On Being An Old Man With A Precious Lawn Comment Count

Brian June 9th, 2011 at 1:19 PM

Tomorrow at 8 PM Adidas and Michigan and Notre Dame will have an under-the-lights unveiling of the uniforms both will wear when the first night game in Michigan Stadium history goes down. That's odd: marketing 101 is "when you have bad news, release it on Friday at 5 PM." Michigan is treating their great unveiling like they're firing their coach for massive NCAA violations.

On the other hand, maybe it's not so odd. Yesterday the M-Den momentarily posted what looked like the official thing:

If that's what you're deploying, 8 PM isn't late enough. Broadcast the announcement from the Chinese factory where they'll be made at 4 AM Eastern.

The M-Den twitter feed later posted a three-part item expressing regret for the "mistake" that obviously failed to address whether or not those were the real McCoy. They likely are. Tom pointed out the close-up teaser image has the exact same M the mistakenly posted jersey does. If they're different, they're not much different.

Tomorrow we'll enter the ranks of schools that dress up like clowns for a little bit of money from a shoe company. Notre Dame will as well. I'll make some sarcastic comments, privately think anyone I see wearing one of the jerseys is a total sellout, and move on. This September we'll watch Clownz Faceoff 2011 and life will go on. It's not really a big deal. Everyone does it, and traditionalists sigh, and recruits say they're excited.

So why does this make me want to buy a shotgun, rocking chair, and lifetime supply of lawn fertilizer?

Well, there was a way to do this that would not give people hives. It did not require the assistance of a crack team of uniform designers, and it didn't have stripes conjured from one of their fever-dreams.


The numbers on the helmets (and the different wing pattern on them), block Ms on the socks and shoulders, and overall retro stylings of the mid-60s (like gray face-masks) would have provided a distinctive, historically accurate look. (Doctor Saturday pointed out that it would have been a look from an era when Michigan and Notre Dame were in one of their periodic snits, but whatever.)

It wouldn't have been much different. It would have been cool, though:


It would have been a genuine callback to another era of Michigan football. They could have brought out some former players, celebrated a Rose Bowl win, whatever. If they're going to do that in the Franken-uniforms they'll have to bring out a nighmarish assemblage of Horace Prettyman's arms and shoulders stapled to Bill Yearby's torso and head; the lower body will be a cyborg entity from 2211 that shoots postgame celebration laserz. The legs will stop at the knees because bony undead horror robots of 2211 come hovering or they don't come at all.

This bothers me because it makes it obvious that honoring the program's past doesn't crack the top several reasons they'll put the stripes on this fall, falling behind at least "money," "making Adidas happy," and "allowing Dave Brandon to 'create the future'." My money teat is easy to milk, but not that easy. I won't put on a Big Chill shirt with an Arby's logo on it and I'm not buying whatever that is above.

This makes me an old man but it also strikes me how stupid the corporate culture Dave Brandon comes from is. At a consumer-facing, mid-sized, publicly-traded corporation it's all about three months from now when you report your numbers and the stock price goes up or down and you're a hero or an idiot. Once companies go public they slowly lose the distinctive characteristics that made them successful in the first place and become a collection of generic suits*. The suits get paid exorbitant amounts of money to trade long-term goodwill for numbers that will allow another set of suits to increase the exorbitant amount of money they are getting paid.

The best example of how this doesn't have to happen is privately-owned Chik-Fil-A, which is still closed every Sunday for religious reasons and is so loved by Southerners that when the corporation bought the naming rights to the Peach Bowl it was generally regarded as an improvement. These are correlated factors.

These days a lot of tech companies are remaining private longer than they would have in the past—Facebook is the best example—in order to avoid the relentless make-your-numbers effect of being a public company. It seems like Michigan is announcing its IPO Friday night.

*[Once you get to the behemoth side of the scale you can maintain identity via monopoly: Google and Apple are distinctive entities that appear to have ethoses (ethii?) other than making money hand over fist; they can probably have these because they are making money hand over fist.]

(HT on the 60s uniform picks to "cutter," denizen of Michigan messageboards everywhere.)



June 9th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

...how about some Block M jerseys?

