University of Illinois

1961 - 64 Dick Butkus
(Authentic Reproduction)




Marking the team as his own, Elliot changed the helmet, adding one-inch white flanking stripes to either side of the one-inch dark navy blue center stripe. He increased the size of the black side numerals to three-inches utilizing the thin "Charger style" numbers. Giving the helmet a very distinctive appearance, were black star award stickers that were placed over the side numbers and almost all of the helmets were equipped with a two bar facemask and a protective U-bar. Starting 1961 with twelve returning lettermen, the squad surprised everyone, including Coach Elliot by going winless! QB Mike Taliaferro missed the season with a severe neck injury and the defense had little more than guard-linebacker Tony Parillo and end O'Bradovich (ten years with Bears as DE) in support. Three projected starters were lost to academic problems prior to the season's start and the Split-T offense put up a season total of only 53 points. The real excitement was with the freshman team that seemed to have a few superior players who would make a future mark on this 0-9 squad. The good sophs began to take over the team in 1962 and despite losing the first five games and being outscored in the first three by a difference of 124-22, they were going forward. They broke their sixteen game losing streak with a 14-10 win over Purdue and closed the season with an upset over Michigan State 7-6. The 2-7 finish did not truly reflect what was just beneath the surface. Starting positions were won by young Dick Butkus at center and linebacker,  255-pound guard Archie Sutton, and two-way end Lynn Stewart. QB Mike Taliaferro rebounded from his '61 neck injury and threw for 1139 yards. If the frosh class of 1961 seemed promising, the '62 version had the mark of greatness and the following season would seem like a miracle to those who did not see them play in person.
The "Super Sophs" arrived in the fall ready to make their donation to Illini football. Fullback Jim Grabowski was immediately unstoppable gaining 616 yards, and with newcomer Don Hansen teaming with junior All American Dick Butkus at linebacker, the race was on. Co-captain and QB Mike Taliaferro, who was Namath's back-up with the Jets and had some success with the Bills and Patriots from 1964 through '72, led the team with help from soph Fred Custardo. Outside speed was provided by soph HB Sam Price. Lynn Stewart who was shifted to the interior line, and Archie Sutton (All Big Ten), moved to tackle from guard, were a force. They beat Craig Morton and Cal in the opener 10-0. A 20-20 tie with highly favored Ohio State let them know they could play with anyone and they did, forging a 7-1-1 record with only a mid-season loss to Michigan marring the slate. From winless to the Rose Bowl in one season with Butkus capturing the attention of the nation, was Coach Elliot's reward for his fine recruiting and his boys went out to Pasadena as the nation's number two team and beat a good Washington squad 17-7 with Grabowski the MVP, to complete a dream season.
Losing to the Big Ten's stronger teams in Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan left the Illini with a 6-3 record in '64 but Dick Butkus played center and especially linebacker as if he had a grudge against the world and was perhaps the most storied player of the year, coming in third in the Heisman voting. Don Hansen again was overshadowed by his All American teammate, but extremely effective playing next to him and George Donnelly was named All American at DB (playing with San Francisco as their number one draft pick from 1965 through '67). There had been a plan to have perhaps the tallest group of DB's in the country but one, Bob Trumpy, left to attend Utah and of course, later starred as a TE for the Bengals. Jim Grabowski provided an All American season too, becoming the Illini all-time leader in rushing with 2878 yards. QB Fred Custardo came into his own, tossing for 1012 yards with big Archie Sutton providing the line protection. Sutton had three years at OT with the Vikings. 
Arguably the finest linebacker to ever play collegiate football, Dick Butkus followed his brother Ronnie to Illinois despite offers from every school in the Midwest. A fullback at Chicago's Vocational High School, the frosh team rallied around his fierce leadership as he manned the center and middle linebacker positions. He made an immediate impact in 1962 on a poor 2-7 team. By 1963, no one needed to look at his school record twenty-three tackles against Ohio State to realize how good he was. A unanimous All American in both '63 and 1964, his ferocious play and intensity made him feared and he was the Big Ten's MVP ('63), the nation's Player Of The Year ('64), third in the Heisman voting ('64), and later named to the All Time Big Ten Team and the Walter Camp All Century Team. A member of the College Football Hall Of Fame, he set the standard by which all collegiate linebackers are measured, even to this day and the award given to the nation's best linebacker is named for him. An All Pro with the Chicago Bears, he had a terrific career where he redefined the term "impact" and his multitude of crippling hits are a staple of NFL Films highlights. Butkus' career was cut short by a knee injury but he was a multi-time All Pro with the Bears from 1965 through the 1973 season. Butkus later became a commentator, television and movie personality, and remains one of the most highly respected former players to ever wear a uniform. 

If interested in any of these UI helmets please click on the photos below.