Fans who watch the annual Georgia-Florida game last weekend saw something unusual: Both teams wore their colored jerseys -- red for the Bulldogs, blue for the Gators. You can see lots of game photos in this photo gallery.
Looked pretty good, right? Older fans, or ones with a good sense of college football history, might have viewed this with a sense of déjà vu. Back in the 1960s, Florida and Georgia frequently wore their colored jerseys when facing each other. At some point, however, the practice fell out of favor. So why was it revived for this season's game?
"To be honest, a fan suggested it," said Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley in an interview earlier this year. "He sent me a picture of what they used to do when Coach [Steve] Spurrier was playing. He had a blue jersey on, and whoever was tackling him had a red jersey on. It's a unique rivalry and just a little different something to do. There is no particular reason. Georgia agreed and we agreed. At the end of the day, you've still got to win the ballgame no matter what color jersey you have on. I think it's just a little something that makes the game even more unique."
The Georgia-Florida situation mirrors the recent developments in another storied rivalry: USC versus UCLA. Back in the day, the two teams routinely wore their colored jerseys for their annual matchup. Then they moved away from that approach, going with the more standard protocol of one team wearing its home color and the other team wearing white. In recent years, however, they've gone back to going color-on-color.
All-color games happen now and then, but not very often. And not often enough because the feeling here at Uni Watch HQ is that going color-on-color is a great look that needn't be reserved for rivalry games, bowl games or neutral-site matchups. Obviously, you don't want two teams wearing the same colors, and you have to avoid certain pairings that don't offer enough contrast (gold against orange comes to mind, as does black against navy). But wouldn't it be cool to see a green-jerseyed Baylor squad lining up against an orange-clad Oklahoma State team? Or a Washington-Colorado game featuring purple against black?
Some fans might say this goes against tradition. But that depends on how far back your concept of tradition goes. Back in college football's first several decades, many teams had only one jersey, which was rendered in school colors. So all-color games were common. Viewed in that context, increasing the number of all-color games would actually be more traditional.
The rise of the now-familiar custom of having one team wear white really took off with the advent of television. It was often hard to distinguish between colored jerseys on black-and-white TVs, so white was added to the uniform mix to ensure that the two teams provided contrasting looks for the fans watching at home.
But black-and-white TVs have gone the way of the dodo bird. With most schools now featuring a closet full of alternate-colored jerseys and many fans already creating all-color matchups on their video game consoles, what exactly is the rationale for requiring one team to wear white? There's nothing wrong with white being included in the mix of color options (especially for teams like LSU and Georgia Tech, which like to wear white at home), but there's no longer any reason to mandate its inclusion in every game.
This isn't just a college football issue, of course. Early NFL teams, much like their college counterparts, typically had only one jersey, which was colored, so most games were color-on-color, as you can see in these 1940s game highlights. As late as 1955, half of the NFL's teams still did not have a white jersey in their wardrobes. That changed -- again, just as it did in the college ranks -- with the advent of televised games, which required a greater visual contrast for the black-and-white broadcast medium.
Current NFL rules require the home team to choose either white or color and the road team to wear the opposite. There have been occasional exceptions, like the 2009 throwback game between the Cowboys and Chiefs (who were dressed as their franchise forebears, the Dallas Texans), and the 2010 Thanksgiving Day throwback game between the Lions and Patriots, but those have been rare.
We all know the NFL can be notoriously conservative when it comes to uniform rules, but why not open the floodgates and let those colors flow? Let's see a Broncos-Packers game featuring orange against green, or the aqua Dolphins against the red Niners. You can leave white as an option (relax, Cowboys fans), but let's stop making it a requirement.
Meanwhile, how does this discussion play out beyond the gridiron? Here's a look at the issues surrounding all-color games in other sports:
NBA. When it comes to all-color games, the NBA is ahead of the curve. For starters, most Lakers home games are already color-on-color because the Lakers wear gold at home (except on Sundays and holidays, when they wear white).
Moreover, the NBA has shown a willingness to color outside the lines, so to speak. Just last week, on Oct. 29, the Hornets and Bucks opened the season by facing each other while wearing colored alternates -- teal for Charlotte, red for Milwaukee. Two days later, the Spurs and Suns wore black and orange for Halloween -- a genius move. The league also went color-on-color for its Christmas Day games last year and the year before. (Yes, those uniform designs were all pretty awful, but that's a separate issue.) Prior to that, the league sometimes got in the holiday spirit by arranging Christmas Day matchups that allowed for red versus green.
Granted, the NBA has sometimes gotten a bit carried away. That was the case about a year ago, when the Knicks and Hawks wore orange and red, leading to lots of feedback that ranged from sarcastic to caustic. The league quickly said that type of noncontrasting matchup wouldn't happen again.
But hey, sometimes you have to break some eggs to make a multicolored omelet. As long as everyone remembers to maintain sufficiently contrasting uniform pairings, there's no reason we shouldn't see more all-color games on the court.
NHL. The NHL is a trickier situation, at least for your friendly uniform columnist, who believes most NHL teams look better in white. So an increase in all-color games would mean that most teams would be cutting down on the use of their best look. Still, the league's rare instances of color-on-color -- like last season's Winter Classic, featuring the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs -- have looked pretty good. Let's see more.
MLB. Baseball is a slightly different animal. For one thing, aside from the batter and baserunners, the two teams aren't on the field at the same time. There isn't much need for visual contrast because there's no risk of a player mistakenly throwing the ball to someone on the other team, or of fans not being able to tell one team from another. That's why it's never been a problem for one team to wear white while the other wears gray -- something that would never work in football, basketball or hockey.
Moreover, five MLB teams -- the Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Phillies -- don't have any colored jerseys in their uniform programs, so those teams can't participate in all-color games even if we want them to. And anyway, do we really want them to? When two MLB teams play each other while wearing their colored alternate jerseys, the Uni Watch inbox fills up with complaints from readers who think there should always be at least one team on the diamond that's wearing white or gray. Many fans still derisively refer to colored alternates as "softball tops." The fact that batting practice jerseys are colored adds to the impression that colored jerseys are on a slightly lower rung than white and gray.
So color-on-color doesn't feel quite right for baseball. But for all the other major sports, it's an idea whose time has come.
Paul Lukas watched last Saturday's Georgia-Florida game with a big smile on his face. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.