Item: Fashion statement or not, to these eyes there’s something wrong when for the first time since November 1976, SU did not wear orange helmets on the field of play in its win over Tulane last weekend.
Frank Maloney found out the hard way.
When the former Syracuse football coach (1974-80), then longtime ticket director (27 years) for the Chicago Cubs, succeeded the legendary Ben Schwartzwalder following a 1973 season that ended 2-9, he wanted to create a new era of Syracuse football and move on from the past.
So, it was out with the home blue jersey and orange pants worn at home since 1967, replaced by an orange jersey at home over white pants, with a white jersey and orange pants on the road.
But perhaps Maloney’s biggest “sin” to longtime program devotees was changing the orange helmet worn since Schwartzwalder’s first season in 1949, to white with a blue-orange-blue stripe down the middle, and an amateurish-looking blue football shaped decal on each side with a block “SU” in orange.
The howls of protest back in a different era, letters addressed to Maloney at the football office and those sent into local newspapers, didn’t detour the new coach from his plan of rebuilding (rebranding) a program that had fallen on hard times.
“Marketing 101” says consistent branding leads to a strong equity stake in a respective industry, especially during times of success, and over time the brand will become synonymous with that success, but most importantly, the brand will also become instantly recognizable.
A national championship, a Heisman Trophy, a top Eastern program from a school known for its academics with a legendary coach, true under Coach Ben, and almost equally so in four glorious seasons under Coach Mac.
An orange helmet in major college football instantly meant the Syracuse Orangemen, period.
After Maloney’s first three seasons ended 2-9, 6-5, and 3-8, it was back to an orange helmet and blue jersey at home in 1977, albeit with white pants, until Coach Mac brought back orange pants late in 1981, and Syracuse football was defined by a look that pretty much stayed consistent right into this decade save a game or two here and there.
An orange helmet (even with a block “S”) in major college football now instantly meant the Syracuse Orange, period.
That is until this past Sat. when Nike rolled out its two-tone design that technically, but barely, kept orange on the backside of what was otherwise a dark blue helmet with an orange block “S” decal and blue facemask, on top of the traditional blue home jersey and two-game old blue pants.
It was quite simply a look never seen in the stratosphere of traditional Syracuse football, and no one tuning into the ACC Regional Sports Network TV broadcast that didn’t know beforehand could have ever guessed that team in all blue was Syracuse. Talk about “Marketing 101”…
Look, we know it’s all about pleasing the players today, they constitute the program, and several members of this year’s squad got to meet the Nike folks this summer to get the ball rolling because, tradition aside, players today do want to mix and match new looks on the field in live play.
Recruits have many items on their checklist during the school selection process, and somewhere on that list for some recruits is a team’s uniform. The video game generation, including Div. 1 recruits, can virtually pick and choose team’s uniforms when playing football games on the screen of their choice years before they set foot on a college campus, and apparel websites allow fans to see different uniform combinations combining to fuel social media conversation on all things team uniforms.
That mindset, combined with apparel rights holders running amok by wanting to continually test the fine line of creative design, and who strive to generate new headlines in the ever-expanding niche of online sports uniform coverage by brand name media, has created an out-of-control frenzy to see who can top the latest style among the likes of Oregon, Maryland, Virginia Tech, and now even the ‘Cuse, with SU having worn four different looks in the first four games of this season.
But Syracuse’s place in college football history as one of just 15 FBS programs with 700 or more victories means it doesn’t need to be a program with a uniform flavor-of-the-week approach, it’s traditionally already among the big boys of the sport, its look as defined as Alabama, Southern California, or Penn State.
We understand a fashion splash for a big game here or there, an orange jersey and switching around pants from orange, blue and even white would instantly produce stylish combinations sure to fire up the players.
Other than that, the current uniform looks great, and please, don’t mess with the orange helmet. It defines Syracuse football.Brad Bierman (Follow on Twitter @BradBierman)