Football The Rivalry

Alternate Uniforms? Why Must Tradition be a Thing of the Past?


Okay, enough is enough.

It appears the Ohio State football program has been hijacked again.

Hijacked from the former players, the alumni and the great fans of Ohio State.

I got bad news for you: Nike’s power, influence and money have taken it from us.

The athletic department announced on Monday that the Buckeyes will wear “an alternate” uniform for the annual showdown with Michigan on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor.

You won’t see the traditional silver helmets adorned with green Buckeye leaves. You won’t see the traditional gray pants with scarlet stripes down the side.

Scarlet and gray?

No, as far as I can tell from the preliminary pictures, the Buckeyes will play the game in black and white – with the same grayish helmets they wore against Penn State. You won’t need a high-def, color TV that day; unless you want to see the bright colors of … I hate to say it … Maize and Blue.

Ohio State’s helmets will be adorned with scarlet Buckeye leaves, as if there could be such a thing. The gray cleats will be from LeBron James’ line of athletic apparel.

Last I checked, LeBron never attended Ohio State, let alone graduated from it. But I do think he has given some money to the school, if not some coolness from standing on the sidelines once in a while.

By my count, this is the sixth Ohio State-Michigan game since 2009 in which the Buckeyes will not wear their traditional uniforms.

In the most-traditional game in college football.

The people who make these decisions must be looking for instant gratification, or perhaps more revenue for the athletic department, or both. I am not really sure. What they really need is a history lesson.

Let me give them one.

And it starts with a sliver of Woody Hayes’ story.

I am guessing that the people in sports administration, athletic director Gene Smith, current school president Michael Drake, and even Urban Meyer, who professes to be well-versed in OSU football history, don’t know everything about the man, the myth and the legend.

The truth is: For all his conservativeness in politics and in calling plays as well, Woody was a well-rounded and well-educated man. He was in command of his own ship during World War II. He taught English and Military History. He read poetry.

He not only had his fingers on every aspect of the football program, but he carried the most influence of any person on campus from 1951-78. If a fellow history professor or math professor he knew was up for tenure, or a promotion, Woody was the one who made it happen. If a secretary, graduate assistant or anyone from support personnel needed financial help for a necessary medical procedure, Woody either paid for it himself or pushed the administration to give them a raise.

You know who labeled the great Ohio State Marching Band “the best damn band in the land?”

It wasn’t the band director. It wasn’t the president or the director of music.

It was Woody.

“The Team up North?”

That wasn’t a local weather man pointing to a map in late November.

It was Woody.

And do you know who designed the famed football uniforms and helmets that are so recognized around the world today?

It wasn’t an athletic director, or fashion designer brought in by the athletic department. It wasn’t a shoe company or a famous NBA player who happened to like Ohio State.

It was Woody.

Yep, the coach with 238 career wins also designed the best uniform in college football.

Following the 1967 season, Woody decided it was time for a new helmet for the Buckeyes. So he and athletic trainer Ernie Biggs sat down at the training facility on Olentangy River Road and drew out possible designs. What they came up with was a silver helmet, adorned a scarlet stripe down the middle, surrounded by white and black stripes on the outside.

Then they had a stroke of genius.

They decided to add circular white stickers adorned with green Buckeye leaves to the helmets, game-by-game, as players did something significant such as scoring touchdowns, or making interceptions.

Thus, the helmet would naturally change from the season-opener when it was bare on both sides to the Michigan game, when many of Ohio State players’ helmets would be full of Buckeye leaves, at least on the left side.

As the leaves reduced in size over the years, and coaches Earle Bruce (1979-87) and John Cooper (1988-2000) decided to award them for more and more categories and accomplishments, both sides of most star players’ helmets became covered by the annual showdown the third week of November.

And that athletic facility, which was once named for Biggs, is named for Woody himself today, as is the street that divides Ohio Stadium and St. John Arena. Rightfully so.

Let me add this for perspective: Alabama’s traditional crimson helmets with the players’ numbers on each side are very recognizable to the average college football fan. So are Penn State’s plain white helmets. So are Notre Dame’s golden domes. Oklahoma’s interlocking OU, and USC’s Trojan head.

But there is no helmet in football – and not just in college football – more immediately recognizable around the world than Ohio State’s traditional helmet by the time the Michigan game is played.

But not this Nov. 25.

Curtis Samuel Touchdown Against Michigan 2016
Curtis Samuel scores vs UM, 2016 | Photo by Jim Davidson

Or last year, for that matter, for that thrilling double-overtime epic game in Columbus. For when Curtis Samuel darted into the end zone at the closed end of the Horseshoe to complete what could be the greatest finish to any game in the historic rivalry, he was wearing a dark-bronzed helmet that looked like something the city’s riot police wore in 1968. Pictures and video of that moment will last an eternity. I probably have seen that touchdown replayed 25 times over the past year. And each time, Samuel crosses the goal line wearing that hideous helmet.

