In the past two months, David Jones of the HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS has chronicled the rumblings at was has become the shaky base of Mount Paterno.
Before the season, Jones wrote that Joe Paterno’s declining health could be an indication that his “intellect seemed a little dulled and delayed.” After the Lions were thrashed at home by also-ran Illinois last Saturday, Jones warned, “Penn State football fans should prepare for a return to the Dark Ages.”
That was bad enough for Black Shoe devotees, but this week Jones went and did the unthinkable.
Jones not only suggested the Lions change up their iconic uniforms, he revealed the look that Nike had earlier proposed to the Paterno - and was subsequently (and predictably) eschewed.
Nike did try to sell Paterno and PSU on a new look recently. I’m sure (Nike founder Phil) Knight waved some cash at the athletic department as incentive, as they did to other schools to get them to wear their Pro Combat uniforms last year.
But what they pitched to PSU looked like what they sold to Brigham Young a few years ago except with some sort of contrived star burst pattern around the neck and shoulders. Nuh-uh.
Then Jones really goes in:
I’m talking about this purely from a design sense. Ugly is ugly and the Nittany Lions’ uniforms look like 1950s milk bottles. I wonder how many of you Penn State fans secretly feel the same way but won’t out yourself publicly for fear of being shouted down as sacrilegious.
Jones partly justifies his opinion with his background in design:
My college degree is not in journalism. (Go ahead, it’s a great punchline opportunity for everyone.) It is in Industrial Design from Ohio State. So, this was right down my alley.
What’s amazingly lost on Jones is that the only thing that makes Penn State’s program eternally unique from other football factories is its uniforms. That’s it. Aesthetics are completely irrelevant in this particular case, which it appears Nike is actually resigned to.
Here’s Nike VP Tinker Hatfield, who created Air Jordan, talking about Penn State’s football unis in 2006 to Uni Watch Blog’s Paul Lukas:
The Nike people are well aware that the approach they’ve taken with Oregon and with some other schools wouldn’t fly with some the country’s more conservative programs. “The University of Oregon is willing to partner with us on this approach, and I don’t think you’d find that in too many Division I programs,” Hatfield told me.
“If we walked into Joe Paterno’s office and said, ‘How about putting “Penn State” on the left leg of the pants?,’ we’d probably get tarred and feathered. We think it’s great that there are these storied programs around the country that have tradition, and you just don’t mess with them. I love Michigan’s uniforms; I love the simplicity of Penn State.”
Funny thing though, as Lukas points out, Nike did recently make changes to Michigan’s football uniform.
Penn State’s uniforms are a little like valuing antiquities at a museum. There’s no price you can affix to what it has taken to make them a treasure. You can’t elicit emotion from a featureless garment with photoshop and a sewing machine.
With Jones an alumnus of Ohio State, I suppose his inability to grasp that it is understandable. Something that I’m sure wasn’t lost on each and every Penn State fan who read his piece.
None of this is to say that new uniforms won’t be in the offing for the Nittany Lions in the future. Much of what goes into opinions about these kinds of issues is based on winning. If Penn State was undefeated at the moment, you can almost guarantee Jones wouldn’t be proffering such a blasphemous proposition.
But far from being a liability, Penn State’s on-field look should be its number-one selling point in recruiting - especially during hard times! (If it isn’t, it should be.)
The fact that Penn State, like the New York Yankees and Montreal Canadians, never significantly altered - through thick and thin - what is now a public institution is the precise reason that changing Penn State’s football uniforms has officially crossed over into the realm of the unthinkable.