Learning from Oregon’s Championship Fashion Fail

Convert this year's disappointment to motivation next season Ducks!

We don’t just love our school colors—we win in them

When Oregon underwent a radical Nike-designed uniform change beginning with the 1999 season, the message was clear: what you wear says something important about you. The Ducks, save for the occasional Rose Bowl every few decades, had never been a traditional powerhouse. Why not claim the future with innovative, constantly changing uniforms that symbolized a program on the rise? And sure enough, the team’s winning percentage in the last 16 years has been leaps and bounds ahead of the pre-’99 past.

Maybe it’s just the hangover of losing the national championship. When you win, you look good—and vice versa. But something about the power of Oregon’s uniforms and the overriding wisdom of what the team wears, and when, seems to falter in the title game.

When the Ducks’ kit, gray pants with white helmets and jerseys in silver trim, was unveiled after the Rose Bowl, speculation among Duck fans and the college football world at large was rampant right until kickoff: was it all a ruse? Maybe, the thinking went, Oregon and its Beaverton-based collaborators were going to pull a last-minute switch in favor of some greener, yellower combination. But then, on January 12th, with the sporting world’s biggest spotlight shining on the Ducks, the team ran onto the field in their white and gray unis, and we knew it was really true.

John Giustina

Oregon’s NCG Uniforms

There have been times when Oregon’s non-traditional accent colors, such black and either gray (for the pants) or silver (for jersey and helmet accents), have provided a worthwhile change-up. The mostly-black kit against USC on Halloween night in 2009 seemed to fuel both the victory and the sense of a changing of the guard at the top of the conference. The white jerseys with gray helmets and pants gave a low-key look to perhaps Oregon’s greatest moment, the completion of a 12-0 season against Oregon State in 2010. But for the most part, the bigger the game –particularly if it’s in postseason –the more school colors have seemed appropriate.

And thanks to a recent Wall Street Journal article, we know this sense of the appropriateness of school is more than a vague feeling. As Geoff Foster reports therein, the Ducks have a much better record when playing in green and yellow.

Going into this year’s national championship game, Oregon was only 15-4 in gray/silver pants since 2009 (now 15-5 with the Ohio State loss), compared to a 17-0 record in green pants and a 9-1 record in yellow pants. Although admittedly, the non-school color black pants elicited an 18-2 record, overall the record shows we’re more successful wearing green and yellow. Jerseys are a more complex metric, because the decision to wear colors or whites depends on whether the team is home or away. Still, the numbers are clear: green jerseys have netted a 26-1 record, while the team has gone 28-5 in white and 8-3 in black. Green or yellow helmets have given Oregon a combined 33-2 record compared to 14-3 in gray/silver and 9-2 in white.

The Rose Bowl was one of Oregon's successes in its main colors

Craig Strobeck

The Rose Bowl was one of Oregon’s successes in its main colors.

As much as Nike’s Oregon uniforms are associated with flash and style, at base the company is built on great design, be it of shoes or apparel. In the 1970s, the company’s iconic waffle-sole shoes practically invented running as a popular exercise in America. In the ’80s, Nike thumped the iconic basketball shoe of the past, the pancake-soled Converse All-Star, with shoes like Air Jordans that not only looked cool but performed better.

With that in mind, perhaps the most surprising thing about the decision to wear white helmets and jerseys with gray pants in the championship game was that Nike and the Ducks didn’t already seem to know the team’s record in every different helmet-jersey-pants combination. Or if they did, they flaunted the odds in a way possibly detrimental to the team.

Great design is usually born not of inspiration snatched out of the air but instead from rigorous research. Nike had to have known that different colors have a psychological effect. How could the men and women behind the vaunted Swoosh have had a blind spot this big? How could they have failed to looked at the results of different uniforms? Again, the only alternative to not knowing the different colors results is that we gambled against the clear numbers, and that’s not something anyone even wants to think about.

Even aside from color itself and the results of one tone versus another, Nike seems to have over-thought the issue of home and away uniforms for the championship game. Oregon was the first to have been the higher-ranked team in a championship game, but deliberately declined the privilege of wearing home uniforms? One can certainly understand how choosing away uniforms had a certain perverse psychology that would have been appealing: us against the world. The team’s identity today is about bucking tradition.

