By Phil Hecken
I’m back today with Tim Newcomb, who you may remember graced the Uni Watch pages a short while ago with his look at the making of an Olympic Soccer Boot. Once the “special” one-off uniforms for the Nebraska Cornhuskers (in their rivalry game against Wisconsin) were announced, Tim wanted to do a rundown of the unis, complete with an interview with Michael Stephens, Nebraska’s assistant athletic director in charge of apparel — I couldn’t turn that down, so I told Tim to go for it. And now it’s ready for prime time. You’re sure to enjoy this one folks, so here’s Mr. Newcomb and his take on…
Messing With Tradition: Behind the Scenes of the Nebraska Football Alternate
By Tim Newcomb
You’ll be quickly forgiven if you weren’t aware that Nebraska’s first-ever new-concept alternate jersey—you know, the one with the black helmet and the giant black “N” on the chest of the all-red uniform—is actually a nod to the past. Everything new has to have an element of tieback these days, right?
As the Huskers unveiled their red-based, black-highlighted uniform it will wear just once, at Homecoming on Sept. 29 against Wisconsin (the Badgers will also wear an alternate that contest), tradition-loving Nebraska fans cried foul. And loudly, with the word “ugly” in constant use on message boards. But, hey, at least the red “N” on the helmet didn’t go anywhere, a move that was never even on the table during design meetings.
Michael Stephens, Nebraska’s assistant athletic director in charge of apparel, tells Uni Watch that messing with the red “N” was simply not an option. “I’d say that’s a big deal,” he says. “It is a branding piece we wanted to keep the same.”
With the helmet’s “N” locked down, Nebraska certainly provided a different look with the remainder of the alternate for Cornhusker fans accustomed to a simple white helmet with basic red or white shirts over the opposite color pants (white tops with red bottoms for the road and red tops with white bottoms at home). Now they’ve got all the red they can handle and a bit more than a splash of black.
For Nebraska fans unhappy that their beloved Huskers broke from tradition with the red-black uniform, blame Adidas. “Adidas had come to us with some concepts six months ago with what they wanted to do,” Stephens says. “Once we got into talking about doing something for one game, doing one major national event made sense.”
Nebraska didn’t just take all that Adidas had to offer, instead starting a discussion full of revisions (Stephens says he can’t even remember the original concept) to get to the Homecoming uniform. During that process, Stephens knew that Husker tradition rivals corn itself as the most important ingredient in a happy Nebraska fan, so the school was careful to not “overstep the bounds.”
Once word leaked this summer that Nebraska was working on an alternate, questions quickly arose over how much black would get included. With scarlet and cream the official colors, you can’t get too funky—and alternates are all about funky, right?—without mixing in another color. Cue the black, a highlight the Huskers have played with in the past. Add in some tradition—remember, that concept plays well in corn country—and black really has a foothold, as Nebraska’s storied defense has long been known as the “black shirts.” The nickname has gone so far that defensive players are rewarded with actual black shirts in practice once coaches feel they’ve earned them.
So, was Nebraska to moving the black from defensive lore to a game jersey? “There was some discussion on that,” Stephen says. “It didn’t get a lot of traction. Black is an accent color and has never been one of our primary colors, so we didn’t go down that road very far.” That left scarlet as king. But black still had reason to join the party. “I wouldn’t say black as a theme was a given,” Stephens says. “It was something (Adidas) thought looked good on a jersey and as we moved along, we agreed with them. It was never a given that way, but we felt that black added quite a bit to the uniform and thought (fans) would enjoy it.”
In keeping with the marketing-first theme of alternates—the new looks not only create high interest at the shops selling the threads, but also in the young players and recruits, as chronicled in my Sports Illustrated article — Nebraska “thought touches of black on the entire outfit would be something our current student-athletes would enjoy wearing.” Plus, as Stephens is quick to point out, this is only for one game and in no way sets a new Nebraska precedent.
But back to tradition. With a stark shiny black helmet giving the traditional scarlet “N” and stripe down the middle a slightly modernized feel, the “N” went even more modern by harkening back to 1929. The scarlet shirt, with two black stripes on the sleeves replacing white (almost shocking that Adidas couldn’t talk them into three stripes) is punctuated by a giant block black “N” on the chest, with the uniform number relegated to a chest patch. The front-loaded “N” is actually the look from the 1929 jersey. “It makes it different and for one game I think it’s a good idea,” Stephens says.
The scarlet pants fall in line with the jersey, with two black stripes down the side, giving Nebraska a red-over-red look for the first time since 1986. A black base layer under the shirt provides more black and offers a tonal “N” on the sleeves. If players opt for the gloves, the insides contain the “N” logo, as is trendy these days. The socks and shoes even go black, with a bit of red for some flare. The fit of the jersey will look slightly different than normal Nebraska wear, as the Cornhuskers will opt with the new Adidas Techfit uniform for the alternate, which includes new fabrics, a different stitching pattern and a slimmer cut.
