Flip on a college football game and the first reaction could be: “What in the world are they wearing?”
Maryland’s outfits look like somebody tore up the state flag and glued the pieces on a practice uniform.
Boise State’s gear could have been borrowed from “Power Rangers.”
It’s not the first time football uniforms have stretched the limits of fashion sense. But now a trend started about a decade ago by Oregon — a team that loves costume changes — is sweeping the nation.
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Outrageous uniforms are in. While some traditionalists find them downright offensive, kids dig ’em. That’s all that matters.
“The uniforms are amazing,” Maryland offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella said.
What Maryland is doing under new athletic director Kevin Anderson is called rebranding. With a big boost from Under Armour CEO and Maryland alum Kevin Plank, Anderson is trying to create a new image for the Terrapins.
It’s a strategy reminiscent of what Oregon did in the mid-1990s, when it struck a deal with Nike, founded by alum Phil Knight. Oregon was looking for a way to draw more attention to its football program, which was on the upswing but still pretty anonymous.
“Oregon didn’t have the history of USC, Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State or Michigan,” associate athletic director Jim Bartko said. “So we thought, ‘Let’s have our tradition be innovation, be shock value.’ ”
The days of Kelly green, yellow and white are long gone in Eugene, replaced by garish shades of the school colors, as well as black, steel and something called carbon.
Image is everything, baby! And the idea is to click with the 18-to-25 crowd, especially those 18-year-olds who also happen to be five-star recruits. These uniforms are definitely not for fans who grew up thinking Penn State playing in its white road uniforms against Alabama was the perfect color combination (even if the numbers on the Tide’s helmets were a bit fancy).
“Kids are into gear. They love those designs,” first-year Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “For the demographics that we’re tying to get here, I’ve heard nothing but positive comments from that age group.”
The Terps had already unveiled a new look during the offseason, with 32 combinations of red, white, yellow and black on their pants, jerseys and helmets.
Then on Labor Day, playing Miami in the only football game on national TV that day, Maryland cranked it up a notch with the now famous — or infamous, depending on your taste — Pride uniforms.
Haven’t seen ’em? Shut your eyes and imagine the Maryland state flag design with a pattern of black-and-gold bars on one side of the helmet and shoulders and a red-and-white cross pattern on the other side. Wait: There are matching shoes and gloves.
The Maryland players knew about the helmets and shoes before the Miami game because they needed to be broken in before kickoff.
The jerseys and pants were a game-time surprise.
“They just went nuts. The room erupted,” Edsall said.
Social media did the same and, just like that, the Terrapins were trending on Twitter.
That’s just the kind of bump Anderson and Edsall were hoping to get, and it didn’t hurt when Maryland beat Miami.
“Much of this is dictated toward recruiting and the other thing is revenue generation and the opportunity to merchandise things that represent the University of Maryland and the athletic department,” Anderson said.
Added Edsall: “If this university had to go pay for that publicity, we’d be broke.”
Plenty of other football programs are dabbling in flash, too.
The Georgia-Boise State game doubled as a 3-hour commercial for Nike.
The Bulldogs wore deep red jerseys and pants, with black numbers and some fancy trim. In perfect contrast, just like a video game, Boise State wore mostly white from head to knees, with a few sprinkles of blue and orange — Pro Combat Uniforms, as Nike calls them.
Earlier that day, South Florida pulled off its big win at Notre Dame in a dark green uniform from Under Armour, which also has Auburn, Boston College, Toledo and South Carolina among the 13 football teams it outfits — some more outrageously than others.
Michigan State, Stanford, Army and Navy are among the Nike schools — there are dozens — that will debut Pro Combat uniforms this season.
Oklahoma State, another Nike school trying remake its image, has also been making fashion statements.
The school’s colors are black, white and orange, but the Cowboys opened in gray jerseys with orange numbers that were tough to read from the stands.
“We loved them,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “As players we love them and ultimately — no disrespect to anybody else — we’re wearing them. We’ve got to like them. I loved them.”
Fair enough. Not everybody has to be a fan.
“I think they’re awesome,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, “as long as they’re on someone else.”