Uniforms: What Colonel Sanders & Penn State have in common

How about a quick rant on. . . uniforms?

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When it comes to uniforms—same as with music, hair and tattoos—I always try to defend the rights of an individual to make choices I don’t understand. And actually, I would be very interested in reading a piece in which athletes (and others) explain the fascination with tattoos that cover massive portions of the body.

My freedom-of-choice advocacy started, of course, with hair. When I entered high school in the ‘60s, there was an assistant dean who measured sideburns with a ruler. . . in relation to the earlobe, I believe.

The same ruler was used to measure the length of skirts, in relation to the knee.

The sideburns were for the boys. The skirts were for the girls. They were simpler times.

In music, give me classic rock, Big Band, blues and jazz—and you can have the rest. But I will defend your right to listen to sounds that I find annoying.

I mention these things because so many of my bedrock principles of uniforms are routinely ignored.

I try to be good with the rampant dubious decisions I see. But I will still have thoughts. Like these. . .

First, the only people who should wear all-white uniforms are Penn State and Colonel Sanders.

On everybody else, it looks like they forgot to put on their pants.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Knowing that Army was honoring the 10th Mountain Division of World War II fame, if I heard the TV announcers at the Army-Navy game right, I give them a pass. Love the 10th Mountain Division. They gave us post-war Vail.

But I still would have preferred to see some camo pants below the white jersey.

That’s because, second, I am not a fan of the one-color football uniform.

It’s so popular now that I tune it out. We all make our choices.

But Northwestern, for example, looks so much better with the purple-jersey/white-pants combo—or the white-jersey/purple-pants combo—than the all-white or all-purple. That’s true of any football team you can name, college or pro.

And let’s not even talk about these gray uniforms that popped up all around the Big Ten this fall. Shades of black also have been creeping in for years.

School colors, people. School colors.

Baseball is different. I believe the baseball shirt and pants absolutely should be the same color. When the Cubs go with the royal-blue top over gray pants, especially against the Brewers in Navy top and white pants—oy!—it hurts my eyes as well as my sports-fashion sense.

In my Sun-Times softball days, we wore red jerseys with navy pants. What we used to call double-knits, I believe.

It was a good look for us. But we were a (gloveless) 16-inch softball team playing in Grant Park, in the shadows of Michigan Avenue skyscrapers.

That two-tone industrial-softball-league approach is not a good look for a major-league team.

Another who-knew development in the world of uniforms is the disdaining of the white home uniform. This is more of a basketball and hockey thing.

One night in Champaign, for example, the Illinois basketball team wore orange against Wisconsin, which wore red. It was really nasty. Bruce Weber, the Illini coach at the time, said something about Illinois wanting to wear orange, but ``We weren’t going to let Wisconsin wear white on our home court.’’

Well, then, Illinois should have worn white. And spared our eyes.

I am not entirely opposed to the team-colors jersey at home. It’s great, for example, that Blackhawks fans can admire the red sweater at home. The white sweater is arguably more elegant, but the red really pops against the white ice.

There was no better look than a helmet-less Bobby Hull flying down the ice in front of advertising-less dasher boads at the old Chicago Stadium in the white Indianhead sweater. It was like mayhem in tails.

And when the Blackhawks of the ‘90s came out in their us-against-the-world red sweaters for road games at places like Maple Leaf Gardens or the Montreal Forum, it made a statement.

That, I suppose, is why hockey teams have gone with their color jerseys at home, forcing the visitors into white.

The one thing I have never understood, though, about jerseys is the way white trim is mis-used. This applies to college football as well as NFL teams.

Here’s the issue: On the Bears’ navy pants, strips of orange separate the big white stripe down the side from the rest of the pants.

It should be the other way around. A big orange stripe should be separated by the white trim.

The orange is the team color. The white is the trim. Why is that so difficult to grasp?

Their rivals, the Green Bay Packers, violate the rule not only on their pants, but also on their helmet. They have a big white stripe down the middle of their yellow helmet, with green trim.

White should be the trim. Green is one of the team colors. Not white.

And yet, this misunderstanding of trim from team color persists. Everywhere.

I went to one of those build-your-uniform websites, to put together the pants and helmets the right way. Even on this website, which promised that you could design your uniform any way you wanted, I was not allowed to do the Bears and Packers color schemes the right way.

Illinois football has the same problem with its traditional pants, which mimic the Bears. (Don’t get me started on the swirl-down-the-side pants, which Illinois and other college teams have started using.)

When the legendary Ron Zook was coaching the Illini, I once sent him an e-mail, explaining the trim-vs.-school-color problem with the pants.

Here was an opportunity, I explained, to correct a uniform problem that had been going on for decades. Just flip the orange and the white, I told him, and he could take his place among the great innovators in two worlds. Halas, Lombardi, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren.

Never heard back from him.

When you’re watching bowl games the next few weeks—and you will, even though you won’t admit it publicly. It’s like voting for certain candidates these days.—I want you to ponder the above uniform rules.

You will absolutely discover this: Uniform rules are made to be broken.

I guarantee it.[/membership]