The inevitable question, however, is "who cares?" Why are state symbols important? Federal powers expanded tremendously during the 20th Century. We see ourselves as citizens of the United States of America first, and state identity is less important. However, it was not always so: for the Founding Fathers, state identity came first. This persisted through the Civil War. The United States was founded on the idea expressed in the Illinois state motto: "State sovereignty, national union."
State flags and other symbols are important because they connect us to the principles of states' rights that are the foundation of our country. They provide a sense of pride in one's home and a connection to these places. Federal power is important (as indicated by the warm fuzzy feelings I get from the Interstate Highway System), but we shouldn't forget the importance of state identity.
To begin, I'd like to point out that the flags of 23 states fall into the same basic category - lame. These are the flags that are simply the state seal on a solid field. It seems that nearly half of the states in the Union didn't even want to try. State seals are swell, but it's hard to rally around a flag that is only recognizable by reading the fine print.
My home state is one of the many flags that are sort of lame. However, the Illinois state seal is more interesting than most, and more importantly, we have a fantastic state fossil. The Tully monster (Tullimonstrum gregarium), a swimming creature from the Pennsylvanian period which is found only in the Mazon Creek formation near Joliet. Also, the state fish is the bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus, or "sunnies" if you're from Minnesota), which is also pretty sweet. A mature male bluegill has a beautiful copper-colored patch below the gills and is tons of fun to catch on a 4-weight fly rod.
Because everyone needs to know my opinions on inconsequential things, I plan to post some thoughts on some state flags later.