Football helmets have been called many things over the years like lids, domes, brain buckets, headgear, and hard hats to name a few. Nowadays, football helmets have become a centerpiece of a football uniform. Teams have expanded their repertoire and color palettes recently, creating designs that require most people to wear protective eye-wear to observe. Over it's 125 year history, Illinois football has used 17 different designs of modern football helmets. We're here to put them in order from Worst to First. Let's get to it:
17) 1988 "All Orange"
Orange facemask on an all orange helmet is a bit too much...well...orange
16) 2012-2013 "Matte Blue"
All blue jerseys are an interesting idea, and a look that is synonymous with big wins in Illinois history (see Michigan 1984). Blue helmets on the other hand...synonymous with this look during the 2012/2013 season...
15) ??? "Matte Blue Redesigned"
So much of a football helmet's look has to do with the jersey it sits upon. When Illinois announced it's redesigned uniforms in 2014, they debuted an all blue football uniform that was refined and clean. However, our school colors are Orange and Blue...and as much as the all blue look is clean, it doesn't say "Illinois" to me (at least there's a stripe now).
14) 2012 "ILLINOIS w/ Blue Facemask"
These were debuted on the road in 2012 against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Not only was that game painful, but the entire 2012 football season was painful from start to finish.
13) 1971-1976 "Illini Dual Stripe"
I can only imagine being a fan in the early 70's when these helmets came out. The debut of the "Illini" across the side of the helmet was a really good idea, but the dual white stripe across the sides of the helmet give me flashes of the St. Louis Rams helmets.
12) 2013 "Military Salute"
What works in this helmet design is the basic format of orange helmet with blue and white stripes. While a military salute is a nice touch in a football helmet, you could do a little better than the outline of the state. It was a good first attempt, but there is definitely room to grow.
11) 1983-1987 "The Rose Bowl Team"
Ah yes, the helmets that defined the "Golden Era" of Illinois Football. As you will read further down this list, there is a LOT of love for the "Illini" helmets in this list. But as we addressed in #17, orange on orange is just a bit too much...orange (digging the helmet stickers though).
10) 2014 "Military Salute Part 2"
If you want to salute the military with a football helmet, this is the way to do it. The American flag in the 'Block I' is a really nice touch, and the balance of the blue helmet stripe and facemask fits well with the flag's colors. However, these were worn at home with orange jerseys...this belongs with the all-white look.
9) 2014 & 2015 "Grey Ghost"
Now I have to admit...I'm not the biggest fan of the "All Grey" look. It seems to be the recent bail-out for most clothing brands and their design teams. However, Illinois did manage to tie in a Red Grange reference nicely with these unis; and I'll give Nike and DIA a pass with these.
8) 1977-1979 "Blue Facemask Illini"
This helmet was the first attempt to incorporate blue into an Illinois facemask...and it was a success in our book. Could use a little wider blue stripe over the top of the crown of the helmet, but this is a solid helmet design (especially for when it was debuted).
7) 1989-2004 "ILLINOIS"
Ah yes, the helmets most of us were familiar with growing into our Illinois Football fandom. A classic look with a nice balance of Orange, Blue, and White is a look that branded the 2001 team into Big Ten Champions (our most recent Big Ten Championship to date).
6) 1980-1982 "Grey Facemask Illini"
This helmet preceded the Rose Bowl year's helmet...and in my opinion, it's a better look than the orange facemask on orange helmet look. The grey facemask was restored from the 60's, and brings a really nice contrast against the orange helmet and blue striping. Also, the white boarder on the "Illini" lettering makes the name stand out nicely.
5) 2013-2014 "Block I Helmet"
After DIA announced they were moving away from the ILLINOIS helmets, there was speculation as to what look Illinois football was going to use. The reaction was strong, and the designs were a hit. While maintaining the same orange helmet with blue and white stripe over the top, the 'Block I' was a great change of pace.
4) 2014 - Present "Redesigned Orange Block I"
Continuing the 'Block I' theme was no surprise when Illinois designed it's uniforms. However, the change from a blue I to a white I is a nice touch along with the matte orange finish.
3) 2014 - Present "Redesigned White Block I"
When redesigning uniforms, an all-white option was released. With the white uniform came white helmets...and they look incredible. The orange 'Block I' with a navy blue boarder stands out nicely against the white helmet, and the blue and orange double stripe across the top balance out the primary colors. Of the three main helmet redesigns, these are the favorite.
2) 1960s - 1970, 2008 "Throwback"
When Illinois took the field against Eastern Illinois in 2008 in newly renovated Memorial Stadium, they rocked a throwback look that was clean and refined. No gimmicks, no crazy designs, just timeless look and a look to the future ahead. These were the uniforms that Dick Butkus wore during his time at Illinois, and is a look I hope returns to Memorial Stadium in years to come. (Check out this photo gallery of the uniforms at Illinois Loyalty.com)
1) 2005 - 2012 "ILLINOIS redesigned"
I'm biased, so bear with me...but these helmets were part of a look that defines Illinois football. As I type this, I'm watching the replay of the Illinois Wisconsin game from 2007. The orange helmet on a blue jersey with white pants is the quintessential look that makes us who we are in my opinion. The reason why the '05-'12 helmet is better than the '89-'04 helmet is the bold ILLINOIS outlined in blue. The blue outline and blue stripes down the middle add just enough color to compliment the orange theme, and a white facemask is a cleaner look than a blue facemask. This helmet doesn't only represent Illinois, it says it on the side.
Tell us what your favorite helmet design is in the comments below!