Requiem for Russell Athletic

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Image Courtesy of ramblinwreck.com

On September 28, 2017 Russell announced they would cease producing uniforms for football teams.

This didn’t come as much of a surprise since they only had two FBS college football teams left wearing them, Georgia Tech and Southern Miss, who both announced they would be switching to Adidas when their Russell Athletic contracts expired in 2018.

So, in memoriam, we take a look back at Russell Athletic’s history, contributions and mistakes in sports apparel design.

The History:

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Image Courtesy of logonoid.com

Russell Manufacturing Co. was founded in Alexander City, Alabama in 1902 by Benjamin Russell. However, they did not produce athletic apparel until 1938, six years after they acquired Southern Manufacturing Company.

During World War II, Russell Manufacturing’s main focus was supplying the U.S. Army and Navy with shirts, athletic wear and undergarments. However, they continued to expand their athletic wear production during this time and by the 1960’s would become the largest sports apparel manufacturer.

From the 70’s onward they began to dominate many sports leagues as uniform of choice. 18 of the 28 NFL teams during this era sported Russell at some point, including the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. The corporation signed a five year deal to become the exclusive producer of Major League Baseball uniforms in 1992, which was expanded until 1999. Between 1999 and 2004 (when Majestic took over) there was no sole supplier of MLB kits, but Russell continued to supply many. Russell also had deals with Little League Baseball and the Harlem Globetrotters.

As far as college football, current FBS teams that once donned Russell Athletic include Coastal Carolina, Washington State, Western Kentucky, Ohio University, Southern Miss and, of course, Georgia Tech.

However, Russell’s partnerships waned throughout the 21st century until we got to where we are today. Russell has announced that they plan to focus their resources on providing consumer apparel, and will cease producing team uniforms for any sport.

The Highlights:

While most won’t remember Russell uniforms fondly (especially Yellow Jacket fans), there were some diamonds in the rough. Here are some of our favorite past kits from the manufacturer:

Western Kentucky: Boca Raton Bowl, 2016

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Image Courtesy of latimes.com

This uniform might be one of Russell’s most memorable, and not just because of WKU’s 51-31 victory over a strong Memphis team. WKU’s helmets are one of the few chrome domes I approve of (another being Memphis’ striped buckets), and the bold black and red on these jersey supported them without overshadowing them. I think the black and white shoulder striped looked great with the numbers and black pants. This was a great victory for both the Hilltoppers and Russell.

Ohio University: vs. Eastern Michigan, 2012

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

If you’re a close follower of Gridlines you know I’m a huge fan of “color rush” uniforms; and this 2012 Bobcats kit is no exception. It’s such a beautiful shade of green on these bad boys, and it looked even better matched up against Eastern Michigan’s white background. Russell stuck to the basic here, but the simple all green look definitely made an impact. Only flaw here, in my opinion, are the white/black/white shoulders, but they don’t detract enough to take away from this overall stunning kit.

Georgia Tech: Orange Bowl, 2014

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Image Courtesy of rantsports.com

This one might not be as stunning as the last two, but it was one of the acceptable uniforms Russell ever put out for the Yellow Jackets. Why? Because Georgia Tech’s colors are white, *gold* (old gold, if we’re being nit-picky) and blue. Russell really struggled with the concept of gold, and for some reason used what I can only describe as p*$$ color. Here, however, we get a brilliant blue and a real gold color, at least on the helmet. The pants were fine, too.

The Lowlights:

Yes, what we all came for. The true eulogy for Russell Athletic. Here are the worst of the worst.

Southern Miss: vs. FAU, 2013

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Image Courtesy of fansided.com

I genuinely do not even know where to begin. Digital camo has long been trying to worm its ugly way into athletics, with no signs of stopping (I’m looking at you, San Antonio Spurs). But this is truly one of the worst. If they had gone for solid black with the camo accent it might’ve been somewhat redeemable, but these kits just look like a West Virginia uniform if I was watching the game while on salvia. I hope Adidas treats you better, Golden Eagles. Just please, no tire treads.

