Editor’s Note: I’ve made it pretty clear what I think about Nike’s Oregon shenanigans. But what about fans who actually live in Oregon? Happily, our own Jeremy Brahm hails from the Beaver State and has generously offered to provide the local perspective. I’ll have more Oregon info after his report. — PL]
By Jeremy Brahm
I will start with the following: I am a native of this great state, did not attend Oregon or Oregon State but have friends who attended both, have seen games at Reser (Parker) Stadium and Autzen Stadium, followed both programs growing up, and have lived and died with their challenges.
When I was a child, the Blazers were at the top of people’s sports priorities in Oregon, because they’d won the 1977 NBA title. The Ducks’ track program was dominant and the Beavers’ basketball program was a contender, but the both schools’ football teams were atrocious. Between 1964 and 1988, the Ducks managed five six-win seasons — in an 11-game season, that meant few bowl games. The Beavers were just as bad: After winning seven games in 1970, they didn’t win seven again until 1999.
1989 was the beginning of a rebirth of the Ducks program, with a trip to the Independence Bowl after a 7-4 season. In 1994, the Ducks did the impossible and went to the Rose Bowl against Penn State. I attended the Civil War game that year at then-Parker Stadium to see the Ducks win in the cold and rain, 17-13. I was there with one Japanese friend, who was studying at OSU, along with Oregon classmates from my time in Japan. The colors of the two schools are very distinct, and at the game you could see Ducks fans in the yellow and green the Beavers fans in their orange and black (more of the latter, of course, since the game was played in the Beavers’ stadium).
This is what the Ducks wore at that Rose Bowl — very traditional, as you can see. Several years later, in 1998, the Ducks and Nike introduced the mallard helmet with its single O (at the time, they didn’t know they’d put it on both sides of the helmet). Most people outside of the state don’t realize that the O is for two different homes of the Ducks — Hayward Field for the inner O and Autzen, after expansion, for the outer O.
Since then, the Ducks have worn all sorts of unusual designs. I will say this: As an Oregonian, I know which team I’m watching when I see a Ducks game on television. And when I was growing up, you wouldn’t see people wearing much Oregon gear, except for the obligatory college sweatshirt. Now you see it all over.
I’ll admit that Nike does go too far with the Ducks at times, but younger fans like it because they’re always looking for what they’ll come out with next, and older fans could care less, they just want the Ducks to win. The all-yellow look probably made most people here cringe, but one of the slogans for the Ducks is “Yell-O” (scream, “O” for Oregon, get it?). As for what others might think about the uniforms, I’d say Oregonians could care less about that too, which is probably a trait of this state, because we’re so distant from the rest of the country and major markets. We like seeing that we’re getting some recognition for something other than rain and Tonya Harding.
The ones who are bothered the most by Oregon’s uniforms are probably Oregon State and their fans, who resent that the Ducks get so much attention at the beginning of the season and love to watch them fail as the season progresses. The Beavers also believe the Ducks get things from Nike without earning them, such as unveiling a new uniform design when your team has three loses into a season for football. I would agree with this one.
As for Nike, Oregonians generally love the company because it’s a local brand gone global. I’ve worn Nikes since I was a kid and I still buy them — not all the time, but it’s one of my preferred brands. Most Oregonians realize that the university and Nike are joined at Phil Knight’s hip, which at times can make for strange circumstances. For example, Kevin Love, who’s from the Oregon town of Lake Oswego, actually chose not to attend Oregon because he had the audacity (in Nike’s opinion) to play at an Adidas camp because it had better players. After that incident, he went to UCLA and has worn Adidas since. He was one of the best high school players in Oregon history but he crossed the swoosh and the Ducks, and people here have not forgiven him. We like to see our own stay here and succeed, but it doesn’t always happen that way.
If it quacks like a
douchebag duck…: Paul here. Big thanks to Jeremy for giving us the local take on all this, and for his countless contributions to the site.
Meanwhile, here’s yet more Oregon news: Ducks coach Mike Bellotti participated in a conference call yesterday, during which Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Bud Withers asked several questions about the Oregon/Nike design process. I wasn’t on the call, but reader Travis Demers had access to the audio and sent it to me as an MP3 file, which I’ve transcribed as follows:
Bud Withers: Mike, since your game last week wasn’t on TV, as you pointed out, did you guys wear the black helmets, or are those still in the box?
Mike Bellotti: We did, we wore ’em. We wore the black helmets and the black uniforms. Too bad you didn’t get a chance to see it, it looked awesome.
Withers: Huh, OK. Are these things, these innovations, just gonna keep on coming, or is there a limit to this?