Someday, perhaps 50 or 75 years from now, some Ohio State fan will see it and wonder, “What kind of helmet were they wearing back in 2016? What were the school colors back then?”

Let me get to the bottom line: No school – not Notre Dame, not Alabama, not USC and not even Michigan – owns a deeper and more meaningful football tradition than Ohio State. They may equal it, but they don’t surpass it.

This program is steeped in tradition, dating back more than a century. From Gold Pants to Script Ohio to Ohio Stadium’s unique Horseshoe stadium to Buckeye Grove to “Hang on Sloopy” and especially to those familiar, recognizable, beautiful scarlet-and-gray uniforms Woody himself designed.

“Having the school colors – scarlet and gray – in them was a must,” Woody said in 1968.

It is those traditions which make Ohio State football unique and special. They make it what it is.

This isn’t Oregon, which needs to have a million uniform combinations because they have little else in the way of championship history. Or Oklahoma State, which now seems to don a new uniform every week of the season.

These gimmicks, which supposedly appeal to recruits, are not only not needed, they are senseless and misguided.

For every time they wear them, especially against their arch rival, I believe they chisel a small chip out of the program’s tradition.

“If these alternate uniforms are so great and they help in recruiting, why doesn’t Alabama do it?” asked Jamie Sumner, a starting guard at Ohio State in 1994-95. “The answer is because they don’t need to. And neither does Ohio State. Those traditional helmets we wore are special. Nobody else has anything close to them.

“I admit that I have actually liked some of the alternate jerseys, but just keep the traditional helmet for all games.”

At this point, that would satisfy me.

I have talked to dozens of alumni football players, who gain more perspective for each year they are gone from campus. To a man, they agree. As the years pass, their love for the program and the traditions of it intensify.

Doesn’t Meyer recruit well enough already that he doesn’t need a new helmet and uniform to do it better?

And do you really want a kid to sign with Ohio State because he loves the alternate uniforms?

I certainly wouldn’t.

If I was a coach or administrator, I would want that kid who fell in the love with the campus on his recruiting visits, The Oval, Mirror Lake, and his particular program or major the school offers. I want that kid who had done his homework and realized the rich tradition of the football program and what winning a set of Gold Pants, a Big Ten championship, and if possible, a national championship, will mean to him as life goes on after football.

I want him to actually believe a degree from Ohio State will change his life.

If he grew up in Ohio, he may already know these things because of his father, uncle, older brother or even grandfather. And he doesn’t need a botany professor to tell him that leaves from a Buckeye tree aren’t red.

And let me go back to the beginning.

It’s all about ownership.

A football program such as Ohio State’s doesn’t belong to its recruits. Believe it or not, it doesn’t even belong to the current players. They are only the current care-takers of it. When they graduate, then they will declare ownership for the rest of their lives.

And it certainly doesn’t belong to its coaches or athletic director or members of the administration, unless they are Ohio State graduates. But many of them went to school elsewhere. This is their current job and they may or may not move on to other jobs before they retire.

It belongs to the former players, who are forever bonded to it. It also belongs to the alumni and the great fans of Ohio State.

Alumni who never played a down and are totally invested in it, as are the millions of Ohioans through the generations who have never set foot on campus or could even afford to attend a home game.

Younger fans may think I am making too much about a uniform.

Well let me add this, the opening line of the “Buckeye Battle Cry” goes like this:

“Drive, drive on down the field, men of the Scarlet and Gray …”

Should they now change the first line of the fight song, too? What about the uniforms of the best damn band in the land? The school colors? (You know, they originally where orange and black.)

And while we’re at it, let’s build a few buildings smack dab in the middle of the Oval, fill in Mirror Lake with concrete, change the chimes from Orton Hall to a piano riff, lobby the Big Ten to face Michigan in the season-opener each year, and connect South Stands to the main portion of Ohio Stadium so football games are no longer played in a true Horseshoe.

Maybe one of those things will appeal to recruits.

Jeff Snook, who has written 12 books on college football, is a 1982 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Journalism.


33 Responses

  1. As the Penn State game unfolded I kept thinking that what was happening on the field was Karma! The curse of the shades of gray uniforms. So little scarlet. Scarlet, the poet told the blind man, the sound of the Trumpet! Greyne: the royal fabric woven from threads of scarlet and gray. Keep the Scarlet and Gray! Woody really loved Ohio State. He loved coaching more than money. In the passing of years Woody stands a winner. Meyer does so many things well, but he is not living up to the standard of greatness that comes from an adamant courage for what is right that Woody clearly inspired. Urban believes in heroes. Be one, Urban. Leadership comes from doing the right thing! Not the corporate thing.

