Wiedmer: SEC football fans touchy about uniform changes

Wiedmer: SEC football fans touchy about uniform changes

July 25th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

Vols T logo

Minor. Subtle. A tweak here and there.

That's how the University of Tennessee is describing the small alterations to this year's Big Orange football uniforms.

And maybe they are. Adding a patch in the shape of the Volunteer State above the players' names on the back of the jerseys and placing a checkerboard background behind the orange numbers on road unis don't exactly sound like major overhauls.

But much like surgery and hangovers, minor is what happens to the other guy. Within a tradition-rich Southeastern Conference where at least three schools -- Alabama, Auburn and LSU -- haven't made a significant uniform change in more than 50 years, just how tightly should fans cling to their proud pasts regarding their favorite team's work clothes?

Does dressing for success in the SEC mean remaining frozen in time? Do unis unite or divide? And what about this post from "Olddogsrule" on a UT message board: "Actually, for any given year, whatever makes the players feel confident and they want to wear. It's their team! Not ours."

Hmmmm.

Lifelong Georgia fan Mike Weaver would debate that.

The general contractor still winces over those Power Ranger outfits the Bulldogs donned in their Georgia Dome loss to Boise State a couple of years ago.

"You know how Southerners are," he said. "We don't want anything to change. I want them to look like they did 50 years ago. And everybody I talk to wants the same thing: They want them to stay traditional."

But Tennessee fan Ryan Coulter, a generation younger than the 52-year-old Weaver, disagrees.

"I thought we should have changed uniforms when we fired Phillip Fulmer," he said. "If you're going to change coaches, why not change uniforms? Everybody else has gone to those Nike Combat uniforms. That might be fun."

If the Vols could get around the fact that they're an Adidas school, he might be right. But Coulter also pointed to the black jerseys the Vols wore for their Halloween win over South Carolina four years ago, which also just happens to be the last time UT has topped Steve Spurrier.

"Greatest thing they've ever done," he said.

Not according to sports blog Uni Watch. The popular site termed that combination the third worst college football wardrobe malfunction ever.

But that's also the beauty of debate. Everybody has an opinion, and on subjects such as this, all are valid. As Paris and New York proved long ago, when it comes to fashion, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Yet to peruse several websites ranking college football uniforms is to understand quickly the reverence with which the past is held, especially regarding the SEC.

Of Athlon's top 25, the SEC has six, including Georgia (13), Alabama (11) and LSU (2). Fox Sports ranks Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and LSU among its top 15. Lostlettermen.com listed Georgia (9) and Bama (2) in its top 10.

Regarding the defending national champions' simple, timeless uniforms -- which haven't changed since the late 1950s with the arrival of Bear Bryant -- Tide superfan "Bama Jean" Adair said, "If it's not broke, why fix it? It's a winning look. If you're winning five out of 12 games, I could see changing your uniforms. I'll bet those UT checkerboards will look really cute. But to see us in our crimson, there's nothing more beautiful."

Auburn fan Wells Blake would counter that the Tigers' uniforms, which have remained largely the same since pre-facemask times, are at least as beautiful as Adair's Tiders.

"I love the conservative stuff," he said. "You see Oregon, with 2,000 different uniforms a year, and maybe that's good marketing. But I like it that Auburn's uniforms are still about 95 percent what they were 50 years ago."

Marketing and merchandizing changes everything, of course. Even Bama wore an alternative Nike jersey a couple of years ago for a single game, its jersey numbers carrying a houndstooth pattern in honor of the Bear.

But at the risk of ignoring checkerboard chic, local Vols fanatic Dr. Rink Murray may also have spoken for the vast majority of the Big Orange Nation when he said of UT's minor, subtle uniform tweaks:

"If it would win them a national championship, they could dress up in pink tutus for all I care."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com