Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 9:00 pm / Updated at 9:59 am
football
Shatel: Hat's off (one time) for NU's new look

Get those uniforms off my lawn!

This is Nebraska football. This is tradition. This is the white helmet with the red stripe and block N. This is red jerseys and white pants. This isn't Oregon. You don't ever mess with the Nebraska uniform.

You mean like in 1970?

Long ago, Don Bryant, the former sports information director at Nebraska, told the story about the 1970 Nebraska football helmet. In the years before that season, Nebraska's helmet was white with a red “NU” on each side.

According to Bryant, as the team prepared to practice for the 1970 season, the equipment staff discovered they were short of the letter “U.” So they just went with a single “N.”

It seemed to catch on. And Nebraska had a look that became classic along with years of classic winning.

But then there was the wardrobe malfunction of 1986.

The No. 5-ranked Huskers played No. 3 Oklahoma in the annual winner-take-all last game in the Big Eight. The Huskers shocked the world — just before kickoff.

They ran out of the home tunnel at Memorial Stadium in red jerseys and red pants. Big motivational ploy?

“I don't remember it being a big deal,” said Jeff Jamrog, NU's assistant athletic director for football, who played on that 1986 team. “I don't think we knew about it until the week of the game. It was probably something Broderick Thomas came up with. I don't think it had much to do with the game.”

It certainly didn't stop Jamelle Holieway and Keith Jackson from breaking hearts again in the fourth quarter.

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Then there was the year Nebraska wore new helmets. You do remember that, right?

It was several years ago. Jay Terry, NU's football equipment manager, doesn't remember which year.

“One year we ordered new helmets,” Terry said. “We tried to do a little pearl to give it more color. It wasn't real noticeable until you got up close to it.

“That lasted one year. I didn't like the look of it myself. It wasn't what I thought it would be. So we went back to the white, high gloss.”

There have been uniform tweaks and alterations throughout the Big Red timeline. But nothing like what we are about to witness come Saturday night.

Red jerseys and red pants. But not even Broderick Thomas could have dreamed up that giant “N” on the red jersey.

Or the black helmet with the red “N,” the alter ego of the classic helmet.

It's for one game, and it's for fun. But it's enough to make the tradition-hugging, stodgy and perhaps a tad grumpy Husker fan from another generation ask for a blindfold.

As a card-carrying member of the stuck-in-the-past gang, let me offer a word of advice.

Go with it. Here's three reasons why:

1. It's just for one game. Nebraska will not be losing its identity, or mind, anytime soon, if the equipment manager has anything to say about it.

“It's once in a while,” Terry said. “It's not something where I'd want to be Oregon and do it every single week. That works for them, but I don't think that's us. I'm biased, but I think our uniform is one of the best in the country. You look out there and you can tell that's Nebraska.”

2. The players like it. College football is the greatest game, but too often it ignores the most important people in the game: the players. From starting times to extra games to rules changes, nobody ever asks the players for their opinion.

If this is what the players want, more power and black helmets to them. Interestingly, though, I found varying opinions on the topic.

“I like it,” said senior I-back Rex Burkhead. “I like new uniforms. I like how teams mix it up once in a while. It's something for the fans and players to get excited about.”

Said sophomore receiver Kenny Bell: “I think it's awesome that we're trying something new. But at the same time I love our tradition at Nebraska. I guess I'm indifferent.”

3. The more I scream at college football, the more it ignores me. Kickoff times at all hours. Realignment that kills the great series I grew up watching. Bowl games run amok and shoe companies and networks that dictate policy.

They've all muddled the game. But guess what? The game moves on, sometimes like an express train, leaving some of us back in a time when we knew every stitch on the Nebraska and Oklahoma uniforms.

Then again, I can't tell you how many stripes Mike Rozier or Tommie Frazier had on their sleeves. But I can recite their great runs to daylight.

We're still going to see a game on Saturday night. You will remember what Burkhead does against Wisconsin. You won't necessarily remember the Adidas Halloween costume he wore.

“I think it's cool, it's fun,” tight end Kyler Reed said. “But we're not thinking about it. We're focused on the matter at hand: the game.”

Exactly. So have fun with it. That black helmet is growing on me. But don't tell anyone.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

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Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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