University of Illinois

1965 - 70 Jim Grabowski
(Authentic Reproduction)




1965 was marked by the graduation Butkus and others who had been three-year starters but the "Super Sophs" of '63 were now seniors. The helmet design was slightly altered: the burnt orange shell, dark navy one-inch center stripe with one-inch white flanking stripes remained but the black thin-style numbers were changed to navy blue in a three-inch full block style with the star award stickers also changed from black to navy blue. The same distinctive two bar facemask and U-bar was still worn by many of the players. Dropping three of the first four games wasn't in the plan. QB Fred Custardo and FB Jim Grabowski accumulated 2382 of the squad's 3374 total yards with Custardo setting a career rushing mark for school QB's. Grabowski's season highlight was a 239-yard day against Wisconsin. Big Jim left Illinois having eclipsed Red Grange's rushing records and joined Donny Anderson as a top Packer draft choice to cash in on mega-bucks contracts, an almost unheard of $350,000.00 going to Grabowski. He played five injury-plagued years with the Pack and another with the hometown Bears in a disappointing pro career but remains an Illinois and Chicago icon.  Cyril Pinder was talented at HB but limited to but 287 rush yards due to injury. End John Wright was the surprise, a soph who led the Big Ten in receiving with forty-seven catches for 755 yards. LB Don Hansen did what he could to make up for the absence of Butkus and parlayed a fine season into a ten-year NFL run with four teams, most with the Falcons. Ron Acks had started his Illinois career as a running back and finished as an under rated DB. He used two years with Des Moines in the Pro Football League Of America gaining weight and then lasted nine years in the NFL as a hard-hitting  linebacker.  Playing catch-up after a poor start, the Illini finished at 6-4. Sharp-shooting soph QB Bob Naponic took over in '66 and found receiver John Wright on sixty of his seventy completions. Wright picked up 831 of the 998 passing yards Naponic was responsible for and with the young QB's 225 additional yards gained on the ground, that summed up the Illini offense. After gaining only 470 yards, HB Cyril Pinder again went out with injury as he did in '65. Back-up QB Dean Volkman's helmet has been displayed on HELMET HUT and he proved to be versatile as a holder, rusher, and passer. The defense was rebuilt from '65 and the 4-6 record reflected inconsistent play on both sides of the ball.
Rumbling out of fullback and linebacker for Taft High School in Chicago, Jim Grabowski, like the All State Fullback before him, was recruited by every major football school in the Midwest and like Dick Butkus who came before him, chose the University Of Illinois. A great frosh player on a great freshmen team, Grabowski was listed as fourth-string fullback when fall camp opened for his soph season and he was forced to work his way up to the starting position. The 6'2", 210-pounder did this rather well, having learned the ethic of hard work from his father who labored as a butcher in Chicago. He scored seven touchdowns and gained 616 yards before adding another 125-yards as the MVP in the Rose Bowl win over Washington. As a junior, he received All America mention as the second most prolific rusher in the nation, blasting Illinois rushing records with 1004 yards, 239 of those against Wisconsin. In his senior year of '65, Grabowski again was second in the country, putting up 1258 yards as the Big Ten's MVP, All American, and third in the Heisman vote.  A two-year Academic All American, Grabowski was elected to the College Football Hall Of Fame. His professional contract of $350000.00 was one of the largest of its time but injuries limited his effectiveness with the Packers and Bears.   
In December of 1966, an announcement was planned that would confirm Head Football Coach Pete Elliot as the new Athletic Director, taking the place of the retiring Doug Mills. On that very morning, University President David Dodds Henry was informed that a "slush fund" of cash existed with the knowledge of Elliot and money was given to football players above the amounts allowed by the conference and NCAA. The announcement was withdrawn, an investigation started, and Illinois was directed to fire Elliot, head basketball coach Harry Combes, and assistant basketball coach Howie Braun. Refusal by the school would result in their suspension from the Big Ten. The coaches instead resigned just days before the start of spring football practice. Five basketball and three football players including HB Cyril Pinder lost their eligibility and there were sanctions placed upon post-season play and television appearances. Elliot always maintained that no monies were paid as a recruiting inducement but merely to help players in need after they were already enrolled at Illinois.  After some years in private business, he returned to the game as the head football coach and AD at the University Of Miami in Florida. Pinder eventually showed up in the NFL as what was considered to be an under achieving number two choice for the Eagles from 1968 through 1970. He played two more seasons for the Bears, was cut and played out the 1974 season with the Chicago Fire of the World Football League and the short season played by the Chicago Winds in '75. The '67 recruiting year was wiped out and Jim Valek was not named as head coach until late March. He was a star player in the mid-forties at Illinois and tutored as an assistant under Paul Dietzel at Army and South Carolina and he did the best he could do assembling a staff and installing his system. The leftover talent brought a 4-6 record with a huge 17-13 upset of Ohio State. John Wright completed his career as the school's all-time record holder with 159 receptions for 2284 yards with QB Dean Voman throwing for 1004 yards in place of the injured Bob Naponic. The defense gave up over 3000 yards and a couple of forty-plus points games. 1968 brought nine consecutive losses until the season-ending victory over Northwestern and this very long season was almost predictable based on the lack of recruiting accomplishment in 1967. A paltry 827 yards was the offensive passing total with end Doug Dieken gaining 223 of those on twenty-one catches. A number of sophs had to play defense and thirty or more points was the opponents' tally in seven of the contests. Unbelievably, things went from terrible to worse, a winless 0-10 1969 season where only the opening loss against Washington State was close at 19-18. End Doug Dieken again was a bright light, snaring 29 passes for 486 yards but the offense produced but 2473 total yards and 106 points, the worst in the Big Ten.  Another year of turmoil spelled the end for Coach Valek, the first time at the mid-way point in the 1970 season. After a promising two-and-one non-conference start, the Illini got bombed 48-0 by Northwestern and among rumors of player discord, Valek was fired. The majority of squadmen, however, rallied to the coach's defense, threatened a walkout, and Valek was reinstated, at least until the season ended. The 3-7 record, like that of his entire tenure, was more a reflection of the Illinois football situation when Valek was hired, rather than the man's ability as a coach. Valek had a long and productive career as an NFL assistant with the Cowboys and Patriots after leaving Illinois. 6'5" QB Mike Wells led the team in scoring with soph tackle Larry McCarren showing obvious talent. Doug Dieken, who had a productive Illini career as an end, went to the Cleveland Browns as an offensive tackle and had a long, stellar career that went from 1971 through '84. With no place to go but "up", Illinois went looking for a new head coach.

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