Eulogy for the AAF

March 20, 2018, the AAF was announced by Charlie Ebersol. Football fans around the nation (and some around the globe) lit up with excitement; spring football once again! A new generation of sports fanatics had grown up since the last attempt at a secondary professional league (the last being the infamous XFL failure in the early 2000’s) and with time, a sense of optimism had grown. Many believed that enough had changed between streaming options, technology, and simply learning from past mistakes that another football league was viable.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

In short, people believed in the vision of the AAF.

It wasn’t just unfounded optimism though. Ebersol and his co-founder, Bill Polian, seemed to have a clear plan. TV deals were made. Advanced technology, integrated into a live tracking app, marketed the league as not just football, but a true tech startup. Teams were to be managed by the central office rather than individual owners.

As with all startups, however, there were concerns. The AAF didn’t have quite the budget Vince McMahon and the other spring league launching the following year, the renewed XFL. The app had a rocky roll out and was barely ready by the time the season began. Even when it was released, it was clear it was not everything it was hyped to be.

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Image Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times

Still, fans got what they wanted. Eight teams were announced complete with fairly nice looking uniforms from Starter and intriguing brands, all tied in with their respective local cultures. People took to social media to claim a team, some choosing based on location, others on NFL or college football affiliation, and others even on something so simple as thinking the Stallions had cool helmets.

Play began on February 9, 2019. It was no NFL, but it was football. Trent Richardson immediately became infamous for his consistent less-than-3-yards-per-carry. Bercovici became the face of the league my taking a monster, helmet-removing hit. And of course, everyone was just happy to see Coach Spurrier take to the sideline once again.

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Image Courtesy of Black Sports Online

All those story lines began in just week one. In the weeks that followed, the Apollos would go on a dominant run (finishing the season with the best record, 6-1), the Express, Legends and Stallions would become the butt of most jokes but still claim an upset every now and again, and the Iron would continue to be a monster on defense – although, often struggling on the other side of the ball.

And of course – Money Manziel. Johnny Manziel’s arrival to the league came with much more excitement than his actual play ever would. Still, his exit from the CFL back into American professional football was talked about everywhere. Manziel, in his short time as unofficial league spokesmen, kept his cool and did seem to be more mature than prior years – even if his main moment of fame was eating nachos on the sideline.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

The main point of these recollections is that, although an upstart league that so desperately wanted to become a feeder for the NFL, the AAF really was capable of carrying its story lines. It delivered a product that fans, although often not enough in person save for the packed Alamodome, wanted to see. It really seemed that the league had a chance.

Financial struggles were the first nail in the coffin. Rumors began swirling, and news broke that another investor was desperately needed to save the league. Tom Dundon emerged as the leagues savior, offering 250 million dollars and easing the minds of anxious fans, so afraid to lose what they had gained. Dundon had big plans, and sentiments of praise were seen on all corners of the internet, from tweets to memes on Reddit.

But then Dundon’s plans got a little too big.

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Image Courtesy of Deadspin

Fans who closely followed the ensuing drama remember that no one really knew what was going on – reports that Dundon was playing hardball to get a deal with the NFLPA to formalize the AAF as a development league began to come out. This had been the plan from the beginning, as most were aware, but it was believed Ebersol and Polian were going to wait until the NFLPA contract was renegotiated in 2020. Whether Dundon had information that the fans (and, for that matter, Ebersol and Polian) did not, or if he was just desperate to see a return on his massive investment, it’s not really certain. What we do know is what followed – after seven entertaining weeks of football, Dundon began threatening to fold the league if an agreement with the NFLPA did not come to fruition.

The agreement was never made.

On April 2, 2019, it was announced the league was suspending operations. Shortly afterward, notices of termination were released to league staff and, crossing the point of no return, all players released from their contracts effective immediately. In just a few short weeks the league went from riding the high of success to nothing but assets, waiting to be sold off.

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Image Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Fans, understandably, were outraged. People began crying for Dundon’s head, since he seemed to be at fault for this. Some postured that he simply wanted the league’s valuable technology and IP, and simply left it for dead when he had secured what he wanted. Other saw Dundon as just a reasonable businessman, realizing a profit wasn’t going to happen and then folding to stop the bleeding. After all, he had lost 70 million dollars in just a few weeks.

