Breaking down the bowl game gear
Uni Watch could keep you in suspense with a lengthy set-up or an introductory drumroll, but instead let's just cut to the chase: It's a bad design. Look:
It's a shame, too, because Oregon and Nike had been charting an interesting course over the past two seasons. Uni Watch has liked the winged-shoulder jersey design since the day it was unveiled (and you can look it up), and most of the resulting mix-and-match combinations have looked pretty good. Uni Watch would even go so far as to say the Ducks have been the better-looking team on the field for most of their games this season.
But that sure won't be the case in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10. True, the new uniform they'll be wearing for the big game doesn't sink to the level of the diamond plate era, and in some ways it's quite harmless-looking. But Uni Watch has several gripes with it. To wit:
• It's a nice day for a white
wedding title game: As the designated road team, the Ducks had no choice but to wear a white jersey. But white pants too? For the biggest game of the year? Seriously, is there anyone who doesn't think one of these options would've looked better? Disappointing.
• Be true to your school: What are Oregon's official school colors again? Oh right, green and yellow -- not that you'd know it from this uniform. True, this isn't the first time the Ducks couldn't be bothered to wear their true hues, but come on -- it's the biggest game in the school's history and this is how you choose to represent? And no, fluorescent yellow trim doesn't count. Which brings us to ...
• The Day-Glo factor: Remember when the Ducks used to look as though they'd been dipped in highlighter ink? OK, so the new uni doesn't go that far, but it's still way too heavy on the fluorescent trim (yo, guys, you forgot to put a yellow outline on the wings!). And then there's the slight matter of the socks -- woof. OK, we get it: You can wear solid white and still look flashy. But there are better ways to go about it than this.
But the real problem with the Nikegon approach isn't with this specific design, because almost anything the Ducks came up with had a strong chance of feeling like a letdown anyway. That's what happens when you paint yourself into a corner by being ever more outrageous, refusing to wear the same uniform combination twice, and letting shock value be its own reward. At some point people become numb. The radical becomes conventional. By this time next year (or maybe next week), people will be saying, "Neon-yellow socks? Yeah, whatevs." That's not stretching the boundaries; that's just fostering cynicism, as people begin to interpret your moves as being calculated, not innovative.
The most interesting comment at the unveiling came from Nike Creative Director Todd Van Horne, who said the new uni "will actually look like blur on the field." Not like a blur -- just "like blur." So you've poured all these resources and energy into designing this thing, slaved over the details, and now you tell us it'll look like an indistinct smudge. That's just great. Let's hope he's right.
Meanwhile, almost forgotten amidst the Ducks hoopla, three other teams unveiled new uniforms yesterday for their respective bowl games. Let's take a look, beginning with Boise State
When it will be worn: The Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22, against Utah.
Uni Watch says: Sure, why not. As special uniforms go, it's a whole lot better than that predominately gray design the Broncos wore back in September. True blue!
Next on the runway is Florida:
When it will be worn: The Outback Bowl, New Year's Day, against Penn State.
Uni Watch says: Not exactly an earthshaking change, unless you count the orange undersleeves. But again, why go white-on-white for a bowl game, especially when the Gators could wear their sharp-looking blue pants? Too plain an approach, especially if the other team on the field is Penn State. Snazzy new shoes, though.
And TCU trotted out a new design yesterday as well:
When it will be worn: The Rose Bowl, New Year's Day, against Wisconsin -- maybe. Although this uniform was unveiled on Tuesday, Uni Watch is now hearing from reliable sources that it probably will not be worn, and that TCU will most likely wear purple, not black.
Uni Watch says: Doesn't really matter either way, since the Horned Frogs are pretty much the ugliest team in the nation no matter what they wear.
And Then There's That Other Team
Meanwhile, Auburn -- remember Auburn? -- will be wearing new footwear and gloves for the big game against Oregon. Aside from that, the Tigers will be sticking with their regular home uniform. Wow, what a concept.
That isn't to say Under Armour, which outfits the Tigers, hasn't tried to get the school to go with something new. "They come to us with new ideas every year," says Tim Jackson, Auburn's executive associate athletic director. "They've begged us to do all sorts of stuff, whether it's new colors, or digi-camouflage, all these things. And they're great ideas. But in the end, that uniform design is just sacred to us."
Jackson says the school's conservative approach to its uniform was sealed a few years back in a game against Georgia.
"I forget exactly when it was, because it was before I got here," he says. "But we came out wearing orange jerseys and got beat by Georgia. I think that was the game that really locked Auburn people in regarding the uniforms. Don't mess with our uniforms."
That approach is bound to please the purists. But what do today's 20-year-old players think of it?
"You know kids today," Jackson says. "They see all these different uniforms, and they come to me and say, 'Look at these other schools, why don't we do something like that?' And I say, yeah, let's talk about other schools. Let's talk about Penn State, Oklahoma, USC. It's called tradition, see? And that's just who we are."
And so we can add one more storyline to the BCS title game: It isn't just Auburn against Oregon, or SEC against Pac-10, or Under Armour against Nike -- it's also the traditional against the newfangled.
Or at least that's one way to look at it. But Jackson doesn't agree. "They've got a tradition, too -- to come out with a unique look for every game," he says. "That's their thing. It's not better than our tradition, and it's not worse. Just different."
(Special thanks to Phil Hecken for Photoshopping the various Oregon pant options.)
Paul Lukas really wishes the Oregon uniform had at least a little bit of green. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.