Oregon has tried a variety of unique options, including these jerseys from 2011 against LSU

Amazing Moments

Oregon has tried a variety of unique options, including these jerseys from 2011 against LSU

But after spending more than a century climbing to the rarefied air of college football’s powerhouse programs, Oregon and its fans deserved the chance to enjoy the subtle but unmistakable sense that the team in home colors is the favorite. Maybe it can be a motivating factor to cast yourself as the underdog, even when you are the higher-ranked team and the favorite. But for crying out loud: Oregon has hardly ever had the chance to enjoy the role of the incumbent power in a marquee postseason game. The Ducks likely would still have lost to Ohio State on January 12 wearing green and yellow, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have that little edge that comes with wearing the uniforms we wear at Autzen Stadium?

This is not to say that Oregon should drop Nike as its supplier. To even suggest such a thing is, of course, ridiculous. Nike and Oregon have a very special bond, one that’s not just financial but also about the team’s soul—its DNA. Without question, that should continue. At the same time, perhaps one small positive outcome of the championship game might be for the school and its Beaverton-based partner to sit down and re-evaluate their respective goals, here.

Uniform Changes from 1998 to 2014

John Giustina/Kevin Cline

Oregon’s uniforms have undergone significant changes from 1998 (L) to 2014 (R)

Oregon is a very different program today than it was in 1999. That’s thanks in part to the uniforms. We’re not just an upstart looking for attention; we’re an iconic power of our time. But with that new role comes the need to present ourselves differently as well.

Let us keep sporting thousands of different uniform combinations. Let us incorporate non-school colors from time to time to keep things fresh and add possibilities. But in the most high-profile moments, let us embrace who we are: the players in the green and yellow, playing with style but not always favoring style and surprise for their own sake. Let us be Oregon and all that that means: not just a 21st Century innovator, but a program that embraces its roots.

Top image by John Giustina.

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • Tom

    I said it at the time and Ill say it again: Being the team that wears a lot of different uniforms is ok, but being the team that fusses and frets about what uniform to wear is NOT ok.

    • Brian Libby

      I think you’re over-simplifying the debate, Tom. I agree that the uniform conversation can get tiresome when we analyze every different combination. But Charles is making an important point about Oregon’s most high-profile moment. It was APPALLING that Oregon chose to wear away uniforms in the title game despite being the designated home team, and even WORSE that there was no green or yellow involved. I and countless Duck fans would have felt that way even without the Wall Street Journal analysis, but knowing that Oregon deliberately chose its statistically least successful kit in its most important game is an absolute travesty. Are you listening, Beaverton friends? What do you have to say for yourself?

      • Tom

        Perhaps you missed my point. That you think that its “APPALLING” means that you care about what the team wears. This further plays into the narrative of Oregon as a team of flash over substance. When these things become national news (and this issue did) they become distractions from the substance of the team. Fan boys whining over uniform colors on the internet do not represent the school or the teams well. At best it makes the rest of us Duck fans look like we care more about laundry than football. At worst it becomes viral and then becomes a distraction to the team. Let us represent ourselves as a mature and knowledgeable fan base and blow off these superficial matters for discussions of substance.
        Also the quoted statistics are not relevant. Different colored uniforms do not make a team play better or worse. Superstitious fluff. If this were the case the ducks should never wear the colors they wore between 1963 and 1989: green and yellow.

        • Brian Libby

          The mere fact of Oregon having hundreds of different uniform combinations introduces the uniforms as a conversation piece. That’s why the media and fans are always talking about it. The conversation pre-dates this post and your comments or mine by several years. If you don’t want to participate in the conversation, Tom, that’s your right. But it’s not fair for you to lecture the rest of us on what we can and can’t discuss. The whole point of FishDuck is for Oregon fans to discuss and learn about Oregon football, and while you’re correct that on-field action is the primary topic, it’s not unreasonable to discuss uniforms — especially when they’re already being talked about by the college football world for some 14 years. What’s more, I find it curious that you would assert that any kind of fact involving wins and losses is somehow irrelevant. The fact that different uniform combinations have produced different results makes it relevant, regardless of what you or I think. Again, no one’s holding a gun to your head to talk about uniforms if you think it’s not worthy of your conversational or intellectual capabilities. But why not the rest of us luddites talk a little fashion without presumptuously judging your fellow Duck fans?

