Halloween is a week away, but Illinois will be looking like ghosts this weekend when the Illini take on Minnesota in Big Ten action. To be more specific, Illinois will look like Galloping Ghosts in honor of an Illini legend who also happens to be one of the most significant figures in the sport’s history.
Illinois will wear what it is calling a “Gray Ghost” alternate uniform for its homecoming game against Minnesota on October 25. The uniform is a tribute to one of the great players in the history of the program, 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 that was aiming 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 iconic reflection on 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 who had nicknamed Grange the Galloping Ghost. That is credited to Warren Brown of the afternoon Windy City newspaper, the Chicago 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.
More Gray Ghost uniform detail. #Illini pic.twitter.com/EhXbBV4ovl
— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 14, 2014
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 that I kind of like the alternate white helmet for Illinois, but this is just getting carried away with a “blah” plan of attack.
Gray Ghost helmet for Oct. 25 game. #Illini pic.twitter.com/bV9cz0MLLd — Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 14, 2014
Perhaps the idea was also inspired by the fact that just about any photo or image of Grange will be in black and white. Yet, if you are going to pay tribute to one of your program’s legends, why not go the extra step and wear some sort of throwback uniform?
Like the one Grange actually wore:
Gray alternate uniforms are dicey and seldom add much character or pizzazz to the overall look. Only a few programs seem capable of getting away with a gray uniform. Washington State comes to mind. Utah State seems capable of making it work too. Personally, I throw this Illinois uniform in with Texas Tech and Miami. It is best to keep this at a one-game experience and never speak of it again.
This column was adapted from its original post at No 2-Minute Warning.