Best Illini uniforms: Orange-blue-orange ranks top combination for 2019 football team
May 6, 2020
Last week, The Athletic wrote countless articles about uniforms at all levels of sports, so I approached my editor Gabby Hajduk about doing something similar for Illini athletics. Thankfully, she agreed.
This week you will see opinion stories, like this one, and stories asking players about how uniforms are decided and players’ favorite uniforms. Hopefully, you enjoy reading about the uniforms Illini student-athletes compete in.
First up, football.
In 2018, Illinois released new uniforms in their continued partnership with Nike. The new uniforms are inspired by the uniforms that former Illini linebacker Dick Butkus wore in the 1960s. The current uniforms, which don’t feature stripes or number outlines, replaced a set of uniforms with outlines on numbers and stripes.
Illinois rotates through three main helmets, jerseys and pants, all of which come in orange, blue and white. On Homecoming, the Illini sport their “Gray Ghost” uniforms, which are meant to honor former Illini great Red Grange.
The 2019 season featured a couple of different uniforms combinations, but certain combinations seemed to become more common than others. Let the rankings begin.
- White helmet, orange jersey and orange pants: The reason this combination is the worst of the 2019 season is because the orange jersey and pants looked like a vibrant red on TV in the Santa Clara sun. These uniforms also don’t have a lot of color contrast, and the white helmet looks out of place with no white on the jersey or pants.
- Blue helmet, blue jersey and blue pants: Surprisingly, this uniform combination wasn’t banned after Iowa beat Illinois, 63-0, in 2018 on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium. Illinois had better luck in 2019 wearing the all-blue look against Michigan in 2019 but still lost, 42-25. However, they did score 25 unanswered points to shrink a Wolverine lead to just three points in the second half. Back to the uniforms. These uniforms aren’t bad; they just aren’t good. Wearing them against a school like Michigan, who has navy blue in their color scheme, should be avoided, but I don’t mind an all-blue look once a season. Upset someone and the Illini can be called the “Fighting Blues”.
- Blue helmet, white jersey and blue pants: Being completely honest, I actually like this uniform combination, so the uniform rankings are difficult. The nice thing about this uniform is that the orange numbers accent the shiny orange “Block I”on the matte navy-blue helmet. The navy pants also provide a nice contrast against the white jersey and helmet.
- Orange helmet, white jersey and white pants: Similar to the uniforms listed above, there is nothing wrong with this combination, but it isn’t as good as some of the other combinations the Illini have worn. This combination should be worn more than the previously mentioned road uniforms.
- Gray Ghost: I am a big fan of the Gray Ghost uniforms and the players and recruits are too. The problem with the Gray Ghost uniforms is that they are worn on Homecoming, and alumni aren’t a huge fan of the all-gray look. The goal of the Gray Ghost uniforms is to honor the greatest Illini ever: the Gray Ghost, Red Grange. Grantland Rice described Grange as a ghost because of how quickly he weaved through defenses. The blue numbers on the dark gray jerseys are more difficult to see, but it fits the theme of the uniforms. I have no problem wearing the Gray Ghost uniforms, but move it away from Homecoming because the alumni don’t like them.
- White helmet, orange jersey and white pants: The only negative to these uniforms is the navy-blue numbers on the orange jersey don’t have other blue to match with. If the equipment staff slapped a navy blue “Block I” sticker on the white helmet, these might rank higher. Overall, a solid look for the Illini.
- Orange helmet, white jersey and orange pants: This uniform is solid, and it was basically the uniform Illinois wore on the road in 2019. This uniform is great because the orange accents itself well and goes great against the white jersey.
- White helmet, blue jersey and white pants: There is something about this combination that I like a lot. Maybe it is the navy-blue jersey against the white helmet and pants, or maybe it is the orange numbers against the blue jersey and white. Overall, this is a great combination that should be worn more.
- Orange helmet, blue jersey and orange pants: There is something about tradition, and these uniforms are what the Illini have typically worn in home games throughout their history. The blue “Block I” on the helmet goes great with the blue jersey, and the orange numbers are perfect against the orange helmet and pants. Keep this combination as the home uniform.
Illinois has good uniforms, and they don’t need to be changed for a couple of years because they look good on the field, which what is most important. Going into the 2020 season, I would like to see Illinois create some combinations for home games that they haven’t worn in the last couple of seasons. Just stay away from an all-orange look, it hurts my eyes.