The Importance of Looking Earnest
In the grand plan, there was to be no uniform comment this season. However, uniforms have been so uniformly disgusting this football fall, that good taste requires some comment. This became glaringly apparent when Notre Dame, whose uniforms are about as traditional as they get, came out against Boston College in uniforms variously described as the GEICO creature, or in the words of Byron Calhoun, who notices trivia, like a horde of Peter Pans. While intended as a novelty getup to enliven the game between the only two Catholic schools in big time football, they caused even some Oregon fans to suffer gastric distress. Notre Dame has succumbed to this trend of departing from tradition a few times in recent years, which is a good reason to fire the coach and president of the school. Not to mention, Notre Dame barely won a game in which it was a solid favorite.
Before that, of course, Notre Dame had worn the same outfits almost since the time football players started using helmets. People probably thought they were too cheap to get new outfits. Pictures of Johnny Lujack in the 1940s show a uniform almost identical to what Tim Brown wore 40 years later and what Will Fuller wears today—gleaming gold helmets and pants with either navy blue jerseys at home or white on the road, with a minimum of decoration anywhere to be seen. And, once in awhile (usually to provide inspiration for big games) they pull out green jerseys. But that is part of tradition and quite acceptable.
During the last 70 years there have been occasional insults to the tradition, and each time God punished the Irish for their sacrilege. Back in the late 1950s, they abandoned the gold helmets for unpainted and very old-fashioned looking leather helmets. The players responded with some of the worst seasons in Irish history, including a 2-8 record in 1960. The only other major deviation from its legendary style was when the high school coach, Gerry Faust, changed the dark blue to a Blessed Mother blue, and was rewarded with four mediocre years, crowned by a 58-7 loss to Miami in 1985.
Notre Dame’s recent putrid performance broke the camel’s back, but it was hardly the worst uniform offense of the season. Closer to home, UM has set its program back light years by changing looks every other game so that the players don’t even recognize their own teammates in clutch situations, frequently passing the ball to the other team or tackling cheerleaders. Some of the looks have been just awful, but the worst was going to dark helmets on dark uniforms. The color was schwartzgrun—a black-green—probably with paint left over from the Luftwaffe, which used the same shade on Messerschmitts. It totally negated the effect of one of the most recognizable logos in sports—the green and orange “U,” which adorned their white helmets since the glory days of Howard Schnellenberger and Jim Kelly. The “U” stands out boldly against white, but virtually disappears on a dark background. Miami’s success disappeared with it.
Much as we admired coach Al Golden and hated to see him go, he frankly sealed his fate by allowing his team to dress like buffoons. It is hard to believe a man who came out of the Penn State program, with such unaffected and recognizable uniforms, right up there with Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan and Texas, could have let the hot weather here affect his judgment.
Other local disgraces: FAU keeps switching its look. We saw them in dark blue helmets, then against Florida last week they came out in all white. Not bad, except there is no sense of the past, of tradition. They almost beat Florida, but only because Florida wore those stupid blue pants. You will never be accepted in modern society until you decide who you are, and what you look like. FAU appears hopeless.
Finally, the pros. This one is subtle. The Dolphins changed their color, ever so gently, but ever so stupidly. Back in the glory days they wore aqua—sort of a feminine color, but don’t mention that to Larry Csonka. The Dolphins made that shade formidable with the great, undefeated team and two Super Bowl wins. Who would ever change the look of success? Well, some fool at the Dolphins did, when the aqua changed to a lighter, almost flowery blue—same mistake Notre Dame made years before. And look at the result: coach fired, for a uniform change that has no rational explanation, and will haunt the team until Garo rises from the grave.
Do uniforms count? We are not alone. When Howard Schnellenberger took FAU from a startup to national recognition in record time, we chatted one day about the uniforms. We told him we liked them.
Thanks, I designed them, he said. It was about the time Miami, his former team, began screwing up its championship look—with uniforms that featured Arabian Nights slashes. We asked what he thought about the new UM look.
It’s awful, he said. And that said it all.