Uniform Changes

On Monday, word came out that Nebraska, with Tom Osborne’s blessing, will wear an alternative football uniform for a 2012 home game.  For those outside of Nebraska, or unfamiliar with the Holy Church of Nebraska Football, let me put this in relative terms.  This announcement is similar to the New York Yankees announcing that they’re removing the pinstripes, Notre Dame changing their helmets to silver, or Apple replacing their logo with an image of a pear.  It has been a big topic in the newspapers, radio shows, and message boards.

While Osborne has said the uniforms will be “futuristic”, but not “outlandish”, there is still much consternation over the changes from the traditionalist fans.  Meanwhile, many fans are excited that Nebraska will be keeping pace with the dozens of schools who wear new or alternate uniforms every year.

I’m torn on this.  I understand all of the reasons why Nebraska should do it.

  • Money.  The dozens of Nebraska apparel shops would love to sell fans a new jersey every year.  Adidas and the Nebraska athletic department would also love it too.  But since the look of the NU jersey doesn’t change that drastically, many fans will only get a new one for a favorite player (some of the 1990s Tommie Frazier jerseys are finally being retired for Ndomukong Suh or Rex Burkhead jerseys), or to own a cool alternate jersey.  At $60 for a replica jersey, an alternate uniform is almost definitely a money-maker for Adidas and NU.
  • Recruiting.  College football is becoming a fashion show as teams (led by Oregon) wear sleek, futuristic uniforms that look like they came from a video game.  Part of recruiting the next wave of talented players to your school is getting them excited about how cool they’ll look in your school’s uniform(s).  As Paul Lukas of the Uni-Watch blog says, “The current trends in college football uni design basically boil down to the fact that 17-year-olds respond to shiny objects”.  If you are not shiny, you risk being ignored for somebody who is shiny.  Given the hyper attention paid to gaining every possible recruiting advantage (in a cold weather state hundreds of miles from beaches, mountains, or big cities) getting on the uniform bandwagon seems logical.
  • Change is (nearly) constant.  Most of the time it is pretty subtle, but the uniforms have actually changed quite a bit over the years – a stripe here, a patch there, etc.  And that doesn’t even include the fashion debacle that was the 2002 uniforms (ugh).  In the past, NU has had numbers on their helmets or an “NU”; they had the Kansas basketball style numerals, and dozens of different cuts and fabrics.  There are some definite differences between today’s uniforms and what was worn in 1983, or even 1997.  See for yourself:  http://sites.google.com/site/nebraskafootballhistory/uniforms.  What I’m saying is if a “futuristic” alternative looks like an evolution of the current design, then it might not be that bad.
  • It’s just one game.  Even on the Great Plains, we still worry about slippery slopes.  There is a definite fear that Nebraska will become a midwestern version of Oregon, never wearing the same jersey combination twice.  I think that fear is a little overblown, but I do still worry about getting too far away from tradition, and fostering the idea that the team should wear the new unis full-time because they played great and beat a Top 10 team while wearing them.
  • The players want them.  Reaction from the current players has been overwhelmingly positive.  Noting the Paul Lukas quote above, I think the attraction to “shiny things” extends to kids in their early 20s too, so I’m not all that surprised by this.  Kids want to keep up with their peers, and if their peers are wearing the latest Nike Pro Combat uniforms, then that is what they want too.
  • If T.O. approves, how bad can it be?  I don’t mean that quite as sarcastically as it comes out, but there is a definite portion of the fan base who would get on board with Nebraska wearing purple uniforms with neon orange helmets if Tom Osborne gave it his blessing.  Osborne is perceived to be stodgy, stoic, and quite conservative.  Most fans believe he has the program’s best interests at heart, so if he can get on board with it, you and I probably should too.

And I also understand all of the reasons why Nebraska shouldn’t change things up:

  • The uniforms are one of the last pieces of the storied NU tradition still intact.  Much has been made of destruction of Nebraska football’s culture and tradition, mostly under the control of Steve Pedersen and Bill Callahan (although, remember:  one of Pedersen’s very first acts as Nebraska A.D. was to get rid of the hideous 2002 uniforms).  Fans and alumni feel like the erosion of the many things that have made Nebraska unique and special signals the end of a storied era, and a true gravitation towards mediocrity.
  • Old School is OK.  While Oregon and some of the other futuristically-clad teams occasionally will trot out something cool, for the most part they look silly.  Nebraska’s iconic white helmet with the simple, sans-serif “N” may be plain and boring to some, but it is a known and respected brand.  I personally think the best looking teams in college football are the ones with simple, traditional uniforms:  Alabama, Penn State, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.
  • Black is not a school color, it is a defensive color.  I don’t know if Jason Peter has said this or not, but I think it sounds like something he’d say:  There is something inherently wrong with an offensive player or 4th string defender getting to wear a black Nebraska jersey.  The Blackshirts are one of the sacred traditions, and letting the whole team wear it cheapens the meaning.
  • Bad history.  Nebraska traditionally does poorly in monochromatic games.  By my count*, Nebraska is 2-10 (17%) wearing all one color.  Toss in the 1962 throwbacks worn for the 300th sellout in 2009, and Nebraska still only wins 23% of their games when they deviate heavily from the norm.

* The games where Nebraska has worn a uniform combination other than red jersey/white pants (home) or white jersey/red pants (away) – from my very brief, Wiki-based research:

  • 1986:  Oklahoma 20, Nebraska 17.  Red pants, red jerseys
  • 1991:  Georgia Tech 45, Nebraska 21 (Citrus Bowl).  White pants, white jerseys
  • 1992:  Washington 29, Nebraska 14.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 1992:  Nebraska 34, Missouri 24. White pants, white jerseys
  • 1992:  Iowa State 19, Nebraska 10.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Penn State 40, Nebraska 7.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Iowa State 36, Nebraska 14.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Oklahoma State 24, Nebraska 21.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Nebraska 38, Texas A&M 31. White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Kansas State 49, Nebraska 13.  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2002:  Mississippi 27, Nebraska 23 (Independence Bowl).  White pants, white jerseys
  • 2007:  Colorado 65, Nebraska 51.  White pants, white jerseys

Bottom line – I’m passively* against it.  While I wish Nebraska would stick to their traditional and iconic look, I knew this day would come.  There are just too many potential perks for the program (namely – money and recruiting) to pass up.  I do think the Nebraska brand is cheapened by getting on the alternative uniform bandwagon, although whether this is a bigger hit than any of the other culture shocks the program has endured in the last decade is a whole other conversation.

*Yeah, the blog post may not qualify as “passive”, but I’m not lighting up message boards or talk radio shows with my discontent, am I?

I would be perfectly happy if Nebraska uniforms never changed.  If that makes me an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy, then so be it.  I guess the thing that scares me the most is that these futuristic uniforms will be stupid, ugly – or both – and Nebraska would be better served to just wear the same red jersey, white pants, white helmet look they’ve worn for decades.


While I like your post, there are a couple of points I’d disagree with. One, while I reserve judgment until I see the final uniform, this isn’t the Yankees ditching pinstrips, unless the color red is completely removed. Second, I’d disagree that the small “N” on the helmet is very recognizable; I would argue the larger, stylized “N” with a border on it is more recognizable. I wrote a full post on these points here: http://derekjohnsonmuses.com/2012/04/07/not-about-pleasing-70-year-old-fans-nebraksas-alternate-uniforms-and-helmets/
Keep it up.

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