1891 Team Photo (I hope those are white and not maize!!!)
1891 team photo

1892 Team Photo (threw this one in because it includes George Jewett, first African-American player on the team)
1892 team photo

1895 Team Photo
1895 team photo

1901 Team Photo (bonus -- w/ FMFY!!!)
1901 team photo

People need to think back to an earlier era. That's where our tradition started.


June 9th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

Are the block Ms shirts really "jerseys"? I think they're varsity sweaters - when they played they wore the leather vests (possibly over shirts with stripes!). Note that in the 1901 photo, the shirts with shoulder pads (presumably game wear) don't have a block M. In none of those photos do you see block M chest and sleeve stripes on the same man.

The night game jersey is an unfortunate conglomeration of the styles, I think. Just stripes or just the block M would look better (Plus there will be helmet numbers from the 60's too!) As it is, too busy.

I actually kind of like the photos with the wide striped sleeves and a padded leather vest with a block M above the left breast. That would be a good look I think - wide stripes on the shoulders with a block M above and to the left of the chest numbers, where the number is on the as-designed jersey. Basically, swap the numbers and the block M on the chest and make the stripes wider.


June 9th, 2011 at 5:43 PM ^

Well, they are wearing padded knickers, cleats, and shoulder pads in many of the photos - I'm assuming those items were part of the uniform. But the block  M turtleneck sweaters lack the features of "equipment" - no padded shoulders in the early 1900's photos, no vest in the 1890's photos (however in 1892 and on the guy in the top left corner of 1895, it does look like the block M is being worn over some degree of padding). I'd guess those were varsity sweaters. Then again I think "uniform" wasn't that uniform back then (e.g. different players may have worn different gear based on position / personal preference).

The main point I was making is that "large Block M on chest" and "rugby striped sleeves" have never appeared on the same uniform, and combining them looks lousy. I think one or the other would look a lot better.


June 9th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

in the 1901 photo, at least one of the players is wearing the M sweater over a padded shirt. I think it's possible they did wear the M as warmups, over the padding, etc.

We need some game photos from that era! Here's one from 1902:

Don't see any block Ms. The caption at Bentley is:

Michigan captain "Boss" Weeks about to stop Ohio for a short loss. 1902 game at Regents Field, Ann Arbor

Notice Ohio is wearing striped jerseys under the leather vests (like the Michigan captain in the 1899 team photo, see below) -- gotta think it was a common away-game look.


June 9th, 2011 at 5:52 PM ^

Interestingly, the mix of vests/sweaters seems a common theme in team photos from this era. Here is 1890 Harvard:

Stripes were also common. Here's John Heisman (YTH) in his 1891 uniform:


June 9th, 2011 at 6:40 PM ^

Michigan looks to be running the same play as Ohio in the above, just a lot more effectively:

Still no Ms visible. They are wearing them in the photos from the parade (before the game, I think), but not on the field. Kind of a "dress uniform," I guess.


June 9th, 2011 at 4:16 PM ^

To say that this is is unprecedented is simply accurate, because I don't see this jersery used in any of the pictures you posted. Sure, it has elements from previous uniforms, but this exact jersey hasn't been worn before. Therefore it's unprecedented.

I think if the jersey was an exact replica of one of the jerseys in your pictures, instead of kludging together multiple elements from multiple eras, you would have more people on your lawn.


June 9th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

...replica is not doable. All the complainers say we should go back to '60s era jerseys. That makes no sense because there's no appreciable difference. To throwback, you have to go back to the 20s and earlier. You can't have them come out in turtlenecks and vests, so you have to kluge elements.

The striped sleeves have precedent. The Block M has precedent. The jersey design is as close as you can get to something that evokes the period between 1890 and 1920. You know, that period when Michigan won a shit ton of national and Big Ten/Western Conference championships and when the coach was FMFY.

MI Expat NY

June 9th, 2011 at 4:45 PM ^

I agree with you, it's just they did too much.  If they insisted on having stripes and the block M, they should have gone with the vest look where only the sleeves had stripes and the rest was a solid Navy Blue, since the only era where we see striped sweaters coincided with players wearing vests.  


