The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Upon Further Review…What’s in a Uniform?

As I sat in my Madison hotel room Saturday Night, watching the final stages of #1 Alabama bully their conference foes from the Bayou, I couldn’t help but get caught up with the pageantry of the glorious stage. From the bolstering band to the chorus of “Roll Tide!” following yet another Alabama first down, it was easy to see an institution oozing tradition was adding to it firsthand.

But what makes tradition? It is the success on the field, the award winners and conference championships that litter the nearby trophy cases. It’s the fight song and chants that echo the grounds of the heralded institution. Every Saturday when the Crimson Tide take the field, there is no mistaking Alabama from any other program in the nation.

Because, you know what they’re going to wear.

When AJ McCarron leads his teammates onto the gridiron, there is no deviation to what uniforms they’re going to don. Crimson helmets with white numbers on the side, accompanied by crimson jerseys at home or white jerseys on the road. The style adopted in the 1960s—an eternity when discussing football—is on display on every single game day.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?

As sports have boomed in the current generation, aided by the 24-hour news cycle and the integration of social media, jersey sales and brand marketability has skyrocketed. In almost every major sport around the world, including the “amateur” ones in the United States, programs and organizations alike are constantly scheming to keep up the appeal of the flashy new digs.

This phenomenon is at its peak in college football, thanks to Phil Knight’s alma-mater, Oregon, which basically created department stores in place of locker rooms across America. 4 different helmet combination to go with 6 different jerseys has become normal. Colors that travel so far out of the realm of the team’s colors that make you throw your hands up. Incorporating “America” everywhere possible, all in an attempt to appeal to a younger generation that yearns for the new shiny thing in uniform design.

But where is the tradition in that? Fans nowadays are getting told to wear color X to coincide with the team’s new threads. Every holiday HAS to be marked with new custom uniforms. There is chrome everywhere. I love nights on the calendar devoted to thwarting breast cancer, but do players really need to look like Pepto-Bismol bottles to do so?

And it’s mind boggling how the oncoming recruiting classes eat it up. They love it. Schools are receiving notoriety and press just because of how awful they look. Organizations are so desperate to get attention from the top talents, that lime green and various shades of brown somehow look perfect together!

I get it. Not every team has had as much success as the Los Angeles Lakers. Not everyone can say that they’ve worn pinstripes like the Yankees for the last century. There are so many programs who would dream to claim that they’ve had the talent come through their doors like UCLA Basketball or USC Football. Certain institutions transcend others. They just do.

But, if you want to create your own tradition, if you want to make a name for yourself, than changing your look for every game won’t do it. If you want a brand for fans to be proud of and revere for decades to come, don’t change your primary colors every time you blink.

There is something to appreciate when a timeless program takes the floor or the field in the laundry they’ve worn for generations. If nothing else, it is a tradition to wear it that way. Right now in college football, the 2-time defending National Champions have become the model program in recruiting and cultivating talent. You know what you’re going to get against Alabama: a tough, physical, fundamentally sound football team from top to bottom.

Every Saturday in Tuscaloosa, you’re also going to get a program steeped in tradition that is proud to wear it for all to see.