Since this new alternate was inspired by apparel company-marketing (Adidas is really playing up that both schools will wear alternates on the same night with cheesy slogans and such), don’t expect the one-off looks to keep rolling out for Nebraska, especially as traditionalists get in line to bemoan the caving in of the school to a corporation. Stephens says Nebraska certainly isn’t committed to something each year.
And if Nebraska ever does tinker with an alternate again, rest assured that scarlet “N” on the side of the helmet isn’t going anywhere. Tradition won’t allow it.
Tim Newcomb is a regular contributor with Time, Sports Illustrated and other publications. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.
Thanks Tim — nice job and great interview. Readers? What say you?
#NoUniAds Campaign…Day 27
This will be a regular feature on Uni Watch until the NBA rescinds its incredibly offensive and stupid proposal to place corporate advertising on uniforms.
And now, a personal note from Paul:
It’s important that we keep making our voices heard: Call the NBA’s publicly listed phone number (212-407-8000), ask for Adam Silver’s and/or David Stern’s office), e-mail deputy commissioner Adam Silver at his his publicly listed address (firstname.lastname@example.org), and tweet to @NBA with the hashtag #NoUniAds. Do it now.
More of your letters to the NBA:
I have been a fan since the early ’70’s and have witnessed some of the greatest moments in NBA history. I have to say that the decision to place ads on team uniforms is a terrible one. Until now, the only place to escape the incessant advertising in NBA arenas was by watching the action on the court and you are now taking that away.
My kids love NBA basketball, too, but I can safely say that I will never purchase an NBA jersey for them that is festooned with ads.
Jerry Shea, Jr.
I am a 39 year old NBA fan. I grew up in Boston during the height of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry and from there through the Jordan era I was a passionate, diehard fan of your sport. For several years, I lost interest when I felt like the fundamentals of the game were being lost. However, players like LeBron James have renewed my interest in the sport.
Last year, I attended my first NBA game in 6 years. It was the first NBA game ever for my wife and daughter. We had an amazing experience and attended two more Sacramento Kings games (I now live in Northern California) before the season was over. Please don’t allow the incompetent Maloof brothers to move the franchise, but that’s another matter!
When I read that the NBA is planning to have Corporate Sponsorship (i.e. ad space sold) on jerseys, my wife and I were both furious. Is there nothing sacred in sports anymore? One of the things I’ve always respected about the NBA is the lack of ads all over the place. Other than the scorer’s table and the goal post, there is very little advertising that one sees when watching a game on TV. You see the sport itself, which is beautiful. So, to go from that to the extreme of having an ad on the jerseys is hard to fathom. Besides, the ads on jerseys will not lead to fewer commercials or cheaper tickets will they? We both know the answer to that.
Please look at the other sports of the “Big 4” of American Sports. Football, Hockey and Baseball, which do not plan to put ads on jerseys at this time. Don’t compare yourself to less popular leagues like NASCAR, where teams have no “home” stadium, ratings have been declining for years and they look ridiculousor MLS, WNBA, D-League or Minor League Hockey. These sports need the additional revenue and are not nearly as relevant (if at all) in American life.
If you decide to go the ad on jerseys route, I can assure you that you have just lost 3 fans and I am sure there are many, many more who feel the same way. Please reconsider this awful idea. Whatever revenue you stand to gain will be equal to the revenue and respect you will lose from fans like us. How can you put a price tag on respect and class? Thank you for your time.
Thanks for keeping the faith readers! We can stop the NBA if we can keep up the pressure.
Thanks to Tim E. O’Brien and Chris Giorgio for the image in the upper right of this section!
“Benchies” first appeared at U-W in 2008, and has been a Saturday & Sunday feature here for the past two years.
