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Examining Illinois’ alternate “Gray Ghost” uniform

When I first saw the images of the gray uniforms Illinois will be wearing this weekend, I kind of hated them. Now that I have taken some time to read about them and let the images soak in a bit more, I still think they are ridiculous.

Illinois will wear what they are calling their “Gray Ghost” alternate uniform for their homecoming game against Minnesota on October 25. The uniform is a tribute to one of the great players in program history, Harold “Red” Grange. Grange was nicknamed The Galloping Ghost and was a charter member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 1924, Grange was named the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award winner, honoring him as the best player in the Big Ten. Grange became a national star on October 18, 1924 when he returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against a heavily favored Michigan team going for a national championship. He soon rushed for three more touchdowns from distances of 67, 56 and 44 yards in the first quarter, and another from 56 yards later in the game. As if that was not enough, Grange later added a touchdown pass to the box score as Illinois smashed the Wolverines, 39-14. The game also served as the grand opening for Memorial Stadium at Illinois. After the game, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice authored the following legendary reflection of Grange’s performance;

A streak of fire, a breath of flame
Eluding all who reach and clutch;
A gray ghost thrown into the game
That rival hands may never touch;
A rubber bounding, blasting soul
Whose destination is the goal — Red Grange of Illinois!

Contrary to popular belief, it was not Rice whom had nicknamed Grange the Galloping Ghost. That is credited to Warren Brown of the afternoon Chicago newspaper, Chicago’s American. Grange himself gave credit to Brown in a 1974 interview for American Heritage. There is no disputing Grange is an icon at Illinois. There is even a statue of his likeness outside Memorial Stadium. Now that we know the history, let’s get back to the uniform.

For a one-game tribute to a program icon, this gray uniform for Illinois starts to look a little better. The nickname for Grange served as Nike’s inspiration for the uniform design.

Before the start of the season, I reviewed the new football uniforms for Illinois, and I was quite complimentary. As I said on Crystal Ball Run at the time, Illinois got the uniforms Syracuse should be using. The gray uniform basically takes everything from the new uniform design, but it washes out all of the color from head to toe except for a trace of blue on the number outlines, on the collar and sleeves. From a distance and with the naked eye, it will be unnoticeable. Observe…

This washing out of the colors even can be found on the helmet, where a white helmet is slapped with chrome decals for the Illinois “I” and stripes down the middle. By now I hope you know I am a fan of chrome on helmets, even if just the logos, so I like where this is heading. I have also said before I kind of like the alternate white helmet for Illinois, but this is just getting carried away with a blah-plan of attack.

Perhaps the idea was also inspired by the fact that just about any photo or image of Grange will be in black and white. But if you are going to pay tribute to one of the program’s legends, why not go the extra step and wear some sort of throwback uniform?

Like the one Grange actually wore…

Photo credit: Illinois Athletics

Red Grange. Photo credit: Illinois Athletics

Gray alternate uniforms are something I have taken a stance against before, and I will do so again here. Overall, I am not thrilled with this uniform choice for Illinois, but feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on them in the comment section.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.


  1. […] This column was adapted from its original post at No 2-Minute Warning. […]