April 27, 2021
One of the more personal pieces in our historical archives is the scrapbook of Epstein Founder Abraham Epstein during his undergraduate years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1907–1911). This book, which is a true testament to Abraham’s love of his time at UIUC, highlights this fact in numerous photos, letters and memorabilia, covering his engineering school activities and achievements, his social engagements, which were centered around his time living in the multi-cultural Cosmopolitan House, as well as the topic of today’s post – Abraham’s passion for supporting Illini athletics.
In today’s pseudo-professional NCAA sports world, fan support of university teams is clearly evident 24/7 on TV, social media as well as in clothing worn year-round pledging allegiance to collegiate teams across our nation. But back in the early 20th century, college sports fanaticism was in its infancy and was really only expressed in-person at athletic events, such as homecoming football games, conference track and field events, and baseball tournaments against rivals.
Clockwise from upper left: Abraham Epstein at UIUC; UIUC cheer pin; scoreboard from the 1910 football game between the Illini and Maroons of the University of Chicago; band performance at same game
What becomes abundantly clear to anyone looking at Abraham’s scrapbook is that he was one of the Illini’s original "superfans." He seems to, through the dozens of photos saved, have attended nearly every major sports event during his four years at UIUC, from hard-fought and very low-scoring gridiron games, including the 1910 undefeated Illinois football team, to large track & field meets featuring nearly every Midwestern higher educational institution, as well as baseball games, in which the line between fan and player is barely visible.
Clockwise from upper left: 1911 baseball game between University of Illinois and University of Chicago; 1911 gridiron action between the University of Illinois and University of Minnesota; Abraham Epstein’s personal scorecard from 1910 track & field meet
What is also clear is that Abraham wasn’t just a passive attendee; he was intimately involved, especially when it came to track & field, where he, like fans today at Sox or Cubs games, kept score from each of the 15 events at the 1910 Intercollegiate Conference Athletic Association Meet (the precursor to the Big Ten), which involved more than 30 teams. Not even sure if the “SNL Superfans” would have had the dedication and stamina to pull off that!