Okay, okay, so maybe they’re more like “outfits”…
Click to enlarge
Uni Watch News Ticker: Looks like Cards have a white piping along the black piping. Is this stitching? asks Mario Murillo. … Ah, the “backwards” swoosh. Jeff Shirley asks, “I thought the swoosh logos looked a little weird, especially on the right shoulders, where they appear to be backwards. Now, I’ve heard they wanted the logo to appear as it does on both sides of the shoes, but why didn’t they do this back when they originally supplied NFL uniforms in the late 90’s and early 2000’s?” I have to admit, this has annoyed me (the new, ‘backwards’ swoosh) since the unis were unveiled last spring. But the “backwards” swooshie on the right sleeve is only moderately annoying compared to this totally fucked-up backwards swooshie, spotted by Jerry Kulig (and also shown in yesterday’s comments by John Zajac). … Yesterday, we saw the helmet that goes along with the new Army football uniforms, but David Harville brings us plenty of good shots of the jerseys from media day at Danny Wild’s site. … Normally, we bitch about sleeves disappearing on NFL jerseys, but Stephen Peters feels “Romo’s sleeves are the biggest gaffe I’ve seen lately. Why so much white sleeve under the stripes? I know in years past, QBs had long(er) sleeves, but never—to my recollection—with so much white under the stripes.” … Now that the Olympics are finally over, George Chilvers brings us 10 ways to fill the void. … Skott Daltonic comes through with an awesome “wrestlers in baseball jerseys” (via The Loaded Glove tumblr page): Randy Savage, CM Punk, Jerry Lawler, Knuckleball Schwartz, Edge, Steve Austin, John Cena, Hulk Hogan. … Every year during NCAAFB season, someone inevitably asks, “What’s that sticker on Iowa’s helmets?” And we know it’s the America Needs Farmers sticker. But, a lot of us don’t know why it’s there. Now we do, thanks to Lost Lettermen (and Chris Mahr). Also from Chris, more on the wretched VT camo unis and a report on Idaho’s shiny new black helmets with flecks of gold in them. Yes, really. … Does Duke have a BFBS helmet? If not, they do now — Joe Sewash says, “Here’s a website I think you’ll like: Duke Now: Cutcliffe unveils new helmets for Duke.” … A gentleman who goes by the handle, “oldguyzac” was wandering through the UTSA digital archives and found some great photos. Here’s another, and another (“Wish we could see what the sign says and more of the shoulder patch”), and another (“Love the diagramming board”), and (“Here’s my favorite of the lot and the last one I’ll pass along”) one more. Says Zac, “Thanks for the website. It has become a regular part of my day.” … George Chilvers informs us the Rams won’t be playing at Wembly: “Don’t know if this has been publicised there. But could someone explain what the heck ‘In an effort to focus on the Edward Jones Dome First Tier Process with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission…’ means :S” … Ryan Dowgin is the “proud owner of two of the nicer hockey jerseys ever made. Nicer is the word I am looking for, right? The first is a Craig Mills Phoenix Coyotes jersey that was worn during training camp in 2000-01 according to the letter accompanying it (even though inside the jersey it says 2002-03 Game Issued). The second is the famous Cleveland Lumberjacks warmup jersey which I picked up for a cool $25 from the latest MEARS Online Auction.” … Marc Bauche sent along this article on an absolutely dreadful hockey promotion, in which “The Adelaide Adrenaline of the Australian Ice Hockey League donned “BrasON” jerseys during Sunday’s warmups as part of a nationwide campaign to raise money for breast cancer research.” Really? I’m all for breast health, and breast cancer research and such, but really. … Nile Smith reports Liverpool has changed their soccer goal nets to Red. Back of the goals were red from the 60s to mid 90s. New manager Brendan Rodgers wanted the red goals back. … Here’s a short video taken from KJ Wright’s helmet camera before the Seahawks/Titans pre-season game (thanks to Kyle Hanks). Good god do those Seabirds unis suck. … “New Toledo Helmet” says Ryan Lindemann (even though it was seen in the ticker a couple days ago) — “Love the color! It’ll be interesting to see it paired with the uni set.” … “WarBlogle” sends in his idea for Auburn to wear throwbacks, including paintings of every uniform they’ve ever worn (up to like, 1946 or something). But–how sweet would this be as a throwback? … Dan Graham noticed the Raiders were in black cleats for the first time that he can remember in my lifetime watching football (32 years, since he was 5) against the Cowboys. … It’s not quite the great buffalo migration, but Eli Swanson was witness to Prince and The Great Squatchee Migration as seen in the top of the 6th inning on August 13th vs. the Twins. … Alex Carlson writes, “I was on vacation and was at Sunday’s Indians-Red Sox game for Gaylord Perry bobblehead day and the bobblehead included schmutz on his hat to “aid” his pitching performance. A nice touch.” Indeed.
Shockingly — that’s all for today. I know, right? Anyway, thanks to Tim Newcomb for that great article and Ricko for the next installment of his Frisbee Chronicles, plus the NBA #NoUniAds protesters! Keep those letters coming. See ya on the morrow.
“The mention of the U.S. women’s soccer team today reminds me of how happy I am to see the success of American women in sports. Even though our country is not without its faults their medal count in the Olympics (as well as previous Olympics, World Cups, etc.) shows that one thing we’ve been doing right is being more acceptable of women playing sports. At least more acceptable than other industrialized countries. We could be better on gender issues, but I feel this shows that we’ve been heading in the right direction. The eye candy element doesn’t hurt either.”
— James Ashby