As I started to grade out the 2021 Nebraska alternate uniforms, I struggled to maintain a consistent focus.
Did I want to critique and grade the uniforms themselves - as I've done for all of Nebraska's other alternate uniforms? Or did I want to dive into a larger, potentially uncomfortable, conversation about the mishmash of messages conveyed by these uniforms? A camouflage uniform, to be worn on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, with the intention to honor first responders and the military? At best, it is a conflicted message. At worst…. like I said, let's keep that separate.
Some of you may not be interested in reading my thoughts on why the symbolism conveyed by the uniforms and the corresponding hype video rubs some folks the wrong way. That's fine. No hard feelings. Read on for my standard head to toe review.
But if you want to have that conversation - or are at least open to seeing what I have to say, I invite you to click here.
The big news is that for just the third time* since 1969, Nebraska is going to wear something other than the sans-serif "iron N" on their helmet. Nebraska will go with an interlocked "NU". This was Nebraska's primary logo from 1956 - 1969, but never appeared on the helmet.
*The other times without the "N":
- The helmets for 2018's fauxback alternatives were designed to look like a leather helmet.
- The 300th consecutive sellout game in 2009 had the early '60s helmet with player numbers
- From 1967 - 1969, Nebraska wore "NU", but the letters did not interlock. The "U" was removed in 1970.
For all my classicist tastes regarding alternate uniforms, I've never been said that the helmet N was off limits. The interlocking NU is a great logo and looks great as a one-off helmet.
Technically, per the unwritten rules of the Nebraska-Northwestern "Battle for NU" game, Nebraska's 21-13 loss to the Wildcats in 2020 makes them ineligible to wear "NU" until they earn it on the field. But these helmets are nice enough to warrant an exception.
Again, we're going to look at this purely from a design / alternate uniform perspective. In the video and images Nebraska released, it is really tough to see the camouflage pattern. It shows up a little better in this image of a retail version. From these images, I suspect most people inside the stadium won't be able to discern the camo pattern. So, what you end up with a is a plain (to slightly dingy) white uniform with a skinny red numeral. I don't know if that serif number font is supposed to evoke anything from Nebraska's history or the September 11 / First Responder / Military appreciation themes. If so, I'm not getting it. The font may be my least favorite part of the entire ensemble.
*Again, my classicist tendencies say that I should dislike the idea of Nebraska wearing white at home (and after Labor Day to boot!). Surely it has been done before in the 100+ years of NU football, but I'm not doing that research. Regardless, wearing white at home isn't in the top five of things I'd change.
I'm not a huge fan of camouflage on uniforms. I see it as the next trope a designer will explore after they've exhausted the color black. Outside of the service academies - who obviously dominate the realm of military-inspired uniforms - camo unis are rarely done well. But if Adidas wants to try, sure, take your best shot.
Obviously, scarlet does not lend itself easily to camo (even if fellow Adidas school Indiana gave it a go last year). So the white camo pattern ("Frosty ice", as I'm calling it) is probably about as good as Nebraska could hope for. I probably would have gone all-in and put the camo print on their entire jersey, but when it comes to Adidas, I won't criticize them for showing restraint.
On those merits, I'd give the jerseys a C. Nothing fancy, nothing ridiculous ugly, and the fans should be able to read the numbers from their seats. I can deal with that.
Since getting off to a wild start in the mid-teens, Adidas has kept the lower half of Nebraska's alternate uniforms fairly mundane. This year, we get white pants. There is a silver/grey double stripe for those of us who like striped pants. Beyond that, not much else. Very simple and basic.
This is a good thing.
The cleats have the faint "Frosty ice" camo pattern and the interlocking NU, which is a nice way to tie everything together. Ditto for the compression sleeve that you can see in the previous section. It is safe to assume the palms of the gloves make an image when put together, but I don't know if it is the interlocking NU logo or a different logo.
In the less-than-storied history of Nebraska's alternate uniforms, these are the personification of average. A sharp looking helmet, mediocre jersey, and some corresponding filler. I'll have to update my all-time rankings, but I would expect these to end up somewhere slightly above the middle of the pack. They're not great, but they're not horrible - from a design perspective, anyway.
They're the alternate uniform equivalent of a fair catch. There's no excitement, but it didn't result in disaster.
Overall Grade: C+
Speaking of punt returns, do you know what Nebraska and Adidas could have done to really put 'em in the aisles?
The better choice would have been to wait a week and wear alternate uniforms on September 18, when Nebraska plays…. hang on, let me check the schedule… oh yeah, the University of Oklahoma. The 50th anniversary of the famous "Game of the Century". Irresistible Oklahoma meeting immovable Nebraska once again. Johnny Rodgers tearing 'em loose from their shoes.
Nebraska would look amazing in the red pants with white stripes, the crisp white tops with dual loops around the shoulders. I'd encourage Adidas to boast that their new "quadruple prime knit extreme max cool" polymer fabric is the technological antithesis of a tear-away jersey. Keep the classic Nebraska helmets, but put on grey facemasks.
The fans would love them, the team would look great, the retail merch would sell out, and we wouldn't have to get into some of the difficult topics we'll talk about here.
But that made too much sense for everyone involved.