Archive for Saturday, October 11, 2003

Mayer: Crimson uniforms shouldn’t have KU fans seeing red

October 11, 2003


There are indications the Kansas University basketeers occasionally will wear crimson road uniforms the coming season. That seems to be upsetting some "traditionalists." I put that last term in quotes because I'm not sure how far back their expertise extends.

KU, despite Larry Brown's failed one-time experiment, has achieved some rather nifty things wearing crimson "away" outfits.

The 1952 Jayhawk NCAA-Olympic championship team not only wore bright red road suits, it also featured, perhaps as a tribute to Dorothy from Oz, red shoes, as well.

Further, those legendary Jayhawks didn't shed the red high tops (no low-cuts allowed) when they donned white suits at home. In something of a tribute to filmdom's Moira Shearer, for Kansas it was a Ballet of the Red Shoes every game. And a pretty good show it was, same as Moira's classic movie.

First time anyone on that '52 club wore blue "road" uniforms was when seven of them played on the all-victorious United States Olympic team in Helsinki, Finland.

The 1953 Kansas crew that reached the NCAA finals against Indiana continued the red shoe and red road suit tradition. It was the same hue for the 1957 NCAA runner-up club with Wilt Chamberlain. By then, though, the shoes had changed to white under coach Dick Harp.

Coach Phog Allen had a thing about colors and their psychology. He contended that flaming red helped his team get a little more fired-up for hostile road ventures. KU's warmups were red with blue trim and featured well-displayed Jayhawks. Doc said "battle red" tended to "get 'em goin' quicker."

He also liked to have an aggressive football player or two to insert at crucial times to vaccinate enemy wrongdoers. Doc was never averse to calling on an enforcer. He realized early on that while football was a collision sport, basketball was becoming more and more a contact event. He liked to have some people who understood that when it counted.

Many times Allen had great football players who also were outstanding on the court -- like Ray Evans, Otto Schnellbacher, Ralph Miller, Don Ebling, Charlie Hoag, John Anderson, Harold Patterson and Gil Reich. Hoyt Baker ('43 and '46) was another such doubler.

Perhaps Phog stretched things a bit trying to convert football brawler Don (Red Dog) Ettinger into a maples master. But on more than one occasion, Red Dog left his mark, or marks, even if he's not listed among KU's letter-earners.

There were times when footballers weren't needed to make significant contacts. Sonny Enns wasn't too shabby at playing an early-day Jason Sutherland role for the Jayhawks. You doubtless can think of other brash KU cagers, though I don't recall any of the local rascals as quite the hatchetman Missouri's Sutherland became. You could challenge me on that.

Ted Owens succeeded Dick Harp and at least into the latter 1960s stuck with red road uniforms. The great 1966 team that got shafted with that lousy call in the NCAA Regional at Lubbock, Texas, had red suits.

Then Owens and some others got to thinking that Kansas was the only team in the league, and still is, that has blue as one of its major colors. Why not feature that? So they did. KU's been pretty much blue "visitor" since.

Ted and Co. injected strong elements of crimson into the Jayhawk uniform scheme. He had some of the best-looking outfits the Jayhawks ever have worn. Ted had bright red sub-warmup shirts but Big Blue was definitely the hue when Kansas was the designated road team.

Came Larry Brown to Lawrence, a guy with a good appreciation for history and heritage. He was aware that KU once had great success with red road suits, such as in 1952 and 1953. So he had some tailored for a trial run. KU lost on that occasion and those suits were either mothballed or burned forthwith.

The superstitious Larry declared one-and-out. He and the Jayhawks then rode Big Blue to the 1988 college championship. Of course, if Larry'd checked, he'd have known KU wore red that 1957 night it was upended 54-53 in triple-overtime by Larry's North Carolina alma mater. Had he realized that, he'd never even allowed a single-game test.

For the record, the reason KU was in red that night was that Carolina entered the NCAA Tournament No. 1 in the country and with good reason. It was undefeated and left Kansas City that way. UNC wore home white and Kansas, rated No. 2 in the country with two losses, donned red. That matched the Jayhawks' eyes in their tearful total misery over defeat in a great game that once seemed to be in the bag.

Roy Williams stuck with the home-white, road-blue theme over 15 seasons. Whether Bill Self's uniforms are red, white, blue or any combination, I hope he gets rid of those Williams-sanctioned super-flappy pants. They flailed around as if the players had been issued thrift shop tablecloths and had hastily fashioned them into semi-sarongs.

Roy got after me once for harpooning the droopy-drawers, saying they prevailed because "the players like them." Don't kid me. As much a control freak as Williams was, the Jayhawks would not have been so attired had it not been the coach's choice as well.

But Old Roy never did take suggestions too well, especially if they involved his team's weak free-throwing.

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