clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Eras: Illinois Jerseys and Taylor Swift

Yes, it had to be done.

Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour - Seattle, WA Photo by Mat Hayward/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management

According to Taylor Swift, I have “emotional intelligence” since I was some of the few men that attended her Eras tour concert this past weekend in Seattle. Whatever that means.

But I will wear that with pride and find a match between Taylor Swift’s Eras with eras of Illinois football jerseys.

Much like how Taylor’s albums have a different voice and artistic value, each of Illinois’ last nine jersey styles echoed the artistic vision of the coach and left a mark on each of their eras.

In chronological order of album release, here we go:

I am going to preface this, while I write for and Illinois fan site, I didn't really follow Illinois until I matriculated in 2012. And much like Taylor Swift’s old albums, I didn't really listen until Red dropped in my senior year of high school

Taylor Swift - Mike White Era

Fearless - John Mackovik Era

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

Speak Now - Lou Tepper Era

These three eras were Taylor’s classic country pop albums. They express her time as a rookie artist that grew into her eventual pop-star status.

Illinois jerseys during these eras explore some of the same classical themes — the helmet stripe, striped pants, and the classic orange-blue-orange look that is iconic for the Illini. As I go through the rest of the list, I look at how Taylor’s music and Illinois Jersey styles changes with the eras, as each era is different from the next.

Red - Ron Zook

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

Red was Taylor’s fourth album and expressed “the complex and conflicting feelings resulting from fading romance.” I feel that this accurately represents Ron Zook’s Era at Illinois.

In these jerseys Illinois beat Ohio State at The Horseshoe and lost in the Rose Bowl. But the Zook era turned sour after starting 6-0 in 2011 and ending with 6 straight losses before a bowl win. As fans, we had to live with the good and the bad and be introspective in our own feelings for the Illini. Much like Red, these jerseys are also my personal favorite.

1989 - Ron Turner

1989 was Taylor's most successful album. It had hit after hit and was played every night across Illinois’ gone but not forgotten establishments during my time in Champaign. Much like 1989, Ron Turner’s era was the most successful Illinois era. Illinois achieved its highest ranking in the AP-Top 25 poll in the modern era, and the last time Illinois won the Big Ten.

Reputation - Tim Beckman

Photo by Ray Carlin/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Reputation is probably the darkest and most angst-filled albums released by Taylor Swift as she looked to reinvent her music after a string of allegations. It includes the hits ...Are You Ready For It, Look What You Made Me Do, and my favorite, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

Much like this album, Tim Beckman opened his era with the tagline “A New Era Beckons” and was trying to “vigorously defend his reputation” in press conferences. The Beckman era also had 16 different helmets as he continued to reinvent the Illinois brand.

Lover - Bret Bielema Helmet Change

Much like Lover brings the brighter notes back to Taylor’s music, Bret Bielema changed the helmets in 2021 to visually distance himself from the dark decade that preceded him.

He wanted to bring back some of that traditional aspect of Illinois jerseys of the past, and he achieved just that.

Fokelore - Lovie Smith Era Jerseys

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Folklore started Taylor’s two-year journey into exploring her artistic side. From Wikipedia, “Departing from the mainly upbeat pop production of its predecessors, Folklore consists of mellow ballads driven by neo-classical instruments, pursuing indie folk, alternative rock, and electro-acoustic styles.”

Much like Folklore, Lovie Smith’s era broke from Illinois’ traditional style. Gone were the stripes. Gone were the number outlines. In came acoustic single-color helmets and jerseys.

Evermore - Gray Ghost

Much like the gray ghost uniforms, this album caught everybody off guard during the pandemic. And much like the album, which is described as “as an offshoot of ‘the folklorian woods’”, the gray ghost uniforms wear an artistic angle that never landed with the Illinois fans. With its lack of traditional aspects most fans would expect out of Taylor Swift or Illinois, both should be seen as they are — and a side step from the norm and showcase of artistic talent.

Note: Yes, Folklore had a gray cover, but looking at album sales, Evermore had a closer match to the Gray Ghost uniforms.

Midnights - Bret Bielema Era

Midnights explores Taylor’s self-reflection, and its lyrics use a confessional-yet-cryptic tone. As Illinois fans, we all should be a bit more self-reflective as we start this new season (I should have told myself that before predicting a 6-0 start in 2023). And as for the cryptic nature, tweets like this say it all: