When new Cal football coach Justin Wilcox takes the Golden Bears on to the field in Chapel Hill to play North Carolina next September, he’ll be doing so in new uniforms as part of Cal’s new contract with Under Armour.
For the first time since the final year of the Adidas contact in Jeff Tedford’s first season in 2002, the football team will be wearing something other than Nike. If you're like me, you're probably interested in how those new uniforms might wind up looking like. Given how uniforms in the modern era of College Football have become more of a marketing package, it's all together possible that we may be seeing many different, amazing, and shiny color combinations emerge from this new collaboration with UA? Or not?
While I can't share any insight about any new look for Cal in the upcoming season, this post is instead going to take a look back at the Nike years, in which Cal football fans saw different uniform combinations appear on their Golden Bears. Finally, because, we can, we intend to make some not-so-serious conclusions about the various color combinations and how they may (or likely didn't) affect how the team played in those particular contests.
The Nike years, begining in 2003, stood in marked contrast to the simpler times of the 20th Century, where the only differences a fan might see in a season would be different helmet logos (which didn’t appear on a Cal helmet until the 1960s), slight variations in Cal’s blue, movement from athletic gold to metallic gold (or both) and back again, as well as early appearances of all-white road uniforms, and blue pants with the road uniforms instead of the more traditional gold pants. None of these changes occurred in-season, and for the most part, uniform style changes moved at what seemed to be a glacial pace compared to today.
Here’s a photo from 1958 for instance, showing that our futility with the LA schools is not that new of a thing:
For our purposes, it would be helpful to create some definition to what might constitute a basic template of a Cal football uniform. I was Cal class of 1983, so my time at the school bridged the Mike White/Roger Theder years. Starting in 1972, Cal mostly used a lighter blue, athletic gold pants, along with a gold helmet. The program under Mike White took the block logo "C" used on the helmets in the late 1960s, and modified it—and the uniforms—to resemble the classic Green Bay Packers uni combos. Road uniforms stayed with the gold pants, with occasional uses of white pants and gold pants. When Theder took over in 1978, his time at Cal saw the first introduction of what is now the standard icon: a script "Cal", which made its way onto the football helmets for the first time. The lighter blue shading lasted until Theder’s dismissal after the 1981 season, and when Joe Kapp arrived on campus, he was insistent on changing the blue to the current dark navy, to go along with athletic gold pants. Kapp’s uniform template also included a bear claw on the helmet (surrounding a slightly smaller script Cal), which was removed in favor of the plain script "Cal" when Bruce Snyder arrived to replace Kapp in the 1987 season.
As such, essentially, from 1982 to 2001, Cal fans saw their team take the field as follows:
Home: Navy Blue helmets / Navy Blue jerseys / Gold pants
Road: Navy Blue helmets / White jerseys / Gold pants
There were some exceptions. Keith Gilbertson’s time at Cal from 1992 to 1995 saw blue pants make a regular appearance with the road uniforms.
Also, for the 1997 Big Game, Cal wore a modified tribute "throw-back" jersey (which had Andy Smith Wonder Team sleeve stripes), as did Stanfurd, to mark the 100th Big Game.
THE "DENVER" TEMPLATE
By the turn of the 21st Century, as Tom Holmoe’s difficult tenure ended, Cal football was being outfitted by Adidas. The basic uniform combinations had reverted back to the blue/blue/gold and blue/white/gold through the end of the death march that was the 2001 football season. But in that off-season, Cal made the first attempt to "modernize" the look of the football team. In so doing, they followed the siren call that a number of other teams across the college (and high school) spectrum did—copy the Denver Broncos’ uniform style, which I’ll call the Denver template: base colors prominently featured, with the team’s secondary color used as a slash/stripe along the side of the uniform, running from the armpit to near the knee on the pants.
The 2002 team, under new coach Jeff Tedford, were to play in all-blue jerseys with blue helmets at home, with yellow striping along the side of the jersey and pants. On the road, the team stayed with gold pants on the road with white jerseys, but with a navy blue stripe along the sides.
When Nike became the official supplier the following season in 2003, aside from some modifications to the uniform number style, the jersey color combination stayed the same as it had in 2002.
In 2004 however, Nike made some additional modifications to the "Denver" template. The most prominent being an all-white jersey/pant combination used as the primary road uniform, while the all-blue set stayed as the home uniform.
From 2004 through the 2005 season, this was how Cal took the field. And considering it was the salad days of Jeff Tedford’s tenure, it’s easy to identify the team’s success with these jersey combinations:
With this introduction aside, without dwelling too much on my personal opinion of the uniform combinations if I can avoid it (at least until the end), this post looks to present Cal’s Won/Loss record with respect to the various uniforms that were worn over the final years of Nike’s decade-and-a-half relationship with Cal football.
2006-2007: THE UNIFORM COMBINATIONS BEGIN...
Starting in the 2006 season, solid gold pants and solid blue pants reappeared. The former were worn with the home blue jerseys, and latter were worn with the road white jerseys.
For the first time, Cal now had 4 possible color combinations. That is, until October 7, 2006, when, in a nationally televised game against Oregon, Cal took the field in gold jerseys:
Then in 2007, on the 30th Anniversary of the very first Joe Roth Game, Cal wore its first throwback jerseys, taking its cue from the Mike White era:
Among the 6 possible uniform choices then, how did the team fare in terms of wins/losses?
