THE OHIO STATE BUCKEYES IN ALL BLACK? TRADITION JUST GOT STOMPED ON FOR $
BY JEFF SNOOK
The first rule of business and government in a free society is this: The leaders, presidents, CEOs – the people who are paid the most supposedly because they are the smartest – sometimes make the dumbest decisions.
Otherwise, there would never have been a Ford Edsel or New Coke. Someone in charge wouldn’t have decided to fill the Hindenberg with hydrogen. And someone high up in the White Star Lines, owner of the Titanic, wouldn’t have decided to ignore the iceberg warnings in the North Atlantic.
Which brings me to Ohio State’s tradition-rich football program and its iconic scarlet-and-gray uniforms…
Someone – Nike and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith particularly – has decided the Buckeyes should play the Oct. 3 game at Ohio Stadium against Penn State in all-black uniforms.
Now the critics of this column will tell me I am making too much out of something so superficial. “They are just uniforms, after all,” they’ll say. And, “It’s only for one night.”
And the U.S. flag is just a flag, right? No matter the maker of the flag, even if made in China, there are 50 stars and they are always white, right? You may say that is not a valid comparison. Sure it is. The flag, like any uniform, is a symbol. A symbol that stands for something significant.
Ohio State’s official school colors are scarlet and gray, as everyone knows. Its football uniforms of those colors, along with helmets adorned by Buckeye leaves, are iconic -- symbols that are recognizable from coast to coast, much like the NY for the Yankees or the gold helmets Notre Dame wears and have been for decades.
Woody Hayes and Ohio State’s long-time trainer, Ernie Biggs, saw to that. They put their heads together in the winter of 1968 and came up with the Buckeyes’ current look mainly because Hayes didn’t want the Buckeyes to wear scarlet and white helmets any longer. He wanted the color gray to be more prominent. So they came up with the silver helmets adorned with Buckeye leaves, which were designed by Ohio State’s legendary cartoonist Milton Caniff, and jerseys with gray and white stripes. Gray pants were to be worn during all games, home and away.
For the past 47 years, these uniforms have represented a program of excellence, with only slight alterations to the sleeves, stripes on the pants and the size of those Buckeye leaves as the years have passed.
Today, Hayes has a street in front of Ohio Stadium and the football facility building named after him. That same building once was named the Ernie Biggs Football Facility. The School of Journalism Library is called the Milton Caniff Library. I don’t think Ohio State will be naming many buildings after the people who made this decision.
I know one thing for sure: These all-black fashion-blunders wouldn’t see the light of day if Hayes was still around. He is one guy who wouldn’t sacrifice tradition in the face of making more money. His offense may have been archaic and he was stubborn in his play-calling and his methods, but his principles and integrity were above reproach.
It’s fitting that the Buckeyes will be playing Penn State in these new all-black concoctions. The leaders-that-be should take a good look across the field that night as the Nittany Lions wear all-white. Years ago, Nike tried to convince Penn State to liven up their so-called boring uniforms. Joe Paterno – backed by more than a million people who didn’t want the Nittany Lions’ look touched no matter how much revenue it meant – told Nike to take a hikey.
(And don’t bring Paterno’s ultimate undoing up in this conversation – it’s completely irrelevant.)
I guarantee that people in sports bars across America that night will look up at the TV and ask, “Who’s that team playing Penn State?”
For the record, these all-black uniforms are almost identical to those worn by Oregon State. Which is typical, because it’s the Oregon States, Rutgers and Marylands of the college football world who must resort to this trick. Their traditions don’t run as deep. Their uniforms have changed like the winter wind and nobody cares anyway.
What the people making these decisions at Ohio State don’t fully grasp is this: They are not the owners of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the sense that an individual or group of individuals owns an NFL team. They are just employees of the university’s athletic department – employees who may come and go and move on to other jobs during their careers. The football program and team – and the uniform it wears -- does not belong to them.
More importantly, the football team and entire program belongs to the people of Ohio, the fans, alumni and former players. And I am betting that if you took a poll right now, the people who matter would overwhelmingly veto this ill-advised idea.
I don’t want to hear the reasoning that the players think these uniforms are “cool.” Eighteen to 22-year-olds will wear the uniform you tell them to wear, and they are much too young to fully understand the significance and power of this rich tradition. That comes later, when they are much older. Just ask any former player. And those iconic scarlet and gray uniforms were good enough for them to sign to play at Ohio State in the first place, weren’t they?
You start letting players make important decisions and they would vote to have draught beer at the training table and replace off-season, early-morning weight sessions with video-game tournaments.
And here’s the extremely far-fetched notion, the one that says this will help recruiting. Please. You think Urban Meyer is struggling to sign recruits right now? He’s getting most every four- and five-star player he seeks these days, and the Buckeyes’ 2016 commitment class is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation by almost every recruiting service.
I emailed Gene Smith Sunday morning to ask if this decision was reversible if the public outcry is loud enough. He responded, “Done deal, thanks for the question.”
I then asked, “The decision was made by???”
He responded, “I made the final decision with input from others, including Urban and selected players and former players.”
I would like to know the ages and identities of those former players. And I am surprised at Urban Meyer, who seems to have an appropriate sense of Ohio State tradition, although he probably didn’t know Hayes himself designed the current uniforms.
(If you have any comments or further questions, Gene’s office phone number is 614-292-2477. After all, Ohio State is a state-funded, public university.)
Maybe someone needs to be reminded of the first line of the second stanza of Ohio State’s primary fight song, the “Buckeye Battle Cry.” It’s “Drive, drive on down the field, men of the Scarlet and Gray … ”
For the Penn State game, as the marching band high-steps from North to South before the game, are they changing it to, “Drive, drive down on the field, men of the all-black, Nike-sponsored, tradition-compromising uniforms…”?
This pandering to Nike – Ohio State already has worn three versions of Nike throw-back and alternate uniforms in recent years – has gone too far. What’s next … Script Nike by the TBDBITL?
As for me, since I left the newspaper business in 1994 and no longer had to cover a college football beat which usually conflicted with watching an Ohio State game, I have missed seeing, either in person or on TV, only one Buckeye game in these past 21 seasons (a 41-11 win over Iowa, 1999, for a niece’s wedding in Tiffin).
But now I can make that two -- I will not watch the Penn State game. Two other tradition-rich programs, USC and Notre Dame, will be playing at the same time and those two teams will be wearing their recognizable, traditional garb because they didn’t sell out to their apparel provider.
Finally, I have to ask, why black? Why not all-green? That way, everyone can be reminded what this decision was all about.
And in place of the Buckeye leaves, just throw a $ sign on the side of those helmets.
Jeff Snook, a 1982 Ohio State graduate, has written 12 books on college football. He resides in Lantana, Florida.
Last Updated (Sunday, 04 October 2015 13:47)
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