Butkus, Grange among ESPN's top-11 CFB players of all-time


ESPN reminded the nation that Illinois football has a storied history. The Illini were the only program to have two of the top-11 players in ESPN’s Top-150 College Football’s 150-year history — who both have statues outside Memorial Stadium.

Linebacker Dick Butkus was the highest-ranked defensive player at No. 8, and running back Red Grange — college football’s first superstar — came in at No. 6.

ESPN released the final list during halftime of the College Football Playoff championship game between LSU and Clemson.

On ESPN.com, it wrote of Grange:

“Nearly a century later, Grange's first-quarter performance against Michigan in 1924 remains unmatched: In the dedication game of Memorial Stadium on the Illinois campus, Grange returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. In the next 10 minutes, he ran for scores of 67, 56 and 44 yards. He finished with five touchdowns and threw for a sixth. Grantland Rice bestowed Grange with the nickname "the Galloping Ghost." Illinois coach Bob Zuppke, late in his career, told Rice, "I will never have another Grange. But neither will anybody else." Grange was a three-time consensus All-American and in the inaugural College Football Hall of Fame class.”

On Butkus, ESPN wrote:

Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins once wrote that if every college football team had a linebacker like Butkus, "all fullbacks would soon be 3 feet tall and sing soprano." Few linebackers hit as hard or as often as Butkus, a two-time All-American at Illinois. He was named the Big Ten's MVP in 1963 and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting the next year. Against Ohio State in 1963, Butkus made 23 tackles, a school record at the time. In 1985, a trophy awarded to the best linebacker in college football was named in his honor.

Illinois has retired only two numbers in its history: Butkus’ No. 50 and Grange’s No. 77. In 2009, the Illini unveiled a statue of Grange on the west side of Memorial Stadium. The Illini unveiled a Dick Butkus statue last October in front of the new $80 million Smith Football Center on the east side of Memorial Stadium. Both statues were constructed by artist George Lundeen.

“This is a very humbling experience, to tell you the truth,” Dick Butkus said in October. “I didn’t come here to play and get a statue after I was done. So it’s very humbling. …It’s a humbling deal. What the hell else do you want me to say? It’s usually something for dead people. But it’s pretty nice.”


The top 11 were revealed at halftime:

1-Jim Brown
2-Herschel Walker
3-Bo Jackson
4-Archie Griffin
5-Jim Thorpe
6-Red Grange
7-Earl Campbell
8-Dick Butkus
9-Barry Sanders
10-Gale Sayers
11-Roger Staubach