  2. This raises the uncomfortable feeling that we don’t really think “We’re Number One,” but secretly we’re at best number two. We have to keep searching, we need to somehow be better, someway. Real traditions are deeply felt and expressed and reinforced over time.
    Think of the New York Yankee pin stripes, the US Marine Corps or the Swiss Guards proudly standing guard at the gates of the Vatican. Much of the joy of a tradition is introducing new people to it, to have them learn the rituals and protocols which under gird the tradition, to bring them into the fold.
    I have an iconic picture on my computer of Eddie George roaring toward us gloriously resplendent in his silver helmet being chased by seven Fighting Irish in their gold helmets..
    This increasing frenzy over alternative uniforms — if you don’t like this let’s try that — makes me so sad. I was in C Deck last year for the Nebraska game. The team wore the same dull gray helmets they wore for Michigan. Someone started calling them “the lead heads.” As we left several ushers said that from their vantage point they looked like little toy soldiers.
    I’ll watch this year, but I won’t have the same unreasoning joy or despair that has always accompanied the game.

  3. I totally agree, sir. I haven’t seen an alternate uni yet that I liked better than the traditional ones. I’m OK with tweaking around the edges, but this wholesale abandonment of the traditional S&G look is just too much to take.

    And I agree with your take on the recruits. By definition, they don’t know about OSU’s traditions, so it’s easy for them to think the alternate uni’s are “cool.” But the tail shouldn’t be wagging the dog.

  4. Very well said. However, Mr Snook took ten victories from Coach Hayes’ career total. Woody won 238 games.

  5. Yaaawn! Why doesn’t Urban Meyer dress like Woody Hayes on the sidelines? Where are the big afros? How about we teach the players with a two sided chalkboard with requisite chalk and erasers? Next thing you know there won’t be any actual Buckeyes on the field, replaced with models! Suspend players for driving around town in brand new Vega’s and Pinto’s! You people watching the game at home better be watching it on a 19″ tv with rabbit ears!!

  6. At this point, the program doesn’t need the money enough to fundamentally turn “The Game” into a promotional event for Nike or any other entity. The licensing folks hold the line on setting standards for a lot of products and “scarlet and grey” is a basic part of that. The notion that they got bought by Nike, pretty much says they need new leadership. What’s next, a Wendy’s logo ?

  7. When Earle Bruce changed the uniforms to an Indiana type, we lost something. Say what joy want about John Cooper, he immediately changed back to the wonderful stripes in the jersey sleeves, with a very minimal change of the black stripes on the pants.
    No, the Iniversity of Alabama does not need them and we struggle to catch them. No, the Inoversity of Southern California does not need them, no the University of Georgia, Florida State University and even the team I despise even more than _ichigan, Norte Dame does not need them.
    Go back to the Woody Hayes/Earnie Biggs/Phil Bennett uniforms.

  8. Great column and you said what a lot of us Ohio State football fans think Mr. Snook! We are THE Ohio State Buckeyes and we should look like them! Almost everyone I know hates these damn alternate uniforms; we don’t even look like Ohio State in them! Does every damn thing have to be about making another million dollars? End the uniform madness!

  9. You nailed it. Plus the grey uniforms were the worse uniforms worn by any team in football this year. Thanks for a great article that spoke for all of us Buckeyes.

  10. 100% agree! I’m totally sick and tired of these lame uniform switches, especially in the biggest of games–go away Nike and wisen up OSU administration–the vast majority of fans hate them!

  11. I totally agree! The alternate uniforms are terrible. Ohio State’s traditional scarlet and gray uniforms are the best. We should NEVER compromise our traditions at Ohio State. Gene Smith is from Notre Dame. I guarantee you he would never change the look of the Fighting Irish, if he was there. I heard a friend say that Ohio State is no longer a traditional program like Alabama, USC, ND, or Oklahoma, because you can’t tell who they are by the crappy alternate uniforms. I really believe that our traditional uniforms will eventually become an alternate style used once in a while. They will be like Oklahoma State and change every week. Nike Owns Ohio State now, and won’t let them stay with the regular attire.

  12. I have noted that this year the “reply” part of the Ozone has dropped off. Not that many people are involved in the discussion. I was only half way through this article when I knew there would be a lot of comment. Keep reprinting this article every time Nike comes up with another stupid idea, even if it comes with an equivalent amount of cash. The players are the heart of the Ohio State mystique, but those of us who support tradition are the soul.

  13. Amen! While we’re at it, let’s see them go back to Champion as the provider of the unis. Theirs were the greatest. Screw Nike….

