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Archive for Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mayer: Stick to blue, fellas

September 25, 2005

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OK, should the Kansas University football program aspire to be a respected and feared Big Blue, or settle for Wanna-Be Red in the Big 12 Conference?

Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech vampirize stadiums with crimson crushes. KU is the ONLY blue, which can be smashing in the right combinations. I see why new stablemate Tom Keegan, whom I admire and respect, got caught up in the rush to red in the Jayhawk victory over Louisiana Tech. Not I.

There's a gratifying background for Kansas red badges of courage. Coach George Sauer put the Jayhawks into the silver helmet (red stripe), red jersey, silver pants (red stripe) format in 1947 and went to the Orange Bowl. Successor J.V. Sikes stuck with that through 1953 and left with a 35-25 record. Four of those Sikes teams would have been in postseason play nowadays.

Phog Allen liked red and featured it for Jayhawk road suits. Doc the psychologist believed the hotter color was motivational. His 1952 college and Olympic champions also wore red shoes, at home and away. The late 1940s and early 1950s featured some of the most productive and exciting football and basketball teams in KU history; red attire was the rule.

Then came a sometimes amusing transition before KU Blue became the pattern under Jack Mitchell in 1958.

Chuck Mather, a high school genius from Massillon, Ohio, decided for 1954 to go with leather helmets, which he'd used with his Ohio preps. Even worse, he chose to make them yellow to symbolize Jayhawk beaks, honest! Trainer Dean Nesmith warned Chuck that the old-style hats never would tolerate college collisionality. After several players came off the field with caved-in derbies and concussive craniums, the plastic buckets roared back.

Mather and Co. used all kinds of combinations and at one point had red helmets with blue jerseys and white pants. That made the Jayhawks resemble a spilled box of kitchen matches. Worst of all, though, were those early all-white, no-trim road suits that looked like long underwear. Yet people were so upset about KU's records, 0-10, 3-6-1, 3-6-1 the first three years, they weren't dyspeptic about the suits.

To Chuck's credit, his team started 1957 with a 1-4-1 record, he resigned at that point, then the Jayhawks went 4-0 earning the departing Mather league coach-of-the-year honors.

Mitchell featured blue, though what shade he never was quite sure since he admitted he was color-blind. The 1960 and 1961 teams had solid UCLA-Carolina blue home outfits and were so good their backfields often were labeled The Ballet in Blue.

Pepper Rodgers started out in 1967 with plans for silver-blue-red outfits. Then he learned archrival Vince Gibson was inculcating silver in his Kansas State scheme; out went the silver, which KU finally has returned to with its current pants that also feature a wide blue stripe highlighed by red.

Things have fluctuated greatly in the past 30 years. While I don't totally buy KU's current New York Giant-like palette, it has the potential to be nifty because of the shade of blue, electric-blue helmets and, perhaps, the use of red long-socks in cold weather. Crimson shirts - nix! Sorry, Brother Keegan.

Red is OK for accents. For the core tone, I care not what course others may take, but as for me, give me Big Blue and then justify a unique Big 12 status with swagger and success.

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