June 9th, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

That's not my point. I understand that they aren't going to wear turtlenecks and vests, my point was about kludging the design elements from different vests and turtlenecks. Precedented would be taking the design of one jersey worn by one person in one of those photos of one of those teams that won a shit ton of national and Big Ten/Western Conference championships and when the coach was FMFY, doing the best to fit it onto a modern jersey, and adding numbers.  I think this would get more support than putting stripes on the sleeves like one team did (1920), but making them wide stripes other teams wore for an entire jersey (1884/1889), and then adding a block 'M' like other teams did (1891/1892/1895/1901).


June 9th, 2011 at 2:39 PM ^

1). To those of you saying "It's just one game", I would politely counterpoint that many see "just one game" as a means of opening the pathway to a slippery slope. 

2). I was pushing for 1957, Ron Kramer-era throwbacks, where the longsleeves could come from a compression shirt, grey facemasks, and numbers on the helmets, so the 1965 look is very close to that:

And if that doesn't work for you, how about 1940 Tom Harmon style throwbacks...

And lastly, if that doesn't work, further honor Desmond and the 20th Anniversary of the catch:

And for those of you thinking this is a lot of to do about uniforms, politely, uniforms are a critical common thread that links the three men above together.  So if we're bent out of shape about it, maybe it's because symbols are imbued with meaning.


June 9th, 2011 at 3:11 PM ^

The fact that stripes have existed on Michigan uniforms in the past does not justify these abominations.  They're ugly as sin, a pure money grab, and most notably, nothing like them has ever been worn by a Michigan football team.

If you want to justify them as no big deal, or they actually look great, or it'll pay for XYZ, that's certainly your right.  I don't think it's something a team with iconic uniforms and our tradition should be doing, but that's just my opinion and it's far from gospel.

Just don't call them "retro" or "throwback" and justify them that way, because intermittent long-sleeve stripes of varying width doesn't make that true.  This is RAWK MUSIC jersey design at its worst.


June 9th, 2011 at 9:26 PM ^

I know, I know I'm weird about this.  As an historian and a uniform afficiando, I should be all over this.  But I have an explanation.  My four sports passions are Michigan football, Red Wings hockey, Tigers baseball, and Michigan hockey.  Leaving aside the last one, which rolls through jersey styles like Italy went through post-war governments, the previous three all basically have had the same uniform since 1938.  There are slight tweaks, but the Red Wings, Tigers, and Wolverines have all basically had the same uniform framework for nearly three quarters of a century* means that they have traditions largely unparalleled in American sport.

Honestly, if it were a genuine effort to move a real template of a Michigan jersey past on to a modern template, I'd be more likely to not care.  But because this is clearly such a naked money grab, and so clearly an effort by adidas to sublimate their corportate symbol on to the MIchigan brand, I find it disturbing.

*--So is everyone looking forward to the 75 years of "our helmet has wings" celebration for the 2013 season?


June 9th, 2011 at 2:39 PM ^

If these are the unis, then they contradict all of the branding verbage that we've been hearing so much about since RR was fired.

They make me think of raccoon skin coats, straw boater hats, the charleston, ukeleles and a pending stock market crash.

They do not reinforce all of the michigan man, tradition, he gets it, man ball, toughness, finger pointing and podium thumping talk we've had to listen too since January.

There is nothing Michigan about them other than color.  The crackly 'M' and striping are faux design.  We've been Disneyfied.


June 9th, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

Most likely the 1899 photo is the key used by the designer. The finished version combines three elements of the photo: [1] the classic block M jersey; [2] the striped jersey worn by the team captain in the photo (I'd like to see game photos, but this was likely worn for some games, maybe away?); [3] the stitching motif on the M is probably a reference to the stitched padding on the shoulders of some jerseys from that time (seen second from the right in the 1899 photo).

Swayze Howell Sheen

June 9th, 2011 at 2:50 PM ^

What they should have done is gone with a classic
look we could all feel proud of.

Something that brought back memories of what
it is to be a Michigan football player.

Something that honors the past players instead
of making the current ones look like clowns.

What they should have done is created the
Rob Lytle throwback helmet, something that looked
like this:

How awesome would that have been?

Thanks to Markusr2007 for the link to the pic...



June 9th, 2011 at 3:01 PM ^

Can I get a quick breakdown on what the purpose of this is?   This appears to be a total cash grab.   Is the only money to be made off this jersey sales?   If this is true could a boycott of the jersey sales end this fad once and for all at Michigan?   I have never seen one Buckeye rocking his retro jersey.  Do they actually sell that well?