When the dust settles, it will probably come out exactly what happened. Some compensation packages will surely be arranged. Remaining assets will be sold; the XFL may even snatch some up. But when all is done and the AAF is but a footnote on the tragic history of startup football leagues, there will be something left behind. Fans will hold onto their T-shirts – some may have not even delivered yet. Hundreds of abandoned Twitter accounts dedicated to the league will go inactive. Future articles on Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel will always reference the few weeks we had together. But there’s not just these archives. Fans will have the memories. Those who sat in Legion field, baking in the Birmingham heat to catch a glimpse of football in the spring. Those in San Diego, so excited to finally have professional football return to their city. Apollos fans, happy to see a Florida pro team find success again.

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Image Courtesy of Pewter Report

Every team had their stories, and every fan will have their memories. It’s soul-crushing that this is all we have now, especially when we all hoped – all believed – that this league could be different. Reality hits hard. People want someone to blame. But in this eulogy for the AAF, I just ask we all remember the good times we had. Short-lived as it was, the AAF was something special – and I don’t want it to only be remembered for it’s demise.

 

Grid Lines Sports Blog has covered the AAF since prior to its inception. We assembled and published weekly power rankings. We will continue to cover College Football and other professional sports leagues, and hope fans that found us through the AAF stay with us for this other coverage.

Super Bowl 53 Uniform Preview

It’s that time of year: College Football has wrapped up, and thus fans turn their eyes to the NFL Playoffs. This year’s games were packed with both action and controversy, but the biggest game is still left to play. The New England Patriots, perennial contender and league super villain, will be facing the surging Los Angeles Rams. Who do we think will win? That’s for another post. Let’s dive into these uniforms.

New England Patriots – Silver/White/Blues

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The Silver/White/Blue combo was introduced with the new uniform set in the late 90’s, although you could argue it was an entirely different uniform by design. The Patriots have worn this look in quite a few Super Bowls before – XXXIX, XLIX, LI, and LII – and had won every time they wore them until last year. Still, that’s a 75% winning pct. The Pats will keep the look.

Thoughts: Even with the loss, Pats have a legacy of winning in these, and there a good, crisp look (especially the dark blue, red outlined numbers against the white background). These will be just fine.

Los Angeles Rams – Dark Blue/Royal Blue/Gold

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No doubt about it – this has to be the best uniform combination in the NFL. I was so glad to see this brought back when the Rams moved to LA, and I’m glad it wasn’t just a one off appearance. Rams wearing it in the Super Bowl is a great homage to both the classic history and new traditions of the franchise in LA.

The Rams first introduced the classic blue and gold in their second season (they had first adopted the colors of the nearby Fordham Rams, when they were still in Cleveland). However, they did not add the gold horns to the helmet until 1948. Half Back and art graduate Fred Gehrke painted the horns on his helmet with permission from Coach Bob Snyder and owner Dan Reeves. People liked it so much, he painted the horns on the rest of the team’s helmets.

You may notice the current helmets are a darker color than the jerseys. This isn’t a mistake: this uniform combination is technically a throwback (even though it has been in the Rams regular rotation), and the old Rams jerseys did have a darker helmet.

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Thoughts: This bold combination is not only my favorite in the NFL, but will look fantastic against the Patriot’s white background. The uniform not only looks great, but means a lot, with this being the Rams first Super Bowl appearance since the return to LA. If only the Eagle’s had worn throwback Kelly Green’s in the Super Bowl last year.

Overall, this is a great looking Super Bowl, with a crisp silver/white top for the Patriot’s complimenting the beautiful design of the LA Rams throwbacks.

As far as a game prediction? Who knows. Hopefully it’s as good of a show as the uniforms.

Looking for another championship game uniform breakdown? Check out our guide on Villanova vs. Michigan, here:

Best Helmets of the CFB Season So Far:

Football is about a lot of things. Teamwork. Strength. Strategy. But one thing is more important than all: cool helmets. That’s right. It’s great when we see a flashy one handed catch, or a 99-yard kick return, but we all know the reason we tune in every Saturday is to see some dope domes, right?

Okay, maybe not, but we’re still going to make a list of our favorites anyway.

