Cal Uni Countdown: Polar Bear Checks in at No. 10
Cal Uni Countdown: Far From Cloud Nine
CHIME IN ON THE MESSAGE BOARDS
A new day means a new entry in our Cal Uni Countdown, as the California athletic department readies to unveil a new unified branding effort across all sports on April 10, and today, it’s time to take aim at an old favorite.
The first two uniforms in our countdown have been no-brainers. The white helmet and the Polar Bear look, the hide-the-banana unitards – both are just outright ridiculous.
This one is going to tick some folks off, but remember, I’m your friend, and friends tell other friends harsh truths, one of which is that the Aaron Rodgers-era uniforms stunk.
NO. 8: THE COOKIE CUTTER
Why it Worked
From 2002 through 2007, California went 50-26, with five straight wins over Stanford and a 4-1 record in bowl games. It was the era of DeSean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch and Aaron Rodgers. It was a true Golden Age, the likes of which the Bears had not seen since Pappy’s Boys.
Don’t get me wrong: As a freshman during the 2004 season, I have a soft spot in my heart for the uniforms. But, let’s take a look, for a moment, at just how defining these duds are.
Why it Didn’t
In the early 2000s, uniform templates were all the rage, especially this one, introduced in 1997. That set was immediately featured in two straight Super Bowl wins, so, naturally, everyone wanted to copy it.
From high schools, to some second tier institutions to colleges on the rise to major bowl participants to two schools that became visually indistinguishable from one another.
Quick: What do you think of when you think USC? No, not that, and no, not these guys. When you think Trojans football, you think these. How about Penn State? Get your mind out of the gutter. There, now that’s more like it. Alabama? Yep. Ohio State? Scarlet and grey stripes. How about Maryland? Ok, well, at least they’re trying. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg that came first, some of the more prominent programs in the country have a distinct look. It’s theirs, and no one else’s.
Granted, if every team went as old-school as the Nittany Lions, most fans (and consumers) would find that pretty doggone boring, no matter how much I scream for classic simplicity.
The one thing that the current uniform set has going for it is that at the time it was introduced, it was fairly unique (even if the bear-claw-slash motif was a bit forced), but since then, other schools have started riffing on that design, at nearly every level.
There is a way to do simple correctly, and not be boring. The last thing a college football program should be is a follower, and the second-last thing it should be is a trend-setter, because then, eventually, you just fade into the background.
Devil in the Detail
These templates started out simply enough, as far as the Bears were concerned. Ironically enough, a uniform featuring elements that form little Swooshes at the right angles was originally manufactured for Cal by another company, and it wasn’t too bad, for what it was. Absent from that original set was all the silly piping that would come later. Solid pants and Swoosh side panel pants were shuttled in and out, and with the introduction of the gold jersey in 2006 against Oregon, the Bears had three tops (gold, blue and white) and five sets of pants: white with blue swoosh, blue with gold swoosh, gold with blue stripe (both an early and a later version), plain blue and plain gold, which was worn at home, while the rare gold with blue swoosh was occasionally worn on the road. The main road pants, though, alternated between the plain blue and the white with the blue swoosh.
The only thing worse than a cookie-cutter look is an inconsistent cookie-cutter look, and that’s no more apparent than the pants. The stripes/swooshes were maddeningly inconsistent from year to year, and what started out as a relatively no-frills look gained various piping and gussets as the years went on.