University of Illinois

1980 - 82 Illini
(Authentic Reproduction)




Former Cal head coach Mike White was brought in as the new mentor to put the emphasis on a wide-open passing offense. A youthful forty-three years old, White's enthusiasm was needed and he would apply what he had learned as a two-year assistant under Bill Walsh with the Forty-Niners. His 3-7-1 debut hid the recruitment of a boatload of California high school and JC players who had been weaned on passing offenses and he greeted them the same helmet used the previous three seasons but he reverted to the traditional gray facemasks. While the helmets were almost the same, the offense wasn't as JC transfer Dave Wilson threw for 3154 yards and nineteen TD's despite having to go to court and get an injunction against the Big Ten to allow him to play after being ruled ineligible prior to the start of the season. He played ahead of two other JC transfer QB Tony Eason and California high school star Jack Trudeau. The poor record was more a matter of defensive ineptitude as the Illini gave up 4255 yards and 326 points despite decent play from LB Jack Squirek and Mark Butkus, a familiar Illinois name, up front. QB Wilson was declared ineligible for the 1981 season and instead went to the New Orleans Saints where he played through 1988. Redshirt transfer from California's American River College took the helm, catapulted the Illini to 7-4, passed for 3360 yards and twenty touchdowns, and put himself in the middle of the Heisman Trophy battle with talented Trudeau behind him. Oliver Williams and Mike Martin caught the bulk of the passes but the rush game was weak and the defense spotty. Squirek had his day in the sun after leaving Illinois with his TD return interception for the Raiders in their defeat of the Redskins in the Super Bowl XVIII. Eason finished '82 throwing an average of forty-one passes per game and putting up 3248 yards and seventeen TD's. He launched himself to a number-one draft choice and led the Patriots attack from '83 to 1989 before completing his eight-year pro tenure with the Jets. Receivers Mike Martin (Bengals '83 through '89) and Oliver Williams both became pro wideouts due to their Illini experience and White's aggressive JC recruiting opened the floodgates to junior college transfers in the Big Ten. 1982's 7-4 record earned them the right to face Alabama in Bear Bryant's final game on the sidelines in a 21-15 Liberty Bowl loss. 

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