This week Pitt rolled out their own version of a ‘throwback’ uniform. This naturally follows suit given that we had the Pitt Script return a bit less than two years ago and then new regular game uniforms just two months ago.
Boy, #1 looks happy down there, doesn’t he? Quick quiz… who is wearing #1 this year?
Anyway, when I saw the color combination I had to scratch my head a bit to place just where we had seen that combination before, if even we had. It isn’t enough to just say “We are going back to the old style uniforms every so often” because that ‘old’ uniform had so many iterations.
So let’s take a look back and try to figure this out. Let’s start at the beginning of the Pitt Wonder Years.
This is the best article written, in the New York Times no less, about the uniform changes since Majors introduced the Script back in 1973:
When Majors arrived on campus from Iowa State, taking over a team that had won only one of 11 games the year before, he decided to give the program a makeover in every way. He put together a real weight room, but he also wanted his team to look good on Saturdays.
“I looked at their uniforms, and I thought they were pretty dull,” Majors said.
So Majors redesigned them. The school colors are old gold and navy blue, but Majors decided that a mustard yellow and royal blue looked sharper — in part because Pitt would not resemble the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as much.
He added double “Northwestern stripes” (one wide stripe bordered by two thinner stripes) to the jerseys and a thick blue stripe, a nod to the N.F.L.’s Pittsburgh Steelers, to the pants. He wanted a helmet insignia that stood out in newspaper photos, on television and on magazine covers. Majors dreamed big from the start.Majors liked the “Ucla” script insignia on U.C.L.A.’s helmets. So he told an artist whose name he cannot remember, to draw something similar for Pitt.
Thus was the start of the traditional Pitt Script with Old Gold & Navy Blue at Pitt.
Gee – wonder what ever happened to it? Well, Steve Pederson happened and the rest was history. We just either were never satisfied with how our uniforms looked or we were greedy. Try to guess which was the stronger case?
Greed of course, because with the slightest change of a jersey or helmet there are thousands of Pitt fans who go out and spend money on the latest combination. They want to either collect all of the possible apparel items or they want to sport the ‘latest’ Pitt look.
Here are some of the crappy uniforms we Pitt fans have had to endure… and the worst part was we had to watch our players stink out the joint and lose more often than win while wearing them most seasons.
Personally, I was happy with last year’s uniform but would have liked it more a with a script “Pitt” on the helmet. But the nature of the beast that is college football is marketing and branding. We seem to be getting the part marketing down alright – hence the new uniforms every three or four years because different apparel = more sales.
However, we drop the ball completely on branding in that there isn’t one ‘look’ that people who aren’t Pitt fans can automatically associate with the University of Pittsburgh when there are no text markings on the uniforms.
As I said, in May we rolled out the 2nd most recent ‘new’ uniforms (behind the newest ‘new’ uniforms, the throwbacks). When they came out I didn’t jump up and down when I saw them.
Actually, in this Pitt Blather article I wrote that I was basically unimpressed because I thought they didn’t go far enough to tie into our traditional uniforms. :
There isn’t one iota of even a nod to the mid-1970s to mid-1980s wonder years of Pitt football. Aside from the Script itself these uniforms have no semblance what so ever to the uniforms our wonderful and popular players Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Mark May, Hugh Green, Bill Mass, Jimbo Covert and Bill Fralic wore. Every student of college football knows those names and what the great teams that they were on did.
However, now it’s like we purposely don’t want to be associated with those past winning and championship seasons. Hell, If Pitt felt they just couldn’t go completely traditional I would have been happy had we stayed with the 2015 uniforms and just changed the helmet’s color a bit, along with scripting the small “PITT” on the front of the jersey, to point back to the traditional look.
Well, someone on the Southside must have heard the drums along the Monongahela because Poof!, all of a sudden we have just what I, and many others, were asking for albeit in a limited edition.
Now we do want to be associated with those past winning seasons. Or do we?
Does anyone else think it’s unusual that the colors picked for the throwbacks most evenly match the teams from the late 1980s? Here we see the Master of the Play-Action Fake QB Alex Van Pelt wearing what our throwbacks seem to mimic most closely.
But wait!! Do they match? I can’t remember any Powder Blue jersey’s in our past…
…and looking back over the years I can find any reference to Power Blue anywhere. But let’s say that is the best match we have, then the throwback colors represent the years 1989-1992 as best I can tell.
So we are directing Pitt fans’ and the nation’s attention back to a time were we had a four year stretch of the Gottfried / Hackett years and a putrid 20-24-2 record which included two 3 win seasons. Right on! 1992 saw us post a 3-9 record… and why are we drawing attention to that?
I’m not complaining here – not after the great reaction the players themselves had when they saw the throwbacks for the first time in the meeting room. Nor after the overwhelming and positive reviews that Pitt fans have had to them either.
I’m just wondering exactly where and when are we throwing these uniforms back to?
