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Blue through the years

PROVO — BYU's football uniforms for 2005 evoke the Victorian Age good-luck adage for brides-to-be: "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue."

The new uniforms boast an old-school look, borrowing from the Cougars' well-recognized design during the LaVell Edwards era. Seemingly the only difference from the 2005 line and the versions worn from the 1970s through the 1990s is the shade of blue.

In other words, dub the Cougars' new duds as "Back to the Future."

Or at least a return to a standard suggesting stability. With three uniform changes the past half-dozen seasons, the Cougars tended to resemble quick-change artists.

"Once you have a symbol that reflects greatness, it should not be changed," said new BYU head football coach Bronco Mendenhall when the Cougars unveiled their new line earlier this spring. "Consistency is key to a lasting tradition."

But outfitting the Cougars has been anything but consistent. The BYU football uniform and accompanying helmet have seen plenty of changes over the past half-century.

Gone now are the tan accents, the UCLA stripes, the piping, the who-knows-what-we're-wearing-this-game combinations — all joining the much-ridiculed "bib" jersey feature as part of BYU's football-fashion past.

Instead, the Cougars are decked out in home uniforms that feature a dark-blue jersey and white pants and reversed road uniforms — white jersey and blue pants. The striping on the jersey sleeves and down the pant legs is what is called the "Northwestern" style, a wide stripe sandwiched between a pair of narrower stripes.

Also returning after a six-season absence is the white helmet, complete with dual-blue striping and the recognizable dark-blue ovals containing the white block "Y." Another encore helmet feature is decals to be distributed to players for outstanding performance — now off the field as much as on the field.

The most noticeable difference between the 2005 "retro" or "throwback" style and the uniforms of the 1970s through 1990s is the color of blue. The current darker blue — officially registered as "BYU Blue" — arrived in 1999, when the university unleased a new logo, new color schemes and wholesale football-uniform changes.

That's when many of the BYU "blue-bloods" cried foul, saying the Cougars shouldn't forsake a "truer" blue for a shade more in line with in-state rival Utah State. Some had hoped BYU might revert back to more royal-blue hues along with the traditional design this year.

When the 2005 versions were unveiled, Edwards weighed in with his dark-blue approval. And Mendenhall added: "By wearing this uniform, we're honoring the tradition of BYU football. By keeping our current colors, we're embracing the future of BYU football."

Since 1999, BYU has been labeled — sometimes with honor, other times with derision — as Nike's "poster child" for oft-altered uniform design. That 1999 season, the uniforms not only featured the darker "BYU Blue" but also tan as a primary accent color in ribbing, piping and striping.

Major changes included a total change in helmet design — a dark blue shell, a tan stripe, a tan oval outline surrounding a white "Y" on the side — and the infamous white "bibs" on the front of the blue home jerseys. The new-look uniform included jersey numbers on top of the shoulders, tan stripes running down the sides of the jerseys and pants and a Cougar-head logo at the "V" neckline.

NCAA rules revisions the following year restricted white on home jerseys to be used only as a number, an outline, on a neck brace or part of a school logo. It was good-bye to the BYU bibs.

Another tweak for 2000: Jersey numbers were trimmed in tan, which also was used for ribbing under the arm to the side of the neckline. Road whites featured identical blue ribbing and stripes.

Last year, Nike seemed to go "Garanimals" as the Cougars' four possible uniform combinations mimicked the mix-and-match line of children's clothes. At home, the Cougars could wear blue jerseys and blue pants or blue jerseys and white pants, while road options were white-on-blue or white-on-white.

Gone were the jersey ribbing, side stripes and Cougar neckline logo, as jersey numbers moved from the shoulder to sleeve and shoulders instead sported a UCLA-stripe pattern. A small oval-and-Y logo took over at the neckline, while pants included a block-letter "BYU" logo above the left thigh and three stripes — two wider tan ones sandwiching a blue one — running down the leg.

Altering the attire isn't a recent Cougar phenomenon, nor is the different shades of home-jersey blue for BYU.

One needs only to make a visit to the university's Legacy Hall in the new Student Athlete Center and look at the gear donated by Cougar football players. Displays of jerseys ranging from Marion Probert in the 1950s and Eldon Fortie and Marc Lyons from the 1960s to a host of standouts from the 1980s and 1990s through the early 2000s show the variations of colors and hues as well as materials and mesh.

The blue used as the predominant color in home jerseys has transformed, from a Prussian blue in early years to the royal blue of the second half of the 20th century to the "BYU Blue" of late.

Just as evident of change is the helmet, a high-profile focal point.

In the early 1950s, the Cougars wore a white helmet with a single blue stripe, changing to a solid silver helmet with no stripes, numbers or logos for the second half of the 1950s and through the 1960 season. By the early 1960s, that "single blue stripe" had become a wide banner of blue that essentially spanned the top width of the boxish helmets, and from 1961 to 1963, blue player numbers were added to the sides of the silver helmets.

Starting in 1964, BYU helmets were solid blue; in 1966, a blue "Y" inside a white oval was added to the helmet sides.

In 1969, the helmet colors were inverted — a white helmet, a blue oval and a white "Y." That year, the Cougars were like many other NCAA teams commemorating a century of college football, with BYU players sporting a blue football silhouette with a white "100" inside on the left side of the helmet.

When Edwards won his first of 19 conference titles in 1974, Cougar players were wearing what fans three decades later would label as BYU's "traditional" uniform, seemingly standing and never-changing for the next quarter-century — but not quite so.

One difference back from the early 1970s: jersey numbers were on the arm sleeves just above the Northwestern-style stripes, while sleeve stripes were absent on road uniforms in some mid-'70s seasons.

The Cougar helmet came into the spotlight in 1978, and not just for the start of the "Cougar-head" decals awarded by coaches to players for big plays or major contributions. They replaced the football-shaped stickers used previously.

At the start of that season, the Cougars swapped the blue-oval-and-white-Y logo for a solid-blue "Y" on the sides of the white helmets. But when the football team dropped four games — the most in several seasons — BYU reverted to the white "Y" inside the blue oval that served as its icon logo for the next 20 years.

Also late in the 1970s, the Northwestern pattern was replaced by two stripes and the player's number on the sleeve. But by the early 1980s, the numbers were gone and the Northwestern stripes returned, moving higher up toward the shoulder.

As for the pants, a dual-stripe pattern down the side was common through 1990, with a small BYU/Cougar logo added on the side of the hips for 1984 and 1985.

The 1990s were a decade of change for the Cougar uniform, beginning with considerably wider pants stripes the first several seasons.

Black first arrived as an "accent" color in 1993, even more prominently the next year as a drop-back color that created a three-dimensional effect to the jersey numbers and other uniform elements. Although the NCAA originally denied the move, BYU successfully appealed, forging an accenter-color scheme since adopted by many other schools.