Anybody involved in this business have any idea of the money were talking about here?   So it's retro jersey sales less the lost sales of the current jersey sales(I'm assuming a certain segment of the population would only buy 1 jersey forcing a choice between the two)* Michigan profit share from.= $$$$ yo.


Are we talking $50,000?   1,000,000?


Just trying to see if this is in anyway worth it. 


June 9th, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

from bad uni's to rawk muzak to create the future to "Corporations are lame, man." 

The uniforms are awful and unnecessary for the event, but often a change is good - even for traditional entities.  And it's only 1 night.  Rawk muzak - many fans see this as natural, part of today's game (though I also prefer the band only).  Create the future - what did you expect him to do, sit at his desk and read mgoblog?

These are 3 things you don't like, but the last isn't really a thing.  And the other 2 aren't enough to indict DB on this level.  Which leads me to believe you're still ANGAR about Hoke (or your dislike for DBs political worldview is starting to seep through).


June 9th, 2011 at 3:19 PM ^

Unfortunately what you say especially about corporate America being focused on the bottom line and short term results is all too true.  But for all of you that support a playoff system in football you are begging for college athletics to become even more focused on "what have you done for me lately".   A playoff system will help push college sports even closer to the short term focus that corporate America has.   How sad would buckeyes and trojan fans be today if their had been a playoff system the last eight years that allowed them to compete every year for a National Championship?   How much pressure will their be every time a team goes 3 or 4 years of missing the playoffs before the fan base yells for the coach's head?

So if Brandon is going corporate maybe it is just a necessary step on the one winner per sport every year mind set.

P.S.  I really do hate the striped jerseys.


Deep Under Cover

June 9th, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

This is becoming the new RR endless stupid fucking pointless debate.



Just like everyone else on this site, I will state my opinion and move on. My opinion is that people are being a bunch of whiney bitches over something that does not deserve this much thought.  Like it, or don't. Buy it, or don't.  We aren't sellouts for trying something that has proven extremely popular at other programs.

At least the Wal-Mart wolverines (which vastly outnumber the cheese and wine crowd who seem to care the most) will probably like it.

Jeebus, don't we have better things to talk about?


June 9th, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

Whether or not these jerseys are well-received will ultimately come down to the game's outcome.  If we win, the misty watercolor memory of that first night game will cause everyone to find the jerseys growing on them.  If we lose, they're banished to the attic forever.

As for the 1965 uniforms, it's pretty clear why they weren't chosen - they're not distinctive enough from the current jerseys.  Yes, hardcore freaks like us know they're different (M on the shoulders!  Numbers on the helmet!), but 99% of the country would have no idea what the difference is.  If you're going to go throwback, you have to go whole hog and do something that looks totally different.  

Michigan Arrogance

June 9th, 2011 at 4:52 PM ^

Well, to be honest they are growing on me. The fundamental problem M has re: throwbacks is that we haven't significantly altered the look since Crisler arrived in '38. Everything before that was a mis-mash of stripes/rugby/baseballish unis that sometimes had an M, sometimes didn't and the M changed from player to player in the same season.

So, I don't mind this amalgam of multiple looks that describe aspecs of M football uniforms from 1880-1935 or so. I'm sure this will be covered at the PC tomorrow night.

The other thing is that it's pretty clear to me that DB is towing the line between branding M in a modern way & marketing the program in the 21st century to young people (eg, night games & throwback unis scoreboards)..... and staying within tradition (not touching the helmets, no ads for football, Hoke Uber Allies). I'm not sure what else you could expect from him.


June 9th, 2011 at 6:56 PM ^

I'm not convinced that DB is actually "towing the line" between making Michigan relevant in the modern world, and honoring the unique traditions that define us.

What scares me is that the only thing that may be keeping DB from going completely over the schlock-tradition edge is that the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet.  I'm not convinced that he has any kind of internal compass that will know when too far is too far. 

I think he'd change the wings on the helmets to buckeye leaves if he thought he could raise gross margin by half a point this quarter.



June 9th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

I don't think that's a fair assessment.  Brandon isn't just some random ex-CEO.  He's a former Michigan football player.  He was part of this program.  He played for Bo.  I can't imagine that wouln't have rubbed off him to some degree.