Here is the breakdown (jersey color/pant color):
Joe Roth throwbacks: 0-1
2008-2012: CAL GETS A NEW LOOK
Starting in the 2008 season, Cal football finally got new Nike threads that, while retaining a few features from the "Denver" look, also presented a marked contrast to the earlier Tedford years. In addition, even the football helmet appeared with a modified striping that marked the first such markings down the middle of the football helmet since 1981. The bear claw in the back of the helmet marked the reappearance of a bear claw since Joe Kapp’s final season in 1986
And as for a new look helmet, in 2011, Cal also appeared on the field in a white helmet:
All in all, the new Nike uniform was meant to evoke bear claw markings and slashes, as well as some design elements meant to harken back to the team’s uniforms in the 1920s/1930s. Also, as much as the old Nike template evoked memories of Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch, these would be the uniforms that we could associate with Jahvid Best:
and Shane Vereen:
So, how did they do?:
(Cal wore this combination on the night Jahvid Best’s Cal career ended because of a concussion he suffered during the game. Is that the reason why this combination has never been worn again?…)
white helmet: 0-3
2013-2016: THE SONNY DYKES ERA
Sonny Dykes arrived on the Cal campus to find new football uniforms, part of a Nike-led school-wide overhaul of not just the football team, but all the sports teams across the entire university. Obviously, the Jared Goff years will likely become synonymous with this uniform set. The white helmet, while hinted at, disappeared, along with the helmet stripe and bear claw. The glossy helmet was replaced by a matte navy blue. Finally, gray was added as a uniform possibility for the first time. Also, the "walking bear", a variation of an older logo from the 1970s and 1980s, was featured in the vestigial remnants of the modern uniform sleeve, as well as in the uniform numbers. The bear was also a patch, added to the top of the trim striping along the side of the uniform pants. Even the thick trimming around the uniform collar was supposed to evoke a hood from an academic gown.
One big emphasis that Coach Dykes did with the uniforms over his tenure was to have the team revert back to the blue jersey/gold pants as the primary home jersey.
What’s the final toll? The Sonny Years, in uniform combinations:
RANDOM FUN AND CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE 2006-2016 UNIFORM COMBINATIONS OR, WHY WE NEED TO STOP WEARING BLUE PANTS IN ROAD GAMES!
gold jersey/blue pants: 10-3
Basically, any time we *need* to win a game, we gotta wear a gold/blue combination.
gray on top or bottom: 0-4
They aren’t the best look, to be honest, and it’s a trend Cal doesn’t have to get on board with its use under the new contract...
white jersey/gold pants: 3-6
While this combination has not had success, it does represents the longest-serving Cal road "look" going back decades. It is also what Cal wore the last time the team won in Southern California—2009 in the Rose Bowl.
white jerseys/blue pants: 1-12 (2008-2016)
That lone win was in Colorado in 2011. I don’t know why this combination was so popular with both Tedford and Dykes, but it clearly didn’t work, and pretty much guaranteed to me that we were likely going to lose whenever I saw the team wearing it. In Tedford’s case, his best road record during this time was the 3-3 he had when the team wore white jerseys/gold pants. Sonny’s best road success, for his part, came when the team wore white jerseys/white pants. The team went 6-5 in that combination, and that included wins at Northwestern, Texas, and Washington, along with his only bowl win.
In fact, Sonny also won at home in Berkeley, when the team wore white pants in its home game against Arizona State in 2015.
Overall, Sonny’s record with the team in white pants at home or on the road was 7-5.
Having some more fun with numbers, wearing the basic home blue jersey/gold pants, Sonny went 10-11. For a coach who was only able to win 19 total games over 4 years, dithering around with any other uniform combination left him with a 2-14 record in those games.
blue jerseys/gold pants (’06-’16): 20-14
This is the standard home uniform most associated with the football program from its earliest days. It’s a classic and clean look, and in a program that is always searching for some sort of an identity, I certainly hope that Under Armour eschews flirtations with black or gray, and makes this combination our basic look. I always appreciated that Sonny saw fit to make that the home team’s traditional look during his time at Berkeley.
LOOKING FORWARD BY LOOKING BACK
Starting with Nike’s first uniform set in 2003, Cal has seen its uniform combination increase from 2, to 6, to finally, 9-10 combinations, by my count. But the increased number of uniform combos also coincided with the team’s long slide back into the mediocrity that Jeff Tedford had initially succeeded in escaping when he first arrived. While the uniforms can’t be blamed, the memories of wins and losses inevitably get tied into whatever the team was wearing in that game.
Therefore, given the state of the program’s high points from 2003-2006, perhaps, when it comes to uniforms, less is more?
In any event, we’ll find out soon enough what the newest Cal football uniform template will look like. As an Old Blue like myself, whose time rooting for Cal sports has left him crazily superstitious, the numbers are out there and interesting to consider. Of course, despite losing their game in the Joe Roth throwbacks in 2007, I, like many Cal Alums, hope that it returns for 2017, and enters regular rotation each and every year.
Hopefully now, we all will have some W-L numbers to look at, the next time we’re looking to blame something for why Cal’s defense always fails to cover the tight end…
It was the uniforms, right?