The Tar Heels have one of the most recognizable color combinations in sports. But it took them a long time to perfect their football uniforms.
Above, photo by the News & Observer.
The UNC Tar Heels have one of the most recognizable and revered color schemes in all of college sports. Their unforgettable blue tone is even officially named “Carolina Blue.” Coupled with a beloved mascot in Ramses and an inseparable partnership with Nike, the school has the recipe for some awesome uniforms.
Many sports have mastered the blue and white. The Tar Heels’ basketball uniforms are timeless classics that have changed little over the years, and sports like lacrosse and baseball have used the full range of color combinations and logos to stay on top of the uniform game. One area where the Heels’ uniforms have struggled, though, is on Saturdays in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Football uniforms have become tremendously more important in the last decade. The Oregon Ducks started the trend with their seemingly endless (and often over-the-top) combinations of helmets, jerseys and pants. Sure, it’s about school pride — but uniforms and brand partnerships have also turned into a recruiting tool and a way to get players excited about an upcoming game.
Despite their versatile colors and numerous logos, the Heels have had some questionable football uniform choices over the last few years.
Navy is a longstanding alternate color for football uniforms — but it’s almost exclusively used by the football team. But why? Where, exactly, is navy listed as a color of the university? And why force one of the most commonly used school colors into your uniforms when you have a color so unique it’s named after the school?
Using navy as an accent on lettering or stripes is one thing, but the Heels have used it as the primary color on many of their uniform combinations, much to fans’ bewilderment. Forcing navy into the UNC color scheme is about as perplexing as Michigan State’s use of bronze, or when Notre Dame’s uniforms seemed eerily similar to those of their rival Pittsburgh.
Fortunately for the program, navy hasn’t been used since 2013, when Nike provided the Tar Heels with a slightly more modern look. Unfortunately, those uniforms weren’t exactly a home run either. These may have strayed a little too far from tradition.
They’re modern, and there’s no navy, but these just didn’t feel like a set of Tar Heel uniforms. The copious use of black is almost as bad as navy. Do we really need it on every jersey, pants and helmet?
And what is going on with those numbers? Apparently, they were intended to pay homage to the state’s connection to NASCAR. But this is football in Chapel Hill, not stock car racing in Charlotte. While it was nice to see an update, the Tar Heels needed something more authentic and true to the school’s history.
In 2015, the Tar Heels and Nike struck gold. The Heels managed to land on a uniform that looked simultaneously brand new and as if it had been used for years. The new uniforms only incorporated two colors — Carolina blue and white — but incorporated a variety of interesting helmets, jerseys and pants into each uniform. And (best of all) the team added argyle stripes on the helmet, collar and pants. Carolina’s argyle — traditionally used exclusively by the basketball team — is one of the most notable patterns in all of college sports. The football team’s decision to adopt it was a great one.
The addition of the argyle stripe and the return to the traditional UNC color scheme made these uniforms feel classic, like they should have always been the Tar Heels gameday garb. The team can make a number of uniform combinations between the differing helmets, jerseys and pants, but none of them look tacky or too modern.
The simplicity of the design is reminiscent of some of the great traditional uniforms, like what you’d see at uniform powerhouses like Notre Dame, Southern California or Penn State. like those of Notre Dame, Southern Cal, and Penn State. These schools have been able to maintain a modern look while making very few changes to their uniforms throughout the years. The Heels should try to stick to the same game plan.