June 9th, 2011 at 4:58 PM ^

FYI, Chik-Fil-A made news a few months ago by refusing to serve openly homosexual human beings. If you think our Athletic Department should be fun like Chik-Fil-A, you are indeed an old man.


June 9th, 2011 at 9:29 PM ^

Excellent post.

I'm a young person not a lawn protector, and these uniforms are friggin retarded.

If they're gonna depart from tradition they should do it for a jersey that should actually look cool.  These jerseys suck.  I've heard it mentioned that, "Well, at least recruits will like these."  Recruits won't like these.  They're not fashionable, they look like really, really bad soccer jerseys.  They're a disaster in every way.

I think these happened as a result of confusion at Adidas...  Someone said, "Create and alternate football jersey for Michigan," and since Adidas is a "football" (soccer) company, a "football" (soccer) jersey got created.


June 9th, 2011 at 6:22 PM ^

I'm just curious what they'd do for Penn State throwbacks.

You can count on the fact that they would miss the obvious answer right under their noses.


June 9th, 2011 at 7:06 PM ^

WTF? Is mary sue alowing her man hating EMU president special friend to pick this stuff out?

This is the worst thing to happen in A2 since Leo Kelly!


June 9th, 2011 at 7:41 PM ^

Brian hit the nail on the head.

Dave Brandon is a corporate guy with a strong background in cheese; first in a company whose claim to fame was cheesy coupons, and second in a company whose main product IS mainly cheese.

I'd point out that Domino's cheese isn't actually very good cheese, but I probably don't need to. The goodness of the Domino product wasn't the issue. The salability of the product was the only concern. Obviously.

Steve Jobs is a marketing genius. Dave Brandon is a numbers man. Steve Jobs' selection of jersey would be amazing and come in a box you wouldn't want to throw away because it would be as nice or nicer than the garment. Brandon doesn't care about the design, as long as it generates numbers. Maybe he also has bad taste, though I don't think that matters. 

The joy for a guy like DB comes in looking at mass markets (read, "lowest common denominator"), and not at whether a particular football jersey actually, you know, belongs on a Michigan football player's torso.

To expect a Dave Brandon to lead Michigan in any direction other than midwest-corporate-mediocre-sucky when it comes to "branding" the athletic department is wishful thinking. This is a corporate coupon man, not a visionary.

If Brandon designed a car, it would be a station wagon or a minivan. It would sell well. It would be boring as hell to drive, but he would get much acclaim for creating it, and either way, he'd be rolling in coin.

What sticks in my craw is that the University of Michigan is a respected institution of higher learning. That is what gives its so-called "brand" value.

The athletic department's "brand value" has been its success on the field. Without that, the winged helmet and all the other bullshit wouldn't mean a damned thing.

Michigan is not a corporation selling a product. It is a school offering something far more meaningful. The team unis stand for Michigan the Institution, and not Michigan, the cheesy T-shirt manufacturer.

I hope Brandon can get that through his egocentric skull at some point.

Deep Under Cover

June 9th, 2011 at 8:02 PM ^

I respectfully disagree.  I think, like it or not, the Michigan football brand has some rebuilding to do after a few really really terrible events (poor onfield performance, the HORROR, etc).

He is a former Bo player and obviously a very successful business man.  Jobs is also a very successful business man.  You don't think Jobs plays to the lowest common denominator? Sure, a lot of people can't afford what Jobs is selling, but if you know a thing or two about technology you know that it is nothing spectacular outside of its shell, but that is what builds the spanning desire to have it.  Jobs creates a run of the mill PB&J, but covers it in gold flakes so everyone has to have it (eh, terrible analogy, but whatevs).

It is that core where Michigan excels.  Inside the shell, the academics and tradition, is pure gold.  I kind of like that DB is bringing a little new age pizazz to a time old tradition.  That doesn't change the core, it just decorates the outside to build some excitement around it.  Sure, Michigan is a recognizeable institution and program, but what is wrong with bringing in some fresh fans?  The old farts at the game yelling at people to sit down may hate it, but hey the stone age routine has to be fazed out eventually.

My opinion may not be popular, but I think it is a good thing in building a highly valuable and marketable brand, so long as it does not change who and what Michigan isat their core.

A jersey change for one game does not represent a dramatic shift of Michigan ideals.