Georgia Tech: Chick-Fil-A Bowl, 2008

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Image Courtesy of uniformcritics.com

Yes, these uniforms somewhat capture the blue and gold, but…no. The shoulder spread looked absolutely atrocious, separating the jersey into a strange top half and bottom half look. This kit looks like mustard stains all over a Penn State uniform. The gold on the sides looks terrible as well and certainly doesn’t help the cause. Georgia Tech should’ve stuck to it’s classic looks, and at most used it’s honeycomb alternate pattern. Tech, I hope Adidas treats you better too.

Ohio University: vs. Miami-Ohio, 2013

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Image Courtesy of uniformcritics.com

While I always appreciate special looks for a rivalry, this didn’t do the Battle of the Bricks justice. The brick pattern came out looking more like a loosely-applied stamp, and was done in the absolute ugliest shade of green possible. Green and white are classic colors and Ohio has some of the best branding in the MAC, so it hurts me to see Russell disrespect them like this. This was a neat concept too, ruined by an inept athletic apparel company.

At least you can’t hurt us anymore, Russell. Goodnight, sweet prince, and good riddance.

Did we forget a highlight, or an abomination? Comment below, and be sure to check Gridlines for weekly updates!

University of Louisville Breakdown

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Image Courtesy of thecardinalconnect.com

With Louisville making all sorts of unpleasant headlines today, we figured it would be a pleasant break for Cardinal fans to have something else to read.

The Cardinal was chosen as the Louisville mascot in 1913. It was chosen because the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Kentucky. Although the University’s logo is often ridiculed for showing teeth (which, believe it or not, don’t have), it really is one of the most iconic logos in sports.

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Image Courtesy of wikipedia.org

That’s no small feat. “Cardinals” branding is extremely diluted by the numerous other teams that go by the moniker. The Arizona Cardinals and St Louis Cardinals are both massive professional brands. Furthermore, there are 26 Cardinal mascots in college football alone and, while University of Louisville is the most prominent of those schools, Ball State has fielded a football team for just about as long (with programs beginning in 1912 and 1924, respectively).

Plus, Louisville has some of the best throwback logos. This guy always look great on the basketball team’s shorts.

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Image Courtesy of collegevault.com

But back to football. Louisville’s classic kit looks crisp and clean. Red and white are great colors to begin with, and that toothy cardinal looks damn fantastic on the helmet.

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

But when you’re talking Louisville uniforms, you’re not going to talk about their regular kits. Their alternate elements are what make the Cards one of the sleekest teams in the FBS. First of all, there’s the red-chrome helmet, which definitely pairs best with the color rush combo. Louisville’s “red-out” games are a sight for the eyes.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville

Image Courtesy of btn.com

The Cardinals typically hold a black-out game once a year too.

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Image Courtesy of thecardinalconnect.com

The black-out kits vary every year, with some better than others (Adidas: please stop using the tire track pattern). But my personal favorite would actually be the all black military appreciation uni. These kits look fierce as hell, and it’s not easy implementing the American flag into uniforms. Just ask the dozens of schools every year who simple overlay it with the helmet sticker.

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Image Courtesy of cardinalsportszone.com

It’s not a stretch to say Louisville has the consistently best alternates in the ACC. Their only real competition would be Miami and recently, NC State, but the Cardinals find ways to always come out of the tunnel fresh. Think otherwise? Prefer red-outs over black-outs? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

TuesD3y Spotlight: University of Dubuque

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Image Courtesy of telegraphherald.com

After an overwhelming victory in our Twitter poll, this week’s TuesD3y Spotlight belongs to the University of Dubuque Spartans.

The University of Dubuque is a small Presbyterian university in Dubuque, Iowa. They have played football in the Iowa Conference (IIAC) since 1929, but fielded a football team for years before that. They hold 8 IIAC championships, with the most recent from 2015 when they went undefeated in conference play for the first time since 1979.

They have an incredible history but also continue to make headlines today, most recently by sending cornerback Michael Joseph to the Senior Bowl; the only D3 player in the game. But of course, this isn’t a blog about history, it’s a blog about design. And boy, do the Spartans look great when they hit the field.

