My favorite Northwestern - Illinois game was NU's 34-21 win over the Illini in Champaign during the 1997 season. While it might not have been the most exciting game between the two teams, or the most significant, I have very fond memories of that day.
I was fourteen years old and my father took two of my friends and me down to Champaign for the game. One of my friends, like me, was a Northwestern fan while the other was a fan of U of I. Although NU was only 3-7 and the season had been rather disappointing following the successes of 1995 and 1996, that didn't damper our spirits for the day. Illinois wasn't great either, but my friend who was an Illini fan kept talking about how U of I was going to get NU back for beating them the last two years. I remember I was very excited to see Chris Hamdorf, the QB I wanted to play all season, make his first start as coach Barnett had decided to play Hamdorf and sit Tim Hughes, who had started the previous ten games.
When the game started I wasn't disappointed. NU came out scoring points and my friend, the U of I, fan wasn't saying anything more about payback. I remember my other friend, my dad, and I jumping up seemingly at the exact same instant as Hamdorf hit John Burden for his second touchdown pass as our U of I supporting companion just buried his head in his hands.
I remember Northwestern making plays all day long as Illinois seemed to struggle to get anything going against a relentless Wildcat defense and very special, special teams. NU got two special teams fumble recoveries and showed they were going to play hard, even if they didn't go to a bowl (they proved that even more so by beating Iowa 15-14 the next week).
By the end of the day, three of us were very happy and one was not so. The Wildcats collected the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk for the third-straight season and us Wildcat fans had bragging rights once again. It was a great trip home as we listened to the highlights and played our NUMB CD on the car speakers. Even almost a decade later my friends and I still remember that trip, we still look forward NU vs. Illinois every year. Even if we can't all go to the games, the result is sure to start a flurry of phone calls and emails. I always enjoy those calls and messages more if they're about a Wildcat win.