For months I’ve been dreading this day: the reveal of the Nike Pro Combat Michigan State football uniforms.
As much as I advocate for advanced statistics, deep analysis, film review, and all-around smarter football, when it comes to football uniforms and iconography I am a corn-fed Big Ten three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust traditionalist.
Look, I appreciate what Nike is doing with fit, fabric, safety, cooling, and all that stuff. I understand that textile technology has improved since the fifties, and just because we used to be limited to solid colors and stripes doesn’t mean we must be stuck with them for ever and ever.
However, just because wicked awesome new dyeing and embroidery technology allows us to move into patterns, gradients and simulated textures doesn’t mean we should start with a Duck mascot, colors of green and orange, and end with this:
I mean, yeah, that looks “cool.” Silver carbon-fiber-look numbers and faux feathers against a white uniform, and neon trim looks awesome in a dramatically-lit still life. But like, what team is this? What colors are these? Can you read these numbers on the TV? From the stands? If you didn’t know to assume it’s Oregon whenever you see an eye-bleeding monstrosity, how would you know it’s the Ducks?
If this seems pedantic, it’s not. College sports are supposed to be about the name on the front of the jersey; the mascot and colors are the whole stinking point. Half the players who cycle in and out of these uniforms are only known to fans for a season or two before they’re gone, yet go to any tailgate lot at any major program and you’ll meet people who’ve been in the same place for decades. It’s supposed be about homecoming and the Alma Mater and being true to your school; if you abandon all that for a bunch of silver and matte black it doesn’t matter how “awesome” it looks, it’s wrong.
My fear for the Michigan State uniforms was, well, we’d get the worst of this new technology and not the best. The current uniforms are a nice mix of easily-identifiable “Michigan Stateness,” some subtle nods to ancient Sparta (or, if we’re being honest, the movie 300), and some questionable number/wordmark choices I’m willing to overlook.
Look, Oregon’s uniforms were frequently hideous well before Phil Knight commissioned concepts from the 2Fast, 2Furious art direction team. But Michigan State? It’s been green, white, end of story for decades, and stories of our National and Big Ten championships are woven into the fabric of college football.
So what did the Nike design team come up with. Well, this:
From a design standpoint, I like it. The gold helmet and gold number really pop, and look incredible set against the current dark green. However, I continue to have problems with the predominance of dark gray and “light black” next to such dark green. The black “SPARTANS” wordmark on the front and will completely disappear from any distance, and it’s tough to make out the black trim on the numbers. I hope the wordmark on the back of the jersey is representative of the players’ names, not replicating the brain-dead plastering of “GEORGIA” on the back of every Bulldogs’ shirt.
From a distance, the muddling of the details will be a blessing. It will look simple and sharp. The green shirt and black pants may blend in a disconcerting way, but if you lean way back from your monitor and squint your eyes a bit, you should have an appreciation for how this’ll look on TV. Dark. Bold. Simple. Strong.
Just not like Michigan State.
The players wearing Michigan State’s uniforms “fight for the only colors, green and white.” There isn’t as much green here as there is gray, black, and gold—and white is completely absent save for a teeeeensy little wordmark in the tramp stamp area.
Look, I know this is “awesome” and stuff. I know high school boys who play football great will be impressed. I know it’ll generate revenue for the school, and for Nike. I know time marches on, and things are different these days, and I need to start telling kids to get off my lawn.
But this ain’t MSU. As some said on Twitter, it’s more Notre Dame, or maybe Baylor. If Michigan State can’t attract recruits or sell merch by wearing green and white and winning Big Ten Championships, then why the hell do we care? Why can I sing the fight song and MSU Shadows by heart? Why did I go Michigan State just like my mother and grandfather, and sit in the stands and cheer just like they did?
It’s not the jerseys or the players or coaches or the administration or, God forbid, the conference TV network we hand down from generation to generation. It’s the school. It’s the tradition. It’s the name on the front of the jersey, and, yes, the colors.