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Game of the Year of the Day, 1923: Illinois 7, Chicago 0

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Bob Zuppke’s 1923 Illinois Fighting Illini: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Red Grange
Illinois athletics

The date: November 3, 1923

The matchup: Chicago (4-0) at Illinois (4-0)

The stakes: Winner claims bragging rights, a likely stake of the Big Ten title, and a potential national title.

The back story: From 50 Best*:

Homecoming against Amos Alonzo Stagg and Chicago would have been a big deal under any circumstances, but this was special. Memorial Stadium was opening in front of 60,000 spectators despite rainy conditions, and both teams were undefeated. Chicago had beaten Michigan State, Colorado State, Northwestern, and Purdue by a combined 77-6 and was in the middle of another golden age. The Maroons were 15-2-1 since the start of 1921 and would finish the season by outscoring Indiana, Ohio State, and Wisconsin by a combined 57-9.

Chicago was surging for one last time under Amos Alonzo Stagg, while Illinois was riding a dominant sophomore class to great success. But there was one sophomore standout in particular for the Illini: a kid from Wheaton named Red Grange. Head coach Robert Zuppke had to convince him to give football a shot, and within a few years he would already be the face of the fledgling NFL.

Grange had scored nine touchdowns in his first four games, via run, reception, punt return, and interception return. He was incredible, but this would be his biggest test yet.

The game: From Newspapers.com:

URBANA, ILL. -- Harold "Red" Grange, the mighty, grows mightier day by day. Today he was a wild man a foot, a veritable whirlwind of activity on a rain soaked field and the ponderous Chicago Maroons, unable to match the speed of the meteoric lad from Wheaton, Ill., fall back in defeat before their time honored Orange and Blue foes in a brilliant struggle that marked the opening of Illinois' memorial stadium. The score was, 7 to 0, and 61,000 enthusiasts saw it come to pass.

For hard relentless play it was a game among games. First it was the Maroons who drove their enemy before them and then it was the Illini. With the Maroons it was always that fearful, old time driving into the wall. The Illini did that and more too because the sprightly, elusive Orange was continually on the rampage. There was none in the Maroon offensive to equal him.

The rain limited two exciting offenses; Illinois made a goal line stand in the second quarter, and Grange scored on a five-yard plunge in the third. He picked off a pass as well. He gave the Illini the push they needed in their biggest game of the year.

The box score: I couldn’t find a box score, but you can find an old-school play-by-play listing here.

UI would go on to take down Wisconsin, Mississippi State, and Ohio State by a combined 46-0 and claim the mythical national title. Chicago, meanwhile, took down Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Indiana by a combined 57-9. This ended up a winner-take-all game for not only the conference title, but the national title.

A year later, Grange would pen his masterpiece, a four-touchdown performance that gave the Illini a dominant win over mighty Michigan.