Commentary: Changing uniforms doesn't win games.


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By Dave Newhouse, Guest Contributor
Posted Oct 30, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2017

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Is this a Cal uniform?

Cal football is a prime example. Uniforms have given Cal players more control, the head coach less control, and Nike a firmer grip on the jugular of amateur athletics.

But changing uniforms doesn't win games. Do you agree, Jeff Tedford?

Even though Tedford allows his players to pick the uniform of the week, the Golden Bears have become less golden in their performance - and in their appearance.

As Cal has tumbled into second-tier status, there has been a sartorial sabotage among its players to diminish, and even make vanish, any sign of gold in their uniforms.

Tedford seems to have forgotten that Cal's colors are blue and gold, although angry alumni have a better sense of tradition. They may be as upset by the garish display of Cal uniform combinations as they are by the diminished product on the field.

Cal in white helmets, blue jerseys and white pants. Cal dressed from shoulder pads to knee pads in mustard yellow. Cal in blue helmets, blue jerseys, blue pants.

California, the state, was built on gold. California, the football team, has all but eliminated gold from its uniform.

Mustard isn't gold.

This is the worst-dressed Cal football team in history.

And that is a huge statement as Cal has been playing football since 1882. But even its awesome Wonder Teams from the 1920s dressed for success with their full-length blue-and-gold striped sleeves, which was real jazzy during the Jazz Age.

I have seen photos of Cal's teams throughout the years, all of whom looked more resplendent than does the Tedford-tailored clown show. Teams in the 1930s and 1940s wore gold or khaki pants. And I love blue and khaki a lot more than blue and white.

Let's move out of the leather helmet age -- although dressing players in leather helmets minus face masks today would drastically reduce the steel-like-helmet-induced concussions. Tackling the legs is more practical, and more sane.

But quarterback Craig Morton was sharper in the early 1960s with his Princeton-like striped sleeves than Zack Maynard is now in Cal's various vaudeville get-ups.

Coach Ray Willsey really advanced Cal's style in the mid-1960s with a very clean blue-and-gold look -- a sharp gold piping on the sleeves -- and a large "C" on the helmet.

Willsey's successor, Mike White, had good teams in the 1970s, but an awful powder-blue jersey (dating back to his Cal playing days in the 1950s) that smacked of UCLA.

Coach Joe Kapp went for a bear claw on the helmet, but Bruce Snyder came up with the cursive "Cal" in the late 1980s that turned into a classic helmet look.

I loved Snyder's dignified Cal uniforms -- a beautiful splash of blue and gold with big gold numbers -- that lasted through Joe Igber, the talented running back on Tedford's first Cal team in 2002.

Then it slowly deteriorated because of the "swoosh" -- Nike's destructive influence on uniforms. Tedford was an Oregon Ducks' assistant before coming to Cal, Nike is based in Oregon, and you can see there what Nike has done to putrefy uniforms.

The University of Oregon had nicer football uniforms in the 1960s -- the Green Bay Packers look -- than its present ugly array of weekly assemblages. Chartreuse cleats in the national title game two years ago? How disgraceful, you Nike nincompoops.

The worse Cal dresses, the worse it plays. It's not only the weird color combinations, but those confounding, confusing slashes on the jerseys and pants that point in all directions without purpose or panache.

What happened, anyway, to stripes on sleeves and pants? What's wrong with stripes? Nothing at all. Nike would make Mr. Blackwell's annual worst dressed look poll if he were still alive.

And it's not only Cal that has caved into Nike, and bad taste in general. A uniform epidemic has hit this country.

Notre Dame had the perfect gold helmet. Have you seen it lately? There's enough gold to blind you on one side of the helmet, and all-black with a silly leprechaun on the other side. Holy Rockne!

Maryland now has a helmet even more reprehensible, and I can't even explain the wacky design. But it's like this everywhere -- a Mad Hatter of design has changed the college game from elegant to tacky.

Stanford in all-black? They can't be serious.

But we shouldn't just hold the college game in contempt. Or even just football. Look at the pros, if you can do so without turning your head. Especially baseball.

Major League Baseball resembles a beer softball league. Two-tone uniforms with colored tops and plain trousers that run down to the cleats. No socks showing. Caps cocked sideway like some street hood.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Truthfully.

NBA players wear jewelry and trunks halfway down their calves, and tattoos all the way up their arms and necks. Hey, it's their life, agreed, but it's still not a professional look.

That's all I'm saying. As athletes have gotten better in strength, size (hopefully, not chemically enhanced), speed and ability, they dress as -- I'm sorry -- slobs.

And it doesn't make them play any better. As I said in the beginning, uniforms don't win games.

But that all said, there is a diffierent kind of obligation at the college level. Alumni, unlike the pros, have closer links to how their teams dress. Blue and gold is as much their colors as the Cal players'. Are you listening, coach Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour?

I sure some of you readers are wondering why I care so much about uniforms. Cal could dress in purple and pink for some of you if it meant returning to the Rose Bowl after 54 years. But others like myself have a uniform fettish, and we like our teams to dress well and play well, too.

And many teams do both, and have done so for years. Look around the college game. The very best teams embrace tradition. USC's uniform hasn't changed....forever, it seems. The same is true with Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Florida State, etc. Penn State has added players' names to the jerseys, but that's all.

Those schools are saying, "We pick the players AND the uniforms. We uphold tradition on OUR campus." Getting the picture, Cal?

Even in the NFL, uniforms largely remain status quo. Say what you want about the Oakland Raiders, but they don't tamper with that special silver-and-black combination. The New York Giants and Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers and others have looked the same for years.

Any other course of direction speaks of insecurity and desperation. And that is Cal's posture at the moment. Tedford is doing everything he can to attract 18-year-olds: A renovated stadium, a new athletic performance center, letting kids pick when they want to practice, and how they want to dress.

It's essential that Tedford - and future Cal coaches - return to a more conventional uniform. And gold pants, always. Gold, not mustard. Mustard hasn't worked any better than white.

And smash those white helmets right now! The crazy look hasn't given Tedford's recent teams one single advantage. If anything, it's been just the opposite. Thus he would be wise to embrace the Bruce Snyder look. Something classy, not ghastly.

One more time: Uniforms don't win games. The players inside them do.

(Dave Newhouse, who has followed Cal sports for 60-plus years, is writing occasional pieces for Check out his two e-books, "Before Boxing Lost Its Punch" and the novel "White Lightning", both on

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