Even though the University of Illinois' main campus is about 100 miles away, Peorians are purchasing Illini merchandise as New Year's Day quickly approaches. The Illini play USC in the annual Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1.
Champaign may be nearly 100 miles from Peoria, but Illini gear for the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl game is selling as if the University of Illinois was in Bradley’s back yard.
The New Year’s Day tilt against the University of Southern California will be the Illini’s first trip to the game since 1984, and many Peorians have taken notice.
The game day garb is going fast.
While stores such as Dunhams Discount Sports and Foot Locker don’t carry Illinois apparel, some stores that do couldn’t even keep Rose Bowl merchandise around until kickoff. At least one store is sold out and staying that way.
Toemi Haugh, manager at Finish Line, said his store sold out of Illinois Rose Bowl shirts within two weeks. The 200 T-shirts didn’t last long.
"We sell Illinois (apparel) all the time regardless of season," Haugh said. "But during the Rose Bowl, it is going like crazy."
Haugh said the last items to sell this quickly were commemorative shirts for Bradley basketball’s 2006 Sweet Sixteen and Chicago Bears Super Bowl gear from last year.
Jeff Grady was a little more prepared. The manager at Pro Image in the Northwoods Mall, Grady said his store ordered an abundance of shirts, feeling they would be in high demand. The preparation paid off, as he said the store isn’t running low on any Illini wear.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t selling. Grady said Pro Image sells Rose Bowl T-shirts, polo shirts, coffee mugs, pennants and is expecting Rose Bowl Jerseys soon. And it’s no secret why the merchandise is selling so well.
"They haven’t been to the Rose Bowl in 20 some odd years. It doesn’t come around too often," said Grady, who noted some customers told him they were flying out of Peoria to Las Vegas, then making the three-hour drive to Pasadena, Calif.
While memorabilia might be hard to come by, tickets are still available.
Seats are going for $150 to $1,000 each on online ticket sites for the game in which the Trojans are heavily favored.
Grady said the Illini might surprise some, despite being the underdog.
"No one gives them a shot," he said. "I don’t think they’ll win, but it will be closer than everyone thought."
Jordan Wilson can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or email@example.com