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Image Courtesy of dbq.edu

The Spartans standard kit is a crisp Under Armour uniform, showcasing their signature blue and white. I think the blue/blue/white uni shown above is their best look. The way the metallic blue helmets and silver stripes go together just looks bold on the field, making them look like much more than just another D3 football team.

The blue jersey can be switched out for white, which is more suitable for away games. Thankfully the metallic blue helmets still make an appearance. I think they’re the highlight of Dubuque’s uniforms and one of the most subtly iconic in the Division.

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Image Courtesy of chicagotribune.com

Again, the chest stripes (now blue) just pair perfectly with the helmet and pants to tie the whole kit together.

Interestingly, the Spartans have also taken the field in a gray jersey. I must admit I’m a pretty strong opponent of gray tops, whether it’s KU’s gray abominations or even the Boston Celtic’s “The City” jersey. So naturally, this wasn’t my favorite.

ud That being said, I think these were done just about as well as they could have. I definitely prefer the blue/gray/gray’s to the blue/gray/blue’s I’ve also seen. I draw a strong parallel to Duke University’s “Hellraisers” kit we looked at in our Retro-Devil blog post.

If Dubuque is seeking an alternate look, I’d love to see an all white with white helmets. D3 schools aren’t always able to switch out their helmets, but I think it’d be fantastic to see a metallic blue Spartan with blue chest stripes popping on a snowed-out look.

Speaking of the Spartan, huge credit for Dubuque for executing one of the most difficult tasks of any small school; overcoming a popular branding of their mascot. While Michigan State and their iconography will always come to mind when thinking “Spartans,” Dubuque keeps their logo different enough with details such as the crest and neck line to maintain their own identity. Plus, when fully integrated into the “UD” logo it looks splendid.

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Image Courtesy of dbq.edu

The Spartans play at Chalmers Field, a 4,000 capacity stadium. The real highlight of this venue is the press box, completed in 2008 and one of the best looking I’ve seen for a school of this size. Plus, it integrates fantastically with other campus architecture.

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Image Courtesy of kcrg.com

The University of Dubuque Spartans are one of the most consistently crisp looking D3 brands. Definitely keep an eye out for Michael Joseph in the NFL Draft, and the Spartans as a whole in the coming years. They’re a program with the talent and potential to become a powerhouse and eventual title contender.

Enjoyed this TuesD3y Spotlight? Check out last weeks, where we review the Tufts Jumbos!

 

 

Stadium Saturday: Husky Stadium

For this week’s Stadium Saturday we take a look at Husky Stadium; the home of the University of Washington Huskies.

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Image Courtesy of seattletimes.com

This venue is hailed as “the Greatest Setting in College Football” for a reason. The upper decks look absolutely magnificent, and the entire architecture just looks lofty and airborne; the perfect encapsulation of windy, coastal Seattle.

Speaking of coasts, the stadiums water-side location lends itself to one of the most unique traditions in college football; sailgating.

A pun off of tailgating and sailing, hundreds of people (students and otherwise) sail up to the exposed side of the stadium for a chance to celebrate gameday. Definitely one for the bucket list if you’re a Dawgs fan, or even if you just like turning up on a boat.

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Image Courtesy of seattletimes.com

Husky Stadium just looks great from all angles. It’s hard to make upper decks look good without being too angular or blocky, but Husky Stadium’s just look smooth. Plus, the rain covers are natural extensions of the stadium rather than last minute add-ons.

The venue didn’t always look like it does now. A massive renovation project was started in 2011 to add more seating and increase structural integrity. Here’s what it looked like prior to the changes; still great, in my opinion.

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Image Courtesy of wikipedia.org

The stadium is great for the spectator, too. All seats have a fairly good view of the field, and the venue looks just as beautiful from the inside.

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Image Courtesy of aviewfrommyseat.com

Definitely a must visit if your team ever has an away game there. Also, a great area to explore before and after the teams take the field.

So, is Husky Stadium really “the Greatest Setting in College Football”? What stadium should be featured next week? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

TuesD3y Spotlight: Tufts University

For today’s TuesD3y Spotlight we’re featuring the Tufts University Jumbos. Tufts is a private research university in Medford, MA just outside of Boston. This team has a long and storied history, playing since the 1874-75 football season. They went 1-0 that year with a win vs. Harvard; dominant! They play in the NESCAC athletic conference and have been a member since its founding in 1971.