Honestly, I don’t much like the idea of throwback uniforms because I’d much rather we find a uniform we can not only live with but celebrate. In other words, create a brand and stick with it. Going back to that earlier article I wrote I said this about successful program branding:
In the collegiate ranks Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, USC, Texas, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, etc. – and even some other lesser programs like Mississippi State – all hold to a constant traditional look and the benefit from positive impact doing so generates in so many different ways.
There is no need for me to post photos of those school’s uniforms here – if you are any sort of a college football fan you visualize them as soon as you read the universities’ names.
You’ll see some minor uniform changes here and there with those programs, tweaks really – but the uniforms stay recognizable as to what school they represent and more importantly what the school’s ‘family” wants them to represent. It is the essence of what advertisers call the “Brand” and is part and parcel of what the students, alumni and fans of those universities love about their programs.
Through thick and thin the traditional uniforms stay the same and represent that particular school. It is what makes them what they are to the rest of college football fans – easily recognizable and invoking thoughts of successful and consistently strong football teams and programs.
Why can’t Pitt do that? Some say that we need the revenue from apparel sales. But is that really true? Just how much do we need that apparel money, especially now that we are raking in much better ACC monies and are on the verge of making even more when the ACC network is fully rolled out.
Maybe, if this new administration is savvy and more importantly, gutsy enough, they will develop a singular uniform and stick with it. Something that draws on the Wonder Years (if not those uniforms themselves) and thus creates that strong brand we need to situate Pitt in the front of college football’s mind.
And yes, I say we need to do it to be as successful as possible.
Again, if we are serious about “The Next Level” as we have heard incessantly over the past two decades, then getting there is akin to completing a jigsaw puzzle. You need support from the Administration, alumni, booster and students. You need quality minds and continuity in the Athletic Department and the football program itself. You need facilities that represent your university and are attractive to play in – and yes, Heinz Field has a good reputation for that. All of these have to fit.
But most importantly you need that missing piece which is immediate recognition of the football program nationally. In that I mean when someone sees a photo of a Pitt player from any year from now forward, or sees a Pitt team playing ball while watching TV , or a video while surfing the internet, they immediately think – “That’s Pitt.”
Put all these together and you’ve created a brand that screams class and consistency.
I have heard the old saw that recruits want to play in flashy modern uniforms and that may be true somewhat – but I guarantee you that when a recruit and his family see the uniforms of Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, etc… they want to play ball wearing those also.
You may counter that is because those programs are consistently successful and that’s true – but part of their successes is that strong uniform and program’s brand itself. Here is an article that addresses the Top 25 Uniforms – notice that a lot of those are not the powerhouse programs mentioned above – schools like Boise State, TCU, Army, Navy, Arizona State, North Carolina – in other words programs like Pitt. But all 25 have the fact in common that those uniforms are easily recognizable and have constituted a brand for their program.
Look at that Pitt uniform mosaic above once more – do we really want to go through that again over the next 20 years? No, of course not.
It would take a leap of faith and a risk on Pitt’s part to do this but why not embrace that and set a course to separate Pitt apart from the 100+ other programs whose uniforms aren’t easily recognized?
If we truly want to be “Pitt Proud” and live the ideal that “Pitt Is It!” then I say create a 360 degree Pitt brand in football…. and stick with it.
Speaking of Look Back Saturdays here is an article I found while doing some research on past Pitt uniforms. This is from the Uni-Watch website back in 2006:
“Meanwhile: I love historical uni oddities that we all missed the first time around but are now rediscovering, and reader Chris Ford has come up with a doozie. Here’s his scoop:
Tonight I was watching a replay of the 1977 Sugar Bowl between the University of Georgia and the University of Pittsburgh, and I noticed something peculiar: Some of the Panthers were wearing different uniforms from the rest of the team. For instance, if you look at this shot, you can clearly see that Tony Dorsett’s numbers [including the one on his sleeve] are dark blue with gold trim, and his name appears on his jersey.
However, the guy in the air (QB Matt Cavanaugh), has a light blue number on his sleeve, with no gold trim, and it was the same way on his back. Also, his name did not appear on his back.
It seemed to me that it was mainly the WRs and RBs whose unis were like Dorsett’s (maybe 10 players), and the rest of the team wore unis like Cavanaugh. I took this screen shot, which shows Nos. 33 and 34 wearing the blue/gold numbers and names on their jerseys, while No. 77 had no gold trim and no name. Additional examples are here and here.
It’s hard to imagine a major college team doing this today — in a bowl game, no less. Anyone know the story behind this one?”
Here is another photo that shows the different uniforms quite clearly – look at the difference between Ellott Walker’s (#34) and Cavanaugh’s (#12) uniforms. I wonder if some of our guys might have taken their game uniform jerseys and sold them for drinks on Bourbon Street in the practice week before the game. If you remember Majors didn’t impose any curfews on the players while they were in New Orleans…
Seriously, that just may have happened.