          • Tom

            I agree – we are all presumably on the same side. Im not grumpily judging my fellow Duck fans, Im trying to steer the conversation back to what is important. This is not.

            My take is that
            Oregon is viewed around the country as a fashionista team. Hell Ted
            Miller of ESPN has to work in “fancypants” every time he writes about
            the Ducks. Remember “all sizzle- no steak”? Remember how Auburn “dominated” the Ducks (even though they won on a last second field goal). FishDuck recently did a
            great article about how the “Soft” perception isnt true, but like it or
            not it is still how the Ducks are perceived.

            My thought on the issue is that we as fans can play into this idea by creating an uproar about our uni colors, or we can make it a non-issue and move on. Vote with your clicks (or non-clicks so to speak). Change the conversation to the actual game.

            I do disagree with you when you say:

            “The Journal article’s reportage that different uniform combinations have
            produced different results makes it relevant, regardless of what you or
            I think. You can dispute opinions but not cold facts.”

            I am not disputing the reported number of wins and losses. What I do disagree with is that there is any cause and effect between a specific color combination and whether a team will win or lose. These are coincidences not predictors of performance.
            Also as we have previously established the statistics are taken from an arbitrary starting point in time and ignore most of the Ducks history. I dont know the exact number but I would expect that if you included all Ducks football games you would see that white on white, or white on gray unis would have a much higher win percentage than green on yellow – although it would be from a much smaller sample size.

            I am also not disputing that the uniforms are a brilliant innovation in
            luring recruits. I enjoy the uniforms – they have gotten better over
            the years, remember the silly diamond plate knee and shoulder pads? Im all for kicking the other teams tail and looking good doing it. However it really makes us look bad when we lose and then we grouse that we wore the wrong uni colors.

            Just saying.

          • Brian Libby

            Fair enough, Tom. We have some common ground here, I think, and otherwise can agree to disagree — with “Go Ducks” as our shared mantra.

          • MAITAIDUCK

            Yeah they Dominated us alright as in our undersized Defense held Cam and Co to less yardage than any of those other DOMINATING Defenses of the SUC I mean Sec. I still feel it was Chip that lost that Game for Oregon than Auburn. His play calling in the RZ was frustrating to say the least. Oregon still has 2 Championship Games under their belts in 5 seasons even though losses they are getting OH so close to finally getting it done. I would prefer though with the 2 Million different Combo’s that they stick a little more to our Colors because the Green does look pretty BAD ASS as well as the White Uni’s that they’ve worn on SC’s field a few times.

  • hokieduck

    Much ado about nothing. As with Deflategate, do you really think that green and yellow pants and jerseys would have overcome 248 yards on the ground by Zeke Elliott? It was the guys inside the white and grey “away” unis who did not fill the holes.

    BTW, would I have much preferred to see the Ducks in green and yellow? Was I stoked when we were “home” team because I couldn’t wait to see the green and yellow (hopefully the combo that was worn in the Pac12 game)? Yes. Was I disappointed? Yes. Did it matter one whit to the outcome of the game. Of course not.

  • Keith Dennis

    The team’s record relative to the various pants combinations is so silly that it’s almost impossible to make an argument against it because if you tried, you’d be admitting that it was a thing worth arguing which it absolutely is not.

    I treat uniform decisions the same way I treat coaching decisions: They are the experts in their field. I am not. They have all the information, I have relatively little information. I’m not always going to understand their decisions, not should I expect to. That doesn’t mean that they’re always going to be right, but they’re going to be right so much more often then I would be that it’s not worth worrying about.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    I really doubt the colors even though they were the WORST choice ever for such a high impact game was more about the Ducks W/O Allen, Brown, Carrington, Johnston, Ifo, Addison ect was one of the main reasons why the Ducks lost and that they waited to play their worst game at the worst time and apparently the we still have unfinished Business still isn’t finished! Anyways hopefully our Beloved Ducks will never wear that UGLY set again regardless of the outcome.