Senior College Football Columnist

Culture clash over uniform revolution ... but the new duds sell


Northwestern may be one of the smarter schools, but you wouldn't know it from their new unis. (Under Armour)  
Northwestern may be one of the smarter schools, but you wouldn't know it from their new unis. (Under Armour)    

They're coming for you, Alabama. You too, Southern California. Eventually, they're coming for all of you and it's going to get ugly. Check that, it's already hideous.

Turns out in the world of college football fashion design there really is nothing sacred. This new uniform trend actually jumped the shark long ago. TCU has helmets that make the Horned Frogs look like they're wearing lizard skin. Oregon's colors could power Shanghai. Maryland's state flag wasn't wacky enough. Under Armour rounded up some tailors and sewed it into a uniform.

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Northwestern is smarter than you think. Just don't judge by the stripe across the chest.

There are more and they must be stopped. It has become the hippest thing since tear-away jerseys to make those same jerseys a blank canvas for some graduate of the Crayola Crayon Technological and Design School. From where else would Nike be hiring?

They must be stopped mostly because they are winning. They've found a way into our hearts and our wallets. They're winning because we're buying the new gear as fast as they can create new merch. We apparently don't care if the colors that were good enough for generations of proud alums have been kidnapped, tortured by Sherwin-Williams and are, at this moment, rolling off a truck somewhere like rows of fabric Skittles on hangers.

They are winning because media dopes like me are writing about them, unwilling accomplices in the Nike/Under Armour/Adidas publicity machine. You know what they say in the biz: There's no such thing as bad PR. Unless, of course, it is accented with chartreuse and has violet piping down the side.

They are winning because pillars of football tradition -- and good taste -- are being taken out one by one. First-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien hinted strongly last week that the Nittany Lions are going to change their uniforms.

"The new era of Penn State football," he said cryptically. "Some of the changes people will have to wait and see until September, on Sept. 1."

While it's laudable -- the change would be a symbolic departure from the old regime -- it is not going to go down easily. It's one thing for Oregon to adopt Nike's acid-tripped uniform think tank as part of its culture. It's another to treat a perfectly good uniform combination like it was a highway underpass, tagged with the spray paint of a restless youth.

Somewhere, Knute Rockne is puking. The shame is, if he were alive today, there would be a marketing exec nearby ready with a Twitpic of the mess, texting it to corporate. Subject line: Have we thought of these colors?

That's why it's only a matter of time, Alabama and USC. Those iconic Crimson and White and Gold and Cardinal jerseys are about to be dipped in Easter egg dye and sold to the next generation. That is, if their parents don't bum rush the bookstore first and buy up on the new stuff. Among the great dinosaurs of tradition who have roamed this earth, you may be a dying breed Tide and Trojans.

You too, Texas and Oklahoma.

Yes, they're coming for you because another proud dinosaur breathed its last breath this past week. A few days ago Nebraska showed off its new uniforms for the Sept. 29 game against Wisconsin. Nebraska, where Tom Osborne would, back in the day, sooner join NWA than change the I-option offense.

It's not a game to Adidas. It's the matchup of the company's top football programs. Let's do away with flowery pronouncements, then, and declare the new Husker duds what they are -- dumb.

Dumb because whoever at Adidas designed the suckers isn't plugged in to the most well-known Nebraska joke in existence.

Question: What does the "N" on the Nebraska helmet stand for?

Answer: Nowledge.

Get it? Touchdowns, Nebraska (k)nows. Spelling and general smarts, maybe not so much. It was a quaint, insulting dig that goes back to Nebraska's days of dominating the Big Eight. At least. If you can't beat 'em, zing 'em. Now the dumb joke is sure to spread to millions -- you're reading me aren't you? -- because of a dumb decision.

Apparently no one in Herzogenaurach, Germany, at Adidas world headquarters has heard of the joke. Even if they had, did it seem in no way possible that an even bigger "N" spread across Huskers' chests could possibly resemble a certain superhero's identifying initial? Nuperman, anyone?

That doesn't forgive some half-aware senior associate AD back in Lincoln for not interrupting the Monday planning meeting with a timely suggestion.

"We might want to think about this. ..."

Either the brass at Nebraska is so disconnected from a joke that has spanned a generation or they believe that giant "N" will give their team nuper powers.

Even if the Huskerville higher ups weren't sensitive to tradition, they should recall recent history. Last year, Nebraska lost its prestigious Association of American Universities status. The much-sought accreditation puts the best research institutions in an exclusive club.

When Nebraska had that status, it helped make the joke a joke. Nebraska is now the only non-AAU Big Ten school. Insert punch line -- rather, new uniforms -- here.

No one is saying Nebraska just got dumber. Even if this slipped by Osborne, it had to get the passing attention of Harvey Perlman. Nebraska's chancellor is a smart, accomplished and influential man. But to allow his student-athletes to run around like a bunch of misplaced Sesame Street characters? (Hey, only 25 other letters are missing.)

Turns out, leaders are sometimes less nowledgeable than we thought.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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