Every time Northwestern announces a different uniform combination, which it has done in every week this season, we always get the same comment: Back in my day, we always wore purple.
Ignoring the fact that that's not true, this comment leaves out an important nuance: Unless "your day" began in 2012, Northwestern's uniforms also were terrible.
Up until 2012, Northwestern's apparel providers were Russell Athletic, which I really didn't know still existed, and Adidas, which in the words of Rodger Sherman, "keeps making college teams wear hideous garbage." The Adidas uniforms were boring and when they did pay enough attention to NU to make alternate uniforms, they were the worst things ever worn.
(Photo via Lake The Posts, RIP)
Can you imagine the conversation in the Adidas offices?
Account exec: Hey guys, we need to make Northwestern new uniforms.
Designer: Northwestern? Is that in Washington? Wait, no, that's the one in Boston.
Account exec: Uhh, no. It's in Chicago.
Designer: Hmm, okay. Well what color are they?
Account exec: They're purple.
Designer: Perfect. We'll make the whole uniform purple.
Account exec: That might look kind of weird.
Designer: Fine, we'll make the helmet silver. What's their mascot?
Account exec: Wildcats.
Designer: Awesome! I found a cat scratch image on Clip-Art the other day. We can throw that on the shoulders.
Account exec: *leaves the room while the designer gets back to researching how he can put the periodic table on a uniform.*
Anyways, I digress, and it doesn't really matter, because Northwestern left Adidas for Under Armour in 2012 and got itself a slick new base logo with the Northwestern stripe, and a growing company that would work hard to give NU a good product. Even as Under Armour has added teams to its arsenal, including Notre Dame, the company has continued to focus on NU, and it seems to have a plan for the school: make Northwestern its Oregon.
Initially, Maryland was Under Armour's guinea pig. Those uniforms weren't received all that well, but eventually, Under Armour grew up as an apparel provider, just in time to truly show their design strengths with NU. With the exception of the flag uniforms, Northwestern hasn't had a single uniform combination that you can legitimately call "garbage." And there have been a lot of combinations.
The most common criticism of the constantly changing uniforms is that it takes away from how recognizable Northwestern is as a #brand. (It's worth nothing that the logo has been consistent). But here's the thing: Having sweet uniforms is becoming Northwestern's brand, just as it already is Oregon's. NU is nowhere near that level yet, but it's on its way.
No player grows up saying, "I want to wear what Mike Kafka wore back in the day." Northwestern doesn't have history, and trying to celebrate that lack of history is not going to elevate NU's #brand. What can elevate the #brand is being known as the team that's always wearing unique, cutting-edge uniforms that excite recruits and fans alike. Purple is still incorporated, but in different variations to keep things fresh.
Northwestern needs to have some sort of niche to be relevant in college football. The Wildcats can't just do things the same as everybody else and expect to get ahead. The rest of the country started ahead to begin with.
Under Armour seems willing to make Northwestern its Oregon. And for a program with a history that is far less prominent than other Under Armour schools, that's a really, really good deal.