(Flashback piece with Homecoming clash against Wisconsin approaching, but Illinois will NOT be wearing the Gray Ghost uniforms this time, game preview and prediction here)
Sunday brings the 96th anniversary of Red Grange’s historic Homecoming performance against Michigan in the Memorial Stadium dedication game on Oct. 18, 1924. In that game, the Gray Ghost scored four touchdowns and racked up 262 total yards in the first 12 minutes, then ran for a fifth touchdown and threw for a sixth to lead the Illinois Fighting Illini to a 39-14 victory in what many consider the greatest single-game performance in college football history.
Grange himself, is considered the best player, all-time, in the history of the college gridiron.
In 2014, on the 90th anniversary of that legendary game, the University of Illinois debuted the “gray ghost” alternate uniforms, for their Homecoming game against Wisconsin. At thesportsgear.com, you can get all kinds of sportswear, active wear, equipment and clothing for physical fitness.
Everyone has an opinion on styles, brands, manufacturers, materials and color schemes, and these differences in opinion always facilitates discussion.
I for one LOVE the gray ghost unis, I think they work perfectly with autumnal hues, and believe the navy blue and white is just enough, to complement the minimalism of the gray. The unis have returned every season since debuting in 2014, and Illinois hasn’t really done at all memorable in them, until last time out.
Yes, Monday brings the one year anniversary of that specific singular instance, and only 37,363 were in attendance to see it- the biggest upset in college football last season.
It’s understandable why attendance was so low, as unranked Illinois entered as a 30.5 point underdog to visiting #6 Wisconsin. You know how it ended though- with Illini placekicker and Irishman James McCourt booting the game winning field goal that made Illinois 24–23 victors. Their first conference victory of the season, the Illini were unranked and coming off a 4-game losing streak.
They had a record of 2-4 overall, including a 0-3 conference record and an inexcusable home loss to Eastern Michigan.
The Badgers had an undefeated record that included an impressive victory over No. 11 Michigan. Illini fans rushed the field for the first time since 1998, when the school ended a 20 game losing streak by beating Middle Tennessee State. McCourt was carried off the field by his teammates and became a sports hero on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Illini Head coach Lovie Smith called the game his “signature win,” as many believed, understandably so that the game saved his job. With extremely popular and ultra-divey campus bar Kam’s closing its doors for the final time the day after the upset, the game was nicknamed the “Kam’s Miracle!”
However, Kam’s was just moving from its location it held since 1975, and later opened up (with high cover charges) in a new location. By point spread, it was one of the largest upsets in college football history, and it propelled the Illini to a mediocre .500 season, but that was enough to make a bowl game for the first time in six years.
It also ended Illinois’ Homecoming game victory drought, which is key, as UI claims to have invented the concept of Homecoming. With the win, McCourt, Smith and company joined Grange in the annals of Illini history.
Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice tabbed Grange as a “gray ghost” following the Michigan 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!
— Grantland Rice, 1924
Monday also brings the first game week media opp of 2020, as Smith, the coordinators and some players will preview Friday night’s season opener against, yes, you guessed it, Wisconsin.
We’ll be back next week with more from the Illini on these gray ghost unis, and the season opener. Until then, happy weekend.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank, partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune.Follow paulmbanks