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In Football, Ugly Uniforms Make A Statement

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

During and after that game, the Internet buzzed not about the score but about what Maryland was wearing. And Maryland is just the latest, most outlandish example of what is hot in uniform design. And for more on the subject, we've got an expert on the line. Paul Lukas, a columnist for espn.com who writes "Uni Watch," which tracks the latest trends in sports uniforms. Welcome to the program.

PAUL LUKAS: Good to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: And is there actually a trend here? Do we see this in many other colleges?

LUKAS: We do. We see it mostly in colleges that are outfitted by Nike. Maryland is outfitted by Under Armour, a rival company. What we really see is the uniforms being used as a recruiting tool to attract high school talent. And the idea being that if you're after a hot quarterback or a running back out of high school and he's trying to decide between a couple of different schools, the uniform could be the tiebreaker. And if you're a hot running back out of high school, it means you're 17. And 17-year-olds respond to shiny objects, more or less. And so that's really what we're seeing here.

SIEGEL: I thought the shiny objects that the 17-year-old star quarterbacks responded to were convertibles that some booster provided them, not the uniform.

LUKAS: Yeah. Well, if they can get away with that, probably, and maybe a shiny girl on their arm too. But the uniform is certainly part of the school's image. And, you know, if you're a hotly recruited talent, it's something that goes into your thinking.

SIEGEL: I gather that the University of Oregon is the big trailblazer here, a school that actually outfits its football team in a different uniform for every game.

LUKAS: Yeah. Or at least a different uniform combination and different combination of helmets and pants and jerseys and socks and all that. And Oregon is outfitted by Nike, and Nike is run by Phil Knight, who is a graduate of Oregon. Ten years ago, Oregon was not a particularly powerful school. It wasn't viewed as such as a powerhouse in college football. Maryland still is not. And so you don't see schools that are as established doing this quite so often. It's often the schools that are looking to become established and who don't yet have that kind of status. And so they're looking to sort of get some attention.

SIEGEL: Well, Paul Lukas, since you are an espn.com columnist and the person who writes "Uni Watch," let me ask you, what's a hot team? Who's a dark horse team, which we're looking at for the sheer garishness of their uniforms?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LUKAS: That's probably a tough call. They've already been some doozies, you know, in this very, very young college football season already. The University of Georgia went out and wore solid-red uniforms with what is believed to be football's first ever two-toned face mask for the first game of the season. That's probably the front-runner so far for the most outlandish uniform of the year, that one and the Maryland one that we saw the other night. It's going to be tough to top the Maryland uniform.

SIEGEL: That's Paul Lukas, a columnist for espn.com. He writes "Uni Watch" about trends in sports uniforms. Paul Lukas, thanks for talking with us.

LUKAS: Thanks for having me on, Robert. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.