The shock has died down from Monday’s nigh unbelievable announcement that the Florida Gators would diverge from more than a century of tradition and wear “swamp green” uniforms — not blue, orange, or white — against Texas A&M on Saturday.
I got most of my initial reaction in that first piece, then spent Monday night sparring with — okay, dismissively quote-tweeting — folks who tweeted approvingly of these abominations.
The times are ugly as sin. https://t.co/9fd4aLfG5A— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) October 10, 2017
They always play as Gators, you dab of hair gel on a press release. https://t.co/cdArWfqVp6— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) October 10, 2017
To keep it eight more than 92 with you, though: While I do think this is ultimately bad, I also think it’s ultimately dumb. There are far, far worse things in the world than Florida’s athletic department collaborating with Nike designers to create ugly uniforms. And devoting as much time to this as I already have — even if it’s not that much time, and even if I can and do often multi-task — means not spending time on other, more important things.
But, well: This is important to me. I love the University of Florida, my alma mater. I love the Florida Gators, the team I have held closest to my heart for more than two decades. I think both of those institutions look dumb in the public eye right now — and I think it didn’t have to be this way.
So here, in the spirit of getting all of my gripes about this expressed and expunged, are 25 reasons I think this Florida alternate uniform is a spectacularly dumb and bad idea.
Florida’s school colors, for better or worse, are orange and blue (1). Florida may wear a lot of white, too — like almost every sports team needing a contrast from darker primary colors — and it may work in black and pink and anthracite on occasion, but Florida wears orange and blue. And it should, too: Those colors are the ones that have been associated with the Florida Gators over more than a century of athletic competition, and especially for the last three decades of athletic dominance.
Deviating from very recognizable colors is difficult, and a recipe for unforced error (2). The Los Angeles Lakers wear purple and gold. The Green Bay Packers wear green and gold. The Montreal Canadiens wear red, white, and blue. Manchester United wears red. And those associations are strong enough that those teams do not have to deviate from them, ever — unless they want to. Florida’s brand is that strong, too.
The strength of the Florida Gators brand being as it is, this was arguably very unneccessary (3). Florida did not need to cosplay its football team as literal alligators. It has uniforms. They fit. They look pretty good to most fans — at least, they generally go without complaint. They are associated with good memories.
And so I am left to conclude that this was a solution to a problem that did not exist (4).
Florida’s press release emphasizes that 2017 marks the 25-year anniversary of Steve Spurrier christening The Swamp, and I guess that’s something Florida “needed” to honor — even after bringing back Spurrier as an ambassador, adding his name to the stadium, and generally celebrating all things Spurrier. But given that Spurrier’s nickname came as a pretty transparent means of branding Florida to rival other college football powers, wasn’t tied to any in-season event — the Mike Bianchi article publicizing Spurrier’s wishes came only after Spurrier’s spring tour of Gator Clubs — and was not, I promise you, something Florida fans were waiting with bated breath to commemorate in ways other than just using the perfect nickname forever, dropping swamp-themed uniforms comes off as doing way, way too much (5).
And if Florida absolutely had to do something like this to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a nickname, better options were available (6).
The 25th anniversary is the silver anniversary — why not put silver accents, perhaps more subtle than these, on Florida’s home blue uniforms and helmet? Why not reuse the nice, script-ish wording of The Swamp Nike put on a recent t-shirt as a patch or a uniform element? Why not redeploy the beloved, long-dormant “Pell Shield” logo — actually Florida’s primary logo in 1992 — on a helmet, or something? Why not debut a never-before-seen, unique combination of existing uniform parts — say, the white alternate helmet, the blue tops, and orange pants? Why not, if you need to get creative, cut out the sharp eye of the Gator Head — the one that is either based on or winks at the shape of the cursive s in the script Gators, in a truly brilliant and subtle bit of design — and use it as a logo unto itself, as seen in GatorVision’s Twitter avatar and as hinted at on 2010-era (I think) shirts that had a sublimated Gator Head with the eye in gleaming white?
Because Florida didn’t do any of those things, and did this instead, this is a missed opportunity to do something more well-received (7). And Florida’s not getting a second chance to use silver accents — and set up the lay-up of gold accents for a 50th anniversary — this year, nor a second chance to don a one-off uniform marking this dramatic a departure from its traditions.
The departure is too dramatic (8), by the way. “Swamp green” is a jarring left turn from orange and blue forever, and a color choice that just does not work with the orange and blue Florida wears. (We’ll get back to the color, I promise.)
So Florida painted itself into a corner (9) when it made the ultimate call to go ahead with designing these: This was a choice that should have been seen as unavoidably polarizing, and not without risk. And while I haven’t seen the uniforms in person — or in their purported intended context, on human beings playing football — as of yet, I have seen enough to form a strong opinion that will be very, very hard to shake. I can’t imagine the smart, savvy, hard-working, and dedicated folks in Florida’s athletic department — especially the ones who have been in on this for 18 months or over two years or whatever — were not conscious of that risk.
