This is getting to be ridiculous. Unveiling different football uniforms every week has gone from awesome to tired to grating in about the time it takes Phil Knight to pocket another 500k.
The latest abomination comes from Florida's Atlantic High School – yes, a high school – and provides a garish sign that the shark has been jumped (see photo below). It appears as if this poor kid's been sideswiped by a Sherwin Williams van.
The University of Oregon started this trend and, depending on where you fall, either mastered it or prompted an epidemic of unsightliness that's since swept across the nation. (You'll notice Atlantic High's unis have shoulder pads with the Duck wings on them.) It's still amusing to see what the creative geniuses at Nike come up with on a weekly basis – as Michael Kruse wrote in Grantland, the Ducks are "college sports' undisputed champions of the 21st century's attention economy" – but the slope is getting more slippery with each new uniform unveiling.
For example, last year the University of Maryland rolled out a uniform that appeared to be two in one (depending on which side you're looking at) with their state flag tribute digs. This year Notre Dame, a proud program if ever there was one, introduced an alternate "Shamrock Series" uniform that broke something that didn't need fixing. Then Michigan used the Cowboy Classic this month to trot out neon maize road unis (or as Yahoo! Sports' Jay Busbee wrote, "firefly goo") that were about as subtle as a four-year-old's highlighter. And let's not even bring up the bird tracks on Virginia Tech's latest helmets.
Going forward, we're more likely to be disappointed if not entirely unimpressed.
Yes, the kids love it. That's important and will keep this train going even if it careens off the rails. But while it's news when a recruit goes to Oregon for the uniforms, recruits have been going to places like Michigan for the uniforms for decades. That's because there's something else that draws the attention of kids these days: winning.
Anyone who saw the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the relationship between rap music and the Oakland Raiders knows the only truly marketable trend in football is success. Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg loved the Raiders gear, but when the team started struggling, well, that was it. If Oregon starts losing, the uniforms won't seem so cool anymore. And the unforeseen problem with changing a uniform every year is that a bad season can get pegged to a bad uniform for decades on end. Right, White Sox fans? Pretty sure not many middle-aged southsiders have baseball shorts in their closets.
Meanwhile, a simple uniform that lasts for decades can mean good things long after the good times have passed. For example, USC is the only college football program never to have surnames on the back, but still you know the surnames: Allen, White, Bush and yes, Simpson. To put on that uniform is to put yourself into a fraternity that will go on long after you're gone. If USC falls apart after its loss to Stanford, the uniform won't.
And that brings us to one of the greatest of football fraternities: Alabama. A canvassing of Tide fans at last weekend's road game at Arkansas drew a mixture of scoffing and laughter at the idea of their team altering its uniforms. "Not gonna happen," said Anna Springer. "Don't have to do that to look good."
Yes, this is the South, and you'll notice no changes in any SEC teams' threads over the past few years. But you'll also notice the common thread of victory. And you may notice that, as the other college football uniforms change, the crimson of the Tide and the red of the men of Troy and the burnt orange of Texas all look newer, fresher. The changes around them make old look new again.
"I like the classic style," said Shaun Gilbert, a 25-year-old Alabama fan. "Now it's actually different. Everything else is changing, and it's still the same."
A new uniform is great every now and then, but there's nothing uniform about a new uniform every other week. It's a contradiction.
The irony is after all of Oregon's experimenting, from the gun-metal helmets to the feathers on the shoulder pads to the neon numbers, the coolest uniforms they've introduced were by far the simplest:
White pants, white tops, white helmets.
A thing of beauty.
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