Fancy New Duds
Wednesday, April 24, 2008

New JerseysUniversity of Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster held a press conference in the Bierman Building to introduce to the media the 2008 version of his team’s home and road uniforms.

The team’s togs have been completely revamped by designers representing equipment manufacturer NIKE in collaboration with Coach Brewster. The result is a pair of jersey colors—maroon and white—that can be paired with three different pant combinations—gold, maroon, and white. Current Gopher players displayed the six combinations (maroon jersey with white pants, white jersey with gold pants, etc.) that will be used by Brewster in varying order during the 2008 season. The coach also revealed that the gold jerseys used in last season’s Ohio State game are still in play for 2008. This would give him nine different combinations to choose from.

Brewster, obviously upset that only a small contingent of media members attended the event (others were at the Vikings’ press conference to introduce Jared Allen), turned the proceedings over to Darin Kerns, head equipment manager, who indicated that this was the first “significant” uniform change in Gopherland since the 1999 season. Brewster’s predecessor, Glen Mason, favored a more minimalist approach to uniform style and rejected notions of mixing and matching jerseys and pants.

The “revolutionary” new uniform concept is created exclusively for the Gophers by Nike, the firm that also supplies Minnesota’s basketball, hockey, and baseball uniforms. The University of Minnesota was designated by Nike as a testing ground for modern types of uniform style.

Color may be the most immediately noticeable feature of the new Gopher football design. Thankfully, Minnesota returns to the traditional dark maroon (PMS 202). Murray Warmath introduced the dark maroon to Gopher jerseys when he took over as head coach in 1954. (After his departure, varying shades of burgundy frequently were used.)

Solid maroon color now replaces the gold stripe that previously adorned neck and arm holes, while piping now runs diagonally across each shoulder pad and down the sides of the new jerseys. The new jerseys also have MINNESOTA emblazoned on the chest, marking the first time the team name has appeared on the jersey since 1993. Brewster made some comment about Gophers setting themselves apart by openly displaying unique pride in the name of their state (perhaps forgetting that the Minnesota Twins [on the road] and Minnesota Wild [at home] also incorporate MINNESOTA into their uniform jerseys).

Design changes in the Gophers’ new pants are subtle, yet significant. The piping theme in the jersey is continued across the each player’s buttocks and down the outside of each pant leg before it flares into a wide stripe from the base of the thigh pad down. Minnesota’s previous pants were solid in color, bland, with the exception of a block “M” above the left thigh pad.

Minnesota will also have the option of incorporating white pants into its uniform rotation on a regular basis for the first time since the Murray Warmath era. “The Gophers last donned white pants as part of their regular uniform rotation in 1967,” Kerns said. However, Minnesota did don white pants as part of a promotional scheme when the Gophers played North Dakota State in 2006.

Noticeably absent from both the new maroon and white jerseys are the so-called “TV numbers” worn by most teams either on sleeves or on top of shoulder pads. These numbers were mandated by the NCAA in the 1950s to aid in the identification of each player by television announcers (as well as fans, coaches, and media members). Initially, the TV numbers were placed directly on the sides of helmets, and many teams, Minnesota included, had numbers on both their helmets and sleeves. As helmet numbers gradually gave way to team logos, the sleeve and shoulder numbers remained. When asked about the absence of TV numbers, Brewster feigned ignorance, but Kerns blurted out that this gave the team a “more collegiate” look. This is odd in view of the fact that it was colleges who introduced TV numbers. Even the University of Alabama, whose nondescript football jerseys of today sport numbers only on the front and back, honors the TV mandate with numbers on the helmets. (It also is interesting to note that the NFL chose Nike competitor Reebok to outfit all its teams, leaving Nike to scramble to make individual contracts with college football teams. Thus, Nike, on its own, apparently becomes the arbitrator of what is “collegiate” and what is not.)

One audience member noted that the new front-and-back jersey numbers are relatively small, making player identification even more problematic.

In the 1997 season Minnesota switched from the metallic gold helmets to maroon helmets, and the 2008 helmets will be the same as those in use last season. Gold helmets were part of the legacy of Bernie Bierman’s Gopher teams, known for their mustard-colored jerseys and pants. Warmath switched to white helmets in part to allow him and his staff members greater visibility of player location when viewing the grainy game films of the 1950s.

Aside from the different look, several technical innovations have been incorporated into Minnesota’s new uniform. According to Nike, these include an updated jersey design that incorporates new performance fabrics, producing a tight, “shrink-wrapped” fit. This minimizes “grab points” (fabric areas on the jersey that opponents can hang on to). Both the jersey and pants are significantly lighter in weight, resulting in players carrying less weight throughout the game.

Both jersey and pants are produced with sophisticated uniform fabrics created by NIKE and thus carrying less weight. This improvement is especially significant in the game pants.

Lightweight mesh is added in areas traditionally covered by non-breathable fabrics in the upper back neck and under arms where heat can escape (areas not covered by thick plastic and foam shoulder pads).

When asked why Brewster did not make the uniform changes after taking the reins from Mason, he mumbled something about there not being enough time, even though he became head coach shortly after Mason was dismissed on New Year’s Day. Brewster did, however, find time to design the gold jerseys worn last season against Ohio State.

Minnesota will make its debut in the new uniforms on Saturday, August 30, when the Gophers kickoff their 2008 campaign in the Metrodome against Northern Illinois.

The rest of the schedule:
September 6 at Bowling Green; September 13 Montana State; September 20 Florida Atlantic; September 27 at Ohio State; October 4 Indiana; October 11 at Illinois; October 18 bye; October 25 at Purdue; November 1 Northwestern; November 8 Michigan; November 15 at Wisconsin; November 22 Iowa.

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