They took it anyway, though, and the willingness to take a risk on something this big is going to worry some people about Florida’s athletic department (10).
A stated 18-month timeline means this idea was gestating under Jeremy Foley, and came of age under Scott Stricklin, so it’s hard to assign credit and/or blame perfectly — but there is and will be blame, unless these uniforms look significantly better under the lights on Saturday, and there will now be fear that Stricklin’s tenure will include repeated stunts like this. And Mississippi State’s checkered history of alternate uniforms under Stricklin now looks to me less like Stricklin getting creative with a program lacking Florida’s cachet to build buzz and more like Stricklin being creative for its own sake, consequences be damned.
And so: If Stricklin is willing to sign off on — or spearhead — tradition-eschewing stuff like this, what happens when he’s been around a while? (11)
There’s another more fret-worthy prospect, too: This could all just be Nike doing a dumb thing for Nike’s sake (12). Nike has been introducing alligator elements to Florida uniforms for a decade or so, from details on basketball uniforms to shoulder and pant stripes on Florida’s 2010 alternate Pro Combat uniforms worn against Georgia. It has, no doubt, been on some Nike designers’ dream boards to really turn up the Gators’ gator to 10 or 11 or 35. And this could all be some powerful Nike folks deciding this is a good idea and enough Florida folks not saying no enough — or forcefully enough — to allow it to happen.
If that’s true — and it seems unlikely — it would be a really worrisome thing for Florida and its athletic supplier, who are contractually tied until 2024. But the more likely possibility, that Nike and Florida feel the need to pull stunts with the Gators (13), really bums me out.
Even though I hate talking about things as brands — and, side note, Alligator Army is a blog, not a brand — Florida is one of college athletics’ best brands. Florida’s identity — the Gator Head, the Gators name, the script Gators on the helmet, the blue, the orange, The Swamp — is widely known and widely respected, and loved by the fan base. Moving away from that, even briefly, is rightly received as dissatisfaction with the brand as it is. And I don’t think Texas or Alabama or Penn State or USC, to name a few of the other college programs which would seem to me to be on nearly equal footing to Florida and contractually tied to Nike, would sign off on this dramatic a departure from their traditional Saturday uniforms.
So all of this makes me wonder whether Florida thinks it needs a shot in the arm, whether Nike thinks Florida could use a shot in the arm, whether Florida’s place in the Nike hierarchy is not nearly what I thought it was, and many other things. I could be wrong and off-base with all of those worries — but I also didn’t have those things to worry about 24 hours ago.
Speaking of 24 hours ago: This was a botched rollout (14), something that Florida should be criticized for even if you think these are the most fire emoji uniforms to ever be stitched.
Florida teased them first at 7 p.m. on a Monday night, then unveiled them at 8 p.m. on a Monday night — hardly the best time to get maximum eyeballs on something, and a time when most people who are meant to answer questions about something are off the clock. Florida’s press release had spots for quotes from Stricklin and Jim McElwain that didn’t (and still don’t) exist, had the wrong record for Florida at home under McElwain, and still contains a sentence that starts with the awkward “Florida Gators will be a part of history on Saturday,” which is either just poor writing or intentional conflation of the Gators — the team — with Gators fans, who are not the team.
There’s no equivalent Nike press release — something that accompanied Florida’s other alternate uniforms this year — in the wild, either, though the apparel giant managed to publish a release about a Riccardo Tisci collaboration today. There was no reveal event, like there was in 2010. Florida didn’t use its usual uniform mannequin, WWE wrestler Titus O’Neil/former Gator Thaddeus Bullard, for this, instead tapping Nick Washington, if his tweet (and assistant athletic director for marketing Alicia Longworth’s favorite of it) are to be believed. And though most of this doesn’t matter to the average fan, and wouldn’t matter if the uniforms were great, I notice this stuff — and lament it.
The worst part of the rollout? The final video — really, a still image with audio — Florida chose to make its football program’s pinned tweet on Monday.
This is supposed to be Gator looking menacing next to a gator as a gator growls. I get that. What it actually is — what Florida released, proudly — is a Gator copping a squat as a gator belches ... or makes a noise associated with another function of copping a squat (15). And, look, that’s not a charitable reading, but I’m sorry: I can’t un-think or un-see that, and I don’t think I was the only one to see it like that.
Part of the fallout of that is that Florida has put its (student-)athletes in a position to be laughed at — even if those players are fully behind the uniforms, even if recruits love them, even if everyone in the office thinks they’re gorgeous — and put rank-and-file Florida athletics employees in a position to grin and bear this (17), even if they don’t like it. Another part is that Florida finally getting a long-awaited plan for a new baseball stadium to the proposal stage — a major accomplishment for the athletic department, if one made far easier by Florida finally winning a national championship — is now an afterthought (18), just over 24 hours after it happened.
And an important part is that Florida has had to spend much of its last day doing damage control (19), which is not what a fully successful rollout would have produced.
