There have been a lot of factors that have contributed to Oregon’s rise in the college football world. Innovative marketing, state-of-the-art locker rooms and facilities and a fun offense that will appeal to recruits.
And not just any recruits, but the best recruits in the country.
For many years, it’s worked. Pac-12 titles galore, two Rose Bowl wins and two national title appearances later, the decision to be different has paid off. But 2015 is showing that it’s not paying off as much anymore.
Oregon had to do something to attract those recruits, which many come from warm weather environments such as Southern California, Texas and Florida. The Ducks had to come up with some incentive for those kids to come to rainy Eugene and not USC, Texas or Florida.
One of the early factors Oregon and Nike came up with was to introduce new and cool looking uniforms. They figured out that 16 and 17-year old high school kids want to not only play well, but to look good. Nike has essentially used Oregon football as a guinea pig to experiment with new features to football uniforms such as new material for jerseys and pants, safer helmets and space-age type shoes.
But the Ducks school colors of green and yellow make it difficult to look good. Nike has frequently relegated the actual school colors as secondary in favor of colors that evidently attract recruits such as black, carbon (silver) and neon whatever color is handy.
For the most part it has worked. So much in fact that other schools have copied Oregon’s uniform philosophy. But when does the philosophy of looking cool just turn into a gimmick that is old and worn? The Ducks might be finding this out.
Nike has now introduced a new style of uniform that “celebrates Oregon history” with the outline of Lewis and Clark, along with the Duck mascot, on the Oregon Trail displayed prominently on the helmet pointing West. The official description is as follows:
The Oregon Pioneers football uniform features a sublimated, tonal pattern of the Oregon Trail traversed by explorers. Highlighting northeastern and southern Oregon, as well as Eugene and Mt. Hood, the topographic collage covers the entire jersey. A silhouette of Lewis and Clark, along with The Duck, appears as a decal on the helmet. Wrapping both sides of the head wear, it features Lewis looking through a telescope and The Duck pointing west, a nod to the explorers.
There are several other details to the Oregon garb that can be found here.
Oregon has gone with some strange combinations, but this one might more “Oregon” than most are used to. When the Ducks were winning conference titles and bowl games, not looking like themselves was forgiven by donors and the casual fan and alumni. But when the Ducks are losing by six touchdowns at home and barely beating teams like Colorado, it turns out gimmicky and annoying.
If this was 2011, the pioneer-themed uniform would have been a huge hit and in some degree, will still be a hit. Oregon will make a lot of dough selling t-shirts, hats and whatever else they can think of to celebrate the Uniform of the Week.
But right now, Oregon is 3-2 and just another Pac-12 team and the fan base is in a bad mood.
With all things, fads come to an end and there is a large group within the Duck fandom that longs for the school colors to be predominately displayed once again. It used to be that the Duck fan would almost be unanimous in celebrating the innovation and look. But with this new “Pioneer” uniform, it’s not going over well. According to Facebook posts, it’s probably 50-50 of thumbs up or thumbs down.
The innovation isn’t attracting the five-star recruit anymore and the Ducks need to figure out why. Teams like UCLA and USC have caught up. Arizona State and Utah also don’t fear Oregon. And Stanford is still Stanford.
History has shown that Oregon doesn’t sit around and be just another West Coast team for long. The Ducks (and Nike) will come up with something other than flashy uniforms to attract the recruits. There’s no doubt they’ll think of something because uniforms honoring the state’s history just won’t cut it anymore.