• Editor's note: Some of the helmet and uniform designs of Charles Sollars could be considered extreme. They are shown here as examples of imaginative design. Sollars is not affiliated with Adidas, Nebraska's apparel provider, nor is he advising the Nebraska athletic department on uniform changes. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said on Monday that a forthcoming alternate uniform to be used in one game next season will be “futuristic” but “not so dramatic that no one will know which team is out there.”
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LINCOLN — Charles Sollars' online Flickr profile has 26,820 images in it. Most of them are pictures the 27-year-old freelance photographer took in and around Springfield, Mo.
But in recent months, Sollars started to design football helmets and uniforms — NFL and college — blowing up logos to supersize, much like Nike did with Oregon and Boise State helmets last year. He designed uniform combos. The Big Ten Network took notice. Schools, too. And Internet message boards.
Since Monday afternoon — when Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne confirmed that NU would unveil an alternate uniform for the 2012 season — Husker fans have been flooding his site to glimpse all of his Nebraska ideas.
Nineteen of the site's 20 most popular images on Thursday — and 36 of the top 40 — were Nebraska helmet and uniform designs. Sollars made them after an NU fan emailed him looking for ideas. Especially ideas that used black.
No. 1 on Thursday: a black helmet layered with the Blackshirts' ghosted skull and crossbones logo. Sollars placed a block red "N" decal in the middle. The top NU design of the past couple of months: a corn helmet, yellow kernels wrapping themselves around a dome.
"I did that one as kind of a joke," Sollars said. "But people loved it."
How about 9,000 hits on the corn helmet and climbing? How about it's early April, and Nebraska fans — some favoring alternate uniforms, some opposed — are gripped by the debate over what the football team wears.
The fan base is like a town that just got its first Olive Garden. Why?
Because it points to a larger conversation inside Husker nation.
What's sacred blood for Nebraska football? What part of the brand can change without altering the essence of the program? What part of the brand — the ongoing debate over Tunnel Walk music — has to change soon?
And which part of the fan base primarily decides what stays and goes?
Is it the financially supportive baby boomer set that easily recalls when NU won five national titles and played for five more from 1965 to 2001?
Or those in their 30s and 40s, who have some disposable income and a lot of unspent competitiveness?
|Click the image above to launch a photo showcase featuring some of the more unique alternative uniforms seen in college sports.|
Or should the youth — who might barely remember Osborne's coaching tenure — hold sway?
Of course it's some combination of the above. But if Osborne appears willing to embrace the cosmetic future — roughly a decade after Oregon and Nike started creating it — the conversation is beyond skin deep.
The brand of Nebraska football doesn't travel as far as it once did.
The fans are still legion. The flags still fly. The sellout streak lives on. But the Big Red's reach — once quite daunting, especially westward to Hawaii — has been dialed back.
The California kid who once had to have that mid-'90s Husker Starter or Apex puffy jacket is sporting Oregon threads. Or marveling at Boise State's all-white get-up.
The Broncos, scorned by college football elite for years, have carved out an incredible decade of football thanks to ... blue turf. And trick plays. And wild uniforms. And the willingness to play one-time marquee games in hostile places. All risks. All rewarded.
You may hate all of what Oregon wears, but the Ducks — and Nike — know what they're doing. Big recruits like it. A Los Angeles kid doesn't go to Eugene for the seasons. Big recruits win. And fans like it when big recruits win.
NU has a better football tradition than both schools. But kids on the coasts and in the South now need more reasons to visit Lincoln instead of Oregon, Boise State and hundreds of other schools.
The facilities are a reason. Fan support. Academics. Ndamukong Suh. Bo Pelini's postgame press conference at Penn State. Winning big sells best of all — Alabama, LSU, Texas and Oklahoma know that. that empty wall space next to 1999 in the Hawks Championship Center — no conference football titles since then — speaks volumes.
"It wouldn't hurt to have a national championship in football or one of our major sports, baseball," Osborne told ESPN.com last week. "We're pretty good in a lot of things. We've won three Big Ten titles so far this year, have a chance to win two or three more this spring. But certainly a championship in football would help us."
|Click the image above to launch a photo showcase depicting NU's football uniform evolution through the years.|
Uniforms could help. The demand is there, and not just from Nebraska fans. Sollars said he's had 1.9 million hits on his Flickr profile, most in the past two months. He's in talks with Virginia Tech and Illinois for some of his designs. His helmet/uniform designs of Michigan and Ohio State — two Big Ten competitors steeped in history — are still the top overall images on the site.
That's the Web generation speaking, of course. It's the generation of kids who will play college football, too.
Michigan wore two alternate uniforms last year. Sollars liked both. So old school they were new school. Ohio State has worn alternate uniforms — all relatively modest — in each of the past three seasons. They're models for Nebraska.
Yet some Husker fans will bristle. Replicating the 1962 uniforms for the 300th consecutive sellout was a nod to NU's glorious past. This look will be different. This opens the door to bigger change. Even Osborne, in acknowledging that he didn't want to start an argument between two eras of Nebraska supporters, knows that it's a shift.
Some younger fans are restless. You know whom they mirror? Nebraska's coaching staff. Pelini has assembled one of college football's youngest staffs. Energetic. Hungry. In good shape. Accustomed and open to change.
Some older fans are resistant. They identify with Osborne the traditionalist who, let's remember, was hired 10 years after his coaching retirement to restore a collegial department culture that former Athletic Director Steve Pederson so quickly morphed into a secretive, fearful environment. Most athletic departments are run by a fierce bottom line these days.
But since then, Osborne has spearheaded more change than anyone could have imagined — firing three head coaches, moving to the Big Ten.
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Playing Michigan — instead of Missouri — for the next 100 years seems like a more significant shift than a different-colored helmet.
Ask Frank Solich, whose mere acquiescence to red gussets running down the sides of Nebraska's uniforms in 2002 led to questions over whether he'd let the players' desires go too far.
However NU chooses to design its alternate uniforms, Sollars — who's spent hours and days thinking about it — has two suggestions. First, incorporate black. Second, embrace the old-school approach that Michigan used, or push the envelope like Oregon.
"Don't do the middle ground," Sollars said. "It looks like you couldn't make up your mind."
Even if the extremes might start an argument.
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