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Illinois' Mount Rushmore

2/23/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois rounds out the list of team-by-team Rushmores. I'll take a look at the Big Ten's Rushmore on Tuesday.

Despite struggling for the better part of the last 15 years, Illinois boasts several of college football's all-time greats. 

I doubt I'll get much argument with these selections, though there were some tough choices. Illinois enjoyed periods of success during the 1920s, 1960s and 1980s.

I realize my list challenges the historian inside each of you, but Illinois' not so recent past was simply too impressive to ignore. 

  • Red Grange -- Quite possibly the most dominant player in college football history, Grange earned All-America honors in each of his three seasons with Illinois and was the first recipient of the Big Ten MVP award in 1924. Grange accounted for 2,646 yards of offense and 34 touchdowns at Illinois. He's a charter member of both the pro and college football Halls of Fame and was ESPN's pick as the greatest college football player ever. 

  • Dick Butkus -- The namesake of the Butkus Award remains one of college football's greatest defensive players. Butkus twice earned first-team All-America honors, won the Big Ten MVP in 1963 and led Illinois to a Rose Bowl win on Jan. 1, 1964. He averaged 14.4 tackles a game in his Illini career and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting in 1964. Butkus and Grange are the only Illinois players to have their numbers retired.

  • Jim Grabowski -- A two-time All-American, Grabowski finished his career as the Big Ten's all-time leading rusher. Like his teammate Butkus, he placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting and claimed Big Ten MVP honors, both in 1965. He won Rose Bowl MVP honors after rushing for 125 yards in Illinois' win against Washington. Grabowski also excelled as a student and was a longtime radio analyst for Illinois football.

  • Robert Zuppke -- Zuppke laid the foundation for Illinois' early success on the gridiron, serving as head coach for 29 years. He was an offensive innovator and coached Illinois to four national titles and seven conference championships. The field at Memorial Stadium is named after Zuppke, who coached Grange and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. 

Others considered for Illinois' Rushmore included: Tony Eason, Jeff George, Dana Howard, Alex Agase, Moe Gardner, J Leman, Kevin Hardy and Kurt Kittner.