Bellotti: No, they’re gonna keep on coming. You know, our tradition is innovation. So that’s become the buzzword, and I think the new uniforms are the lightest ever made, they’re reinforced in the shoulders, because of the lightness, to allow them to be usable over a longer period of time. The uniform we unveiled [this past Saturday] was sort of a special uniform. I think we’ll have this set for one more year, and then we’ll go into production for some new — y’know, a whole revamping for 2010. And now we have four helmets to choose from.
Withers: Can you explain what the process is? Does someone from Nike come to you and say, “Here’s the latest thing we’re looking at,” and then you screen them or something?
Bellotti: Yeah. We actually, uh — y’know, this was kind of a surprise to everyone. This was more of a one-shot deal that Nike wanted to do, and we had a chance to have input to it. And this was not with our players — this was just me as a coach. And we, I said some certain things, suggested this and that, and they came back with a prototype, and we said, “Yeah, that’s awesome, let’s go with it.” But when we go to the full uniform line, we involve our players. There’s a group right now, of younger players, freshmen and sophomores, who are meeting with the design people at Nike on a regular basis to kind of put ideas together for our future uniforms. And that’s a combination of color ideas, style ideas, just the whole look. And that will be the geneis, or — the next wave.
Withers: And your sense, I think, in the past has been that this is important to the players, correct?
Bellotti: Yeah — well — yeah, I think it’s imp.. — they, they love having some ownership in it. They love having some creative input. The reality is that they’re helping to design what they’re gonna wear, sort of like picking your own clothes. The other thing is that it does appeal to other people out there. And even if it doesn’t [appeal] to some, they’re talkin’ about it.
First, let’s all chip in and buy Bud Withers a computer and an internet connection, so he can see photos of games that he can’t get on his wind-up TV machine. Second: Whoa, “picking your own clothes” — revolutionary! Third: So the moral of the story is that even if something’s very, very stupid, all that really matters is that everyone’s talking about it. Hey, it worked (read: didn’t work) for Sarah Palin, so why not?
But what interested me most is that Withers and Bellotti both described last Saturday’s helmet as being black. And yeah, while it was technically a very dark green, c’mon, for practical purposes it’s black. Which is very interesting considering what Nike’s Tinker Hatfield told me back in 2006: “[A black helmet for the Ducks] was discussed — some players thought it’d be pretty cool. But I didn’t think it would be right, out of respect for Oregon State, because they have black helmets. So I vetoed any black helmet.” I’ve e-mailed Hatfield to ask him why he’s changed his tune on this one (and no, Matt Powers, you cannot have his e-mail address), but so far no response.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Canterbury, a New Zealand-based outfitter specializing in high-tech rugby gear, is moving into the soccer market (with thanks to Matt Brukman). … Gorgeous game-used 1950s Pirates uniform available here (with thanks to Ryan Connelly). … Iowa high school football observations from Jesse Gavin: (1) This guy‘s name isn’t Pride. That’s Sioux City Heelan’s team, and they all wear “Pride” nameplates. (2) Between the hip, the shoulder, the helmet, and the pride stickers, West Lyon is bordering on paw print overload. … Steve May reports that The Vancouver Sun recently held a contest in which they invited kids to design an alternate Canucks jersey. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: We missed yet another Gene Upshaw sleeve tribute, this time by Tennessee’s David Thornton. … Great illustration from last week’s New Yorker. … In yesterday’s comments, someone asked about the connection between Jerry West and the NBA logo. As I explained in a comment of my own, a very good story on that subject was written a few years ago. Oddly, it’s no longer on the web, but I have a printout of it and made a scan of it yesterday — you can read it by clicking through the six images shown here (for each page, click on the thumbnail and then click on “All Sizes” on the resulting screen to get a legible-sized version — a hassle, but it’s worth it). Contrary to what the article implies, however, the NBA logo isn’t based on this photo — it’s based on this one. … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: The Niners are making a green dot switcheroo. … Not sure exactly what’s going on here, but Ryan Perkins sent it my way. … Brendon Yarian notes that Da’Rel Scott has “Faith” written on his wrist tape. … What do you do if your basketball program’s in the toilet, your most famous uniform element was your coach’s sweater, and your team is called the Red Storm? You do the same damn thing as everyone else: break out the black uniforms. Additional evidence of the world losing its mind here. … When the Cowboys acquired their second Roy Williams, we all started wondering what they’d do about the two players’ jersey nameplates. And the answer, of course, was nothing — they both just wore “Williams.” But Gordon Reid appears to have found a spot where their names are styled differently: on their helmet nameplates. Dig: The Williams who plays on offense has an unusually long Dymo Tape name label on his helmet — too long for just his surname. Compare that to this preseason shot of the other Williams. Looks like the new Williams must have his first and middle initials on the label, or some other identifier. … Speaking of Oregon, they did the blank-uni thing last night.