My mentions have been so nice... now... not so much.— Bruce Floyd (@brucefloyd) October 10, 2017
Serious question... do you like the @GatorsFB uniforms?— Florida Gators (@FloridaGators) October 10, 2017
(We’re wearing them either way, just curious.)
I suspect the response in that poll is going to stay close to where it is — about 60-40 in favor of the uniforms — until it closes. Similar Twitter polls by Our Two Bits and Gator Country’s Nick de la Torre got similarly mixed results. (I suspect that those polls — unscientific to the core — are probably going to skew positive because of the nature of fans and of self-selected poll respondents in online polls, but I only have a degree in sociology.) And I am fully prepared to consider myself part of a minority of Florida fans who really, really does not like these uniforms.
But the risk of rolling out alternate uniforms ought to culminate in the reward of exciting an overwhelming majority of a fan base, not just slightly more than half of one — and debuting something that gets so many fans up in arms, even if those fans are up in arms over something silly, is a mistake (20), because giving malcontents reason to be malcontents is never a good thing.
I have decried fans like that — fans who have whined about wearing orange jerseys, wearing black jerseys, wearing camo-inflected jerseys, wearing white helmets, wearing orange tops and blue pants, wearing all-white ensembles, changing the logo at midfield, changing the end zone lettering, changing the lettering on the wing walls, and changing the number font on the uniforms, to name some of the ultimately sartorial alterations Florida has made this decade — for years. I have thought most of those changes were minor tweaks, though, and I found them tolerable at worst — some, even, have been excellent.
But this feels different to me, and makes me into a malcontent, because of how dramatic a departure it is, and how ugly I find it (20). These are “swamp green” uniforms that look gray in promotional releases...
...but closer to green — or even olive green — in flourescent light.
The jerseys look like someone was assigned to create olive drab cycling uniforms for a bad Tour de France team. They look like a tire tread became a shirt. They look like hunting apparel from Kmart — not even Walmart, Kmart.
The jersey pattern not continuing down the pants is a major mistake because of how good Nike patterns like this can actually look when applied to a full uniform. The helmet’s left side either being genuinely blank or left for some other unspeakable horror is vexing.
The color is an unappealing shade of dead nature — and I don’t even know whether it’s actually olive green or gray-green or gray. It clashes with the blue and orange on the number — and it makes me think, every time I look at these uniforms, how much better a simple palette swap making “swamp green” “Gator black” and using the traditional orange and blue as accents would have looked.
The shoes aren’t even good. Do you know how hard you have to try to make Nike shoes look genuinely bad, instead of just meh, given three decades of great Nike design? It’s hard. It’s really, really hard.
Florida, handed apathy-colored tops — on short notice, quite possibly, given the fact that hurricanes have disrupted two fall seasons during the design process, and scrapped its first attempt to hold a night game this fall — still did its best to sell them. The idea of bringing a real, teeth-and-scales alligator onto the field at The Swamp is badass. The lighting in the videos is cool. The music in Tuesday’s video is perfect. The concept of Florida wearing dark uniforms under the lights in a renovated stadium that is now fully-outfitted to be a special environment after sunset — and maybe striding onto the field through smoke — is irresistible.
All the hard work that went into the rollout is rendered moot, or near to it, by the fact that the uniforms just aren’t good (22).
And all that aesthetic assessment swings me back around to this: This could conceivably have been a good idea that became unsalvageable once a poor design got approved (23), playing into the theme of missed opportunities, and no one said no to this — or said it loud enough (24). The former reflects poorly on Nike, and whichever Florida personnel had veto approval; the latter reflects poorly on Florida, and whichever Nike designers didn’t check themselves before wrecking themselves.
The saving grace of these uniforms, eyesores though they may be, is that they are novel, and truly alternative, and players and recruits do seem to like them — look, here’s a slideshow of tweets to prove it.
And, hey, that’s great: A bunch of young men like that instutitions that will underpay them for their labor made new work clothes for them, demonstrating that those institutions
know they can scratch an itch for swag and get applause have a deep understanding of collegiate athletics and an equally powerful commitment to giving student-athletes the latest and greatest in athletic equipment.
But the justification for these uniforms on non-aesthetic grounds is that Florida does arguably need to get with the times and do things to attract recruits — and if that is correct, it’s only correct because a) Florida is not winning at a rate high enough to make sartorial gimmickry irrelevant to its recruiting pitches; b) Florida is not recruiting well enough on the basic relationship-building — or transactional — level to eschew gimmickry like this; c) recruits who hold more power than they know as a result of producing extremely coveted work product are easily swayed by gimmickry, suggesting that the system hoodwinks many; or d) all of the above — and chose to do that with uniforms that are easy to compare to Swamp Thing (25).
You want a really, deeply depressing truth about these uniforms? If Florida was undefeated and No. 1 in the nation, no one would be all that upset about the uniforms, because they would be largely irrelevant to Florida’s success — but the Gators being largely irrelevant to the national title picture gives these uniforms much of their utility, and gives us fans plenty of time to critique all that emerges from The Swamp.