Collier: Uniform changes by design

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Penn State's original colors for the football uniforms were pink and black (don't ask), but the pink soon faded to white on the sunny rural plains of Centre County, making the rows for calisthenics look like some kind of primitive bar code, so they changed the colors to blue and white.

Since then, virtually nothing has changed visually since Joe Paterno first coached his Lions in the opener at Christians.

Oh, like you could resist.

This is marginally relevant today because PSU recently revealed a planned change in the uniforms, a change so slight and so retro to its traditional minimalist look that 90 percent of its fans would not have noticed had this news not leaked into cyberspace. Once there, of course, everyone got mad about it, which is pretty clearly what cyberspace is actually for.

The blue home jersey will no longer have white trim at the collar and the end of the sleeves, and the all-white road uniform favored by Penn State (and most of America's registered nurses from roughly 1930 through 1975), will no longer be graced by the midnight blue trim, either.

The faculty at Penn State has long instructed that change is good, as well as inevitable, except when it comes to coaches, but changes to the football uniform always have been highly suspect and essentially unwelcome. For a time during the mid-to-late 20th century, players' numbers appeared on the sides of the milk white helmet, but that didn't last. For three hours Jan. 1, 1979, Penn State wore white adidas shoes. When they lost the Sugar Bowl and the national championship to Alabama that day, they returned to their basic black footwear never to waver. But that lesson was soon forgotten. After winning two national championships in five years through the mid '80s, the now doomed trim was attached to the jerseys in 1987. Penn State hasn't won the national title since.

But fear not alums; when your Nittany Lions open in September against Sitting Duck State, no one will have any trouble identifying the home team, which will look almost identical to the way it has looked since the great pink fade of the late 19th century.

This isn't true everywhere, however, as uniform politics are as hot or hotter in this offseason as the seat Jim Tressel is sitting on at Ohio State. Way out west, Nike has upset the fashion table at Arizona State with new uniforms that trash the school's maroon-and-gold tradition. Black is the new maroon, and Sparky the impish Sun Devil, who appeared on the helmets lo these many years, has been sent straight to the impish Sun Devil underworld. The new helmet logo is a "trident" (just say it's a pitchfork, will ya?) favored by many of your more notorious urban gangs across this great country.

A Chicago gang investigator told an Arizona newspaper that one of his city's primary gangs, Satan's Disciples, is going to just love ASU's new gear, prompting the school's associate athletic director to say he is prepared to sue to prevent any unauthorized use of the brand.

I'd love to see him serve the papers. If that's not a reality show, there ain't a cow in Oklahoma.

Right there at Oklahoma State, it so happens, the Cowboys have changed the traditional blocky orange and whites into something only Oregon could love. Oregon, perhaps you've noticed, has long since abandoned even the notion of traditional football uniforms, preferring instead to look like the first flamboyant costuming attempts for the Spider-Man stage show. Oklahoma State aims to be "the Oregon of the Midwest." Aesthetically, I can think of no lesser ambition.

Even more dramatically, new-look Washington State is now in possession of 27 uniform combos, counting helmets, pants, jerseys, and, for all I know, morning coats and sombreros.

You might think this kind of thing is pure silliness. I wish you were right.

"If Oregon would have offered me [a scholarship]," Arizona State defensive back Omar Bolden told the Arizona Republic, "it would have been tough for me to turn them down, just for the uniforms."

You mean, even though Arizona State had the superior modernism faculty in the English Lit department?

Hmph.

Locally, football fashion looks fairly static. Pitt plans no changes to its latest get-up, while reserving the right to bust out in one-time only gear at some point this fall. Often, when a new coach arrives, everything changes sartorially, but, so far, Todd Graham hasn't given any sign that he is displeased with the presentation. As for West Virginia, really, why don't they just top off the old banana-and-blue by putting a burning couch on the helmet and be done with it?


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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