This is the University of Maryland football team, in case anyone mistakes them for science fiction characters (AP Photo).
We’ve seen this before. In science fiction, mostly.
A man in a reflective silver helmet is streaking across an open field. He’s flanked by ten other guys in matching chrome helmets and all-black uniforms made from a special material that repels moisture. Trying to stop them are eleven guys in all white, also in moisture-repellant material, like the light side of the force.
But this isn’t Star Wars. It’s Rutgers-Louisville.
Ever since Nike took an active role in redesigning the football uniforms at the University of Oregon, college football Saturdays are beginning to look like glances into the distant future. There are uniforms that glow, uniforms that reflect light, and even uniforms that turn the state flag into a confusing amalgamation of red, yellow and black.
Teams are wearing uniforms with thousands of different helmet, jersey and pants combinations, and there is absolutely nothing uniform about their get-ups.
It all began at Oregon in 2000, when alum and Nike chairman Phil Knight decided his program’s uniforms needed a drastic renovation. So Knight and his team came up with a futuristic design that looked like no other football uniform anyone had ever worn. The transformation came at a time when the football program happened to be on the verge of an uptick—Heisman trophy candidate Joey Harrington led the Ducks to a 9-3 record and a Holiday Bowl win over Texas.
Oregon would finish 11-1 the next season, throttling Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing No. 2 in the nation. That season, and possibly the uniforms the Ducks wore during it, vaunted Oregon into national contender status. The Ducks have been one of the premier programs in college football over the past decade and have attracted recruits with a wide-open, revolutionary playing style and of course, those revolutionary uniforms.
With success comes imitation, and the sincerest form of flattery has been bestowed upon Oregon, as schools across the country have tried to match fancy uniforms with on-field success. In fact, most schools across the country have tried some form of insane uniform nonsense…even Notre Dame, one of the game’s most traditional of schools, wore a ridiculous outfit against Miami in an October game. Few schools (Penn State, Alabama, Michigan) remain immune to the uniform craze, sticking with duds that have lasted the test of time.
Nike calls the 2012 Oregon getup “the most advanced football uniform system to date.” The jerseys are made of something called chain maille mesh, and allow for ventilation and “improved thermoregulation,” according to a press release from Nike creative director for football Todd Van Horne.
The “Pro Combat Deflex” padding is designed to be hard yet lightweight.
Nike also shelled out more than $1 billion to become the official apparel producer of the National Football League in 2012, meaning that the company will produce the uniforms for all 32 teams.
Only the Seattle Seahawks underwent a noticeable future-ization of their uniforms, adopting a hidden checkerboard pattern on their helmets and embracing a grey, blue, and green combo that appears unique among NFL teams.
Still, Van Horne told CBSSports.com that plenty of equipment modifications were made before the 2012-13 season. Among them:
-Elimination of double-layered padding over the shoulders. The idea was to make pads lighter and more streamlined.
-Hydrophobic qualities to the jerseys so that they don’t absorb water…beads up on the surface and doesn’t change the fit
-New socks that fit to players’ feet exactly.
-Dri-Fit, which is a material designed to move moisture to the outer layers of the fabric. Nike makes virtually everything in Dri-Fit these days.
But the football uniform revolution isn’t just being fueled by Nike. Adidas, Reebok, and Under Armour have all come up with similarly futuristic looks inspired by gratuitous and possibly even unnecessary attention to detail. Adidas’ ClimaCool and Reebok’s PlayDry are the companies’ answers to Dri-Fit, and have been met with positive results. Under Armour offers cold weather and warm weather gear, which are made with fabrics specifically designed to keep athletes’ body temperatures in check no matter what the outside conditions are like.
The University of Maryland connected with its own apparel mega-company roots and asked Kevin Plank, head over Under Armour and former Terrapin fullback, to design new uniforms for the team for the 2011-12 season. The result? Those crazy, state flag-inspired garbs that became the talk of college football in 2011, and a completely redesigned logo.
The uniform madness has even found its way into high school football, where teams are wearing incredibly ridiculous designs. Atlantic High School in Florida trotted their players out in these.
While most schools in Connecticut have stayed with traditional uniforms and colors, there’s no doubt that in time, the uniform revolution will reach us.
“It would be cool to wear something that looks so flashy like that,” said Torrington High School quarterback Jason Abbott. “I always feel like if I look good when I play, it makes me feel better and that makes me play better. Look great, feel great.”