Faux Throwbacks Cheapen Michigan, Notre Dame

On Sept. 10, Michigan and Notre Dame will play the first-ever night game at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan Notre Dame Throwback Uniforms

I’m pleased to report that in keeping with that historic break from tradition, adidas will outfit its two highest profile college football clients in throwback uniforms of somewhat dubious distinction.

Unfortunately for the uniphiles at adidas charged with boosting the bottom lines of their clients, ND’s most glorious seasons coincided with decidedly drab on-field apparel, while the actual Michigan Menswear of past Wolverine teams apparently wasn’t enough of a hard sell either.

Last month Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly leaked details of the antique uniques to be worn by ND and UM to Brian Hamilton of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

Irish coach Brian Kelly spilled the beans Friday that the programs will wear throwback uniforms for their Sept. 10 matchup.

Kelly wouldn’t get specific about the design of the Notre Dame outfits beyond saying they hearken back to the Joe Kuharich Era — perhaps an odd choice, given that Kuharich was 17-23 in four years as Irish coach from 1959-62.

“I’m just trying to help you guys piece together what it’s going to look like, without me saying and then getting yelled at by our adidas people that we blew the surprise for them.

“But yeah, we’re going to have throwback uniforms. As they will. I can tell you what theirs look like: They have a block ‘M’ on them, and a number, and a number on their helmet. How’s that? The adidas people at Michigan are going to be (ticked) at me.”

So instead of celebrating one of Notre Dame’s most famous teams or eras, the school will instead remind us of perhaps the most forgettable collection of Fighting Irish squads in history.

Notre Dame Shamrock Throwback Helmets


Not to mention that the Fighting Irish helmet logo featured at that time, as noted by Matt Hinton of Yahoo Sports, was a shamrock more resembling the international symbol for radiation than anything associated with a football institution fallen on hard times. (Or as Hinton called it, a “nuclear shamrock.”)

Notre Dame Shamrock Throwback Helmets

(Little known factoid: Perry Como once coached ND Special Teams)

Then there’s Michigan, which will will break out a set of ancient on-field apparel that Ann Arbor annals reveal never fully existed.

Yesterday the DETROIT FREE PRESS reported:

Michigan’s jersey, according to a sample provided to the Free Press, will be modeled after the image shown above. A small number also will be added to the upper-left corner of the jersey front, opposite the Adidas logo.

Michigan 1899 Uniforms Throwback Uniforms Notre Dame Game

Last week, athletic director Dave Brandon told a meeting of the state’s sports editors that U-M intended to hold a nighttime unveiling of the jersey this summer and that U-M hoped fans would purchase a lot of jerseys, as they did for the Big Chill last winter.

Asked about the night-game jersey Thursday, associate athletic director Dave Ablauf responded: “We are still tweaking and making final decisions on the look of the uniform. We won’t be commenting on the throwback uniform design until we have the product in hand.”

MVictors.com is a remarkable archive of all things Michigan, so after seeing the Free Press report, the UM-centric site was my next stop.

The reaction from Greg at MVictors today was, in a word, pained.

I’m sure there are certain constraints the athletic department and adidas are dealing with (material, size, and marketing – they want to sell a bunch of these, afterall). The question mark for me concerns those stripes on the sleeves. I don’t recall stripes having a prominent presence on the gridiron, really, at any point in history.

Again – nothing is official so please only panic quietly to yourself until we see the final designs.

Greg pointed out that, from the UM-released image, the jersey does not fully resemble any past Michigan football ensemble.

Though it was noted that similarities are seen in 1899 UM squad:

Michigan 1899 Uniforms Throwback Uniforms Notre Dame Game

And the Fielding Yost-coached teams of the early 1920s:

Michigan 1920s Fielding Yost Uniforms Throwback Uniforms Notre Dame Game

Per Kelly, apparently UM’s venerable winged helmet design, instituted in 1938, will include player numbers affixed to the sides as was custom in Ann Arbor from 1959 to 1968.

Ron Johnson Michigan Winged Helmet With Numbers On Side


Of course, the argument for such historical incongruity is in making the jersey as palatable to the money-spending public, players and recruits as possible. An early return on that front comes from current Michigan player Troy Woolfolk, who had this reaction on Twitter after a fan Tweeted an image of the faux throwback to him:

Troy Woolfolk Tweet about Michigan Football Throwbacks

If a Michigan football historian and current player don’t like the look, what exactly is the demographic UM and adidas is targeting?

I’m all for celebrating the past, especially when the schools involved have such rich football histories. But the above in no one way resembles anything other than a naked grab for cash.

These two schools, in my estimation, are better than that.

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