but then realized that it works better as audio. So let me play you a clip of what he said. Sound on:
Yes, I also immediately went to the photo from Twitter to see the Iowa student behind Matthew. Yes, I too am going to make "that's when I told him goodbye" my ringtone.
So there's really only one final question to ask here. And it's what I covered at the top. Me? I would have been scared to do what Matthew did. I'm the guy who chooses blue over orange on the road to not, you know, "be in anyone's face". Was Matthew hesitant at all?
This answer probably works better as audio as well:
That about says it all. An ugly bird who stole Matthew's hat and tried to block his view of the game. And then fell to the floor when Plummer splashed that final three.