  14. Yes, great article! I was alright with the uni’s they wore representing some of the championship teams of the past. But, now it has got out of hand. There is nothing better looking than to watch the Buckeyes in their traditional uniforms. When they don’t wear them, it is like watching another team, just not as exciting it seems. If current recruits need to be bribed by different uni’s to come to OSU, then let them go somewhere else , i’m sure there are a lot of other recruits out there that would be very grateful to wear the traditional Scarlet and Gray.

  15. Totally agree with the article. I hate the new alternative uniforms!

  16. never mess with time or uniform for THE GREATEST RIVALRY IN SPORTS

  17. Joining the chorus here, Snooker. You don’t write enough articles. Love your insight and your PASSION for all things Scarlet and Gray.
    I’m writing on a computer so I’m not a pure traditionalist. But some things are worth keeping – that first (fill in the blank), a keepsake from a championship season for those lucky enough to EVER get one, the memory of your first girl.
    Sadly I think it’s only a matter of time before we get “Gold Pants Presented by…”

  18. EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!! I will never buy one of the off-color jerseys. I have a jersey that has the gray stripes in the arm band (which is the one they should ALWAYS use) and that is the only one I will ever wear. I literally cringe when I see these “alternate” uniforms. Please send this article to the athletic director, the alumni magazine, the Dispatch, the Lantern (if that even still exists!), and START A PETITION TO GET BACK TO THE TRADITIONAL UNIFORM. I bet you will get hundreds of thousands of signatures. .

  19. I think it would be great to adopt the USC/UCLA tradition of both teams wearing their traditional home uniforms. Scarlet and Gray versus Maize and blue. Awesome!

    1. Agreed! Both playing in their home uniforms is a great idea. Better than wearing some gay outfit nobody recognizes and pimping for Nike. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    2. totally agree with Doug–would be very cool for the rivalry game for both to wear their home uniforms

  20. I hope Urban’s getting paid a lot to force his players to wear that crap

    1. I’m not really into the alternate uniforms, but have you read the comments by many of the football players regarding the new uniforms? Many of them seem to love the alternate uniforms. So, while I agree that I’d prefer to go with a traditional look, I wouldn’t say Meyer is forcing kids to wear the alternates.

  21. I totally agree! I can not image turning on the game and trying to figure out which is OSU. Now we are going to look more like Penn State? Against *ichigan? Enough is enough. We are the scarlet and gray. Let’s be proud of who we are.

  22. The article is very well written. Of course, its a shame it has to be written AT ALL. I guarantee you that right now, as some halfwit finishes the article, they will think to themselves, ” What’s wrong with making new traditions?” They won’t recognize the irony of their thought, won’t understand that traditions CAN’T be new. In the specific case of scarlet and gray uniforms, the tradition is tempered with tremendous success and deep pride for the team. The alternate uniforms are DISGUSTING and WRONG and, as I write, the very people who need to realize it most, don’t have a prayer to do so. Can’t wait for the annual grudge match, this year played in Ann Arbor, featuring the maize and blue against…the monochrome. Sigh….

  23. The best article written during this football season.

    Enough is enough with these ugly pieces of desecration. All these new administrative hires have done at Ohio State is pollute the program with stupidity. That includes the idiot Gene Smith and that worthless asswipe Drake. Neither of those idiots understand the traditions and history of Ohio State. They actually don’t represent ANYTHING that is Ohio State at all. Unassociated plebs are breaking the grand traditions of the program. It’s pretty terrible that CEO Meyer thinks green is actually more valuable than the traditions. But then again…….maybe it’s the green that has turned him into a CEO rather than a coach in the first place.

    If Nike wants to desecrate history and tradition, they should pack their gypsy trends up along with their green and find a new nest to pollute.

  24. Fully agree with your sentiments! Today as a society we seem to be forgetting – or forsaking heritage, tradition and legacy. It’s said that those who forget the past are bound to repeat it, but it’s also true that those who forget the past will fail to embrace the values and virtues that helped make the successes of today possible. As a fan, I believe the Scarlet and Gray should mean…SCARLET and Gray, not the whim of some lame-brained fashion designer who’s probably never even attended a college football game. Years ago, NASCAR in its heyday got too big for its britches and today is a shadow of its former self. Seems the NFL is following a similar path. Does Ohio State want to be the next in the parade?

    1. Listen to this man………^^^^^^ Very well said Bobtamasy48

  25. Great article–couldn’t have said it any better. Summarizes everything to a tee. And the one truly galling thing mentioned in reference only, is the fact that The Team Up North will have by far the best uniforms and helmets for The Game in ten days…!
    Ugh–the horror of it all!!

  26. Yes, yes, yes. This is what I’m talking about right here. Thank you Jeff Snook!

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