The team’s colors are Tufts Blue, a university branded color, and Brown. While an interesting combination, I’ve always thought it looks great on the field. They really execute the difficult colors fantastically with their vibrant kits.

tufts 1 Image Courtesy of gotuftsjumbos.com

In particular I think they pull off the silver/brown/silvers well. And take a look at those Jumbo helmet stickers!

tufts 2.jpg Image Courtesy of now.tufts.edu

The athletic department uses the new Jumbo logo in conjunction with a crossed tusks T badge, both shown below.

tufts.jpg Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Here’s a side by side of the retro Tufts logo and the full size of their new elephant.

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Images Courtesy of jumbobaseball.com and gotuftsjumbos.com

It’s always a pleasure to see a unique combination of colors done well, and I think Tufts modern football branding paves the way for a lot of smaller schools looking to find an identity.

Leave a comment below with suggestion of a D3 team for next week’s TuesD3y Spotlight!

Duke’s Alternate Blue Devil

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Image Courtesy of athlonsports.com

Since the Pinstripe Bowl in 2015, Duke has been incorporating an alternate blue devil logo into various aspects of their equipment and apparel. But, what are the origins of this icon? And where is its place in the future of Duke Athletics?

According to nationalchamps.net ‘s “The Helmet Project”, this logo was used on helmets in Duke’s 1966-68 seasons. Below is an image from a 1968 game against UVA.

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Image Courtesy of hoosfootball.com

This devil icon was then put to rest for decades, until 2015. This season marked Duke’s 4th consecutive year of bowl eligibility, a 6-6 regular season that earned them a spot in the Pinstripe Bowl against Indiana. For this game in Yankee Stadium, Duke brought it’s retro-devil logo from the 60’s back for the first time. Duke would go on to win 44-41 in an OT stunner thanks to a missed field goal from Indiana. The full uniform from this game can be seen below.

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Image Courtesy of wane.com

However, that was not the end of this icon in Duke football equipment. In Duke’s 2016 rivalry game against UNC, the devil was back on the helmets. This time, it was featured in white on a chrome blue helmet, with a blue jersey and white pants.

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Image Courtesy of goduke.com

Perhaps this helmet sticker was good luck? Duke would take home the Victory Bell (for the first time in years) in a 28-27 upset of #15 ranked UNC.

Maybe it was the victories, or just an equipment room hungry for alternates, but Duke would incorporate this icon on two separate occasions in the 2017 season.

The first was in a hyped match up against #14 Miami. Duke was undefeated going into this game with wins against FCS NC Central, Northwestern, Baylor, and UNC. Duke football equipment would title the uniforms for this game the “Hellraisers,” an all gray look that hadn’t been seen before. This can be seen below.

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Image Courtesy of newsobserver.com

Unfortunately, this game would be the retro-devil’s first loss in a 31-6 blowout. Miami would go on to finish the season ranked #10 overall and play Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.

This devil icon had a history of being brought out for Duke’s biggest games, and that trend continued when it was revived for the 2017 match up at Wake Forest. This was the last game of the regular season with bowl eligibility on the line, against an uncharacteristically strong Wake team. Duke would bring back the helmets from the Hellraisers in a gray/white/blue combo, seen below.

NCAA Football: Duke at Wake Forest

Image Courtesy of nsjonline.com

That game was won 31-23 and bowl eligibility was clinched. But this time, in the Quick Lane Bowl against the NIU Huskies, Duke would sport their new script helmet stickers rather than bringing the retro-devil back for the third time that season. But, even without the luck of this icon, Duke would win confidently 36-14.

As far as the future of the retro-devil, it remains uncertain. Surely Duke will continue to bring out this alt look, perhaps even increasingly so as the past season indicated. Duke has been expanding its use of helmet stickers with their Rose Bowl feature and bringing back the script this year. But, so far, this devil hasn’t been used for any other sports besides football.

That being said, it has made its way onto lots of school sponsored apparel including flags, shirts and more. While I don’t think it will ever come back as a primary logo, surely the 60’s devil has returned for an extended stay.

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