4. Florida State

Image Courtesy of @safid_deen on Twitter

Although the teams performance may not have been as spectacular, these helmets shone during the Seminole’s Monday night match up against Virginia Tech. Or, didn’t shine, because they were matte black. Huge props to the equipment crew; the garnet/black gradient on the helmet was just perfect. These lids capped off a slick black uniform that I was a huge fan of, although many FSU fans believed it cursed the team.

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3. Duke

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

Duke brought back the script helmets that have been featured against UNC and against NIU in the Quick Lane bowl. I can’t get enough of them – in fact I’d be happy if Duke switched to this look full time. After all, Duke used this look from 1978-2003. The chrome lettering looked especially great against the all blue base of the uniform.

2. Hawaii

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Image Courtesy of sbnation.com

Hurricane Lane devastated the Hawaiian islands prior to their first match up against Colorado State, leaving many without power or worse. Hawaii turned this into a rallying cry and paid homage with these beautiful island decals on a black base helmet. Not only did these lids carry significant meaning for the players and their people, but they looked incredible. Even better, Hawaii won the game in a major upset – and haven’t lost since.

1. Tulane

Image Courtesy of @uniswag on Twitter

No other equipment team stood a chance when these bad boys were released. C’mon, what’s not to love about Angry Wave? Tulane has sported similar helmets before, but this was the first with the light blue face mask which really makes the accents on Angry Wave pop. Plus, these domes went with a beautiful blue uniform for the Green Wave.

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Image Courtesy of AmericanAthleticConf on YouTube

Will anyone be able to beat Tulane’s helmet this season? Is there another team that should’ve made this list? Let us know in the comments below!

The Elephant in the Room: How Alabama got ‘Big Al’

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Image Courtesy of etsy.com

Anyone familiar with Alabama football knows that although their athletics nickname is the “Crimson Tide,” their mascot is an elephant. There’s no clear connection between crimson and elephants, nor the “Roll Tide” shout, so how did this come to be?

History

The story starts with Wallace Wade, legendary Alabama coach (as well as a legendary Duke coach, and the namesake of their football stadium). Wade’s 1930 Alabama team was like many others he had coached; menacing and tough. They were known for their strength and blocking abilities.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Following a hard-fought victory over Ole Miss, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal used very imaginative language to describe the sheer power of the Alabama football team:

“Coach Wade started his second team that was plenty big and they went right to their knitting scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against one of the best fighting small lines that I have seen. For Ole Miss was truly battling the big boys for every inch of ground.

At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.

It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

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Image Courtesy of bsnscb.com

“Elephants” wasn’t a team nickname at the time, but it soon became one. Sports writers would refer to the Alabama linemen as the “Red Elephants.” That 1930 team would go on to have an undefeated season, one of Alabama’s claimed national championships.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Alabama informally accepted the moniker. In the 1940’s the University actually kept a live elephant. This elephant would carry the homecoming queen every year. When keeping a live elephant became too expensive, Alabama began renting elephants for homecoming weekend.

Big Al

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Image Courtesy of rolltide.com

The first use of an elephant mascot suit was in 1960, when student Melford Espey Jr. began wearing elephant costume head to games. Espey would go on to become an administrator at the University of Alabama, and Coach Bear Bryant would ask him to don the elephant head for games.

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Image Courtesy of ncaa.com

In 1979, Alabama’s homecoming committee decided they wanted an official mascot suit. They met with Coach Bryant, who approved the idea, and then purchased the first Big Al suit from Disney with athletic department funds. Big Al debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, in which Alabama defeated Arkansas. The actual name “Big Al’ came from a student vote. Al Brown was a popular DJ on campus at the time, and thus was voted in.

Since his formal adoption, Big Al has appeared in many forms as an alternate logo for Alabama. Many incarnations of this are shown throughout this article, with the most recent form below and at the start of this article:

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Image Courtesy of tirecovers.com

Love Big Al? Hate him? Think Aubie is better? Leave your comments below, and check out our last historical branding spotlight here!

Must-Watch Spring Games

While the basketball world is in the depths of March Madness, College Football fans are gearing up for spring games; the slight whiff of fall ball that gets us through the off season (besides of course, frequent and rampant speculation).

Here’s our list of must-watch spring games with details.

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Thoughts on the games? Think we should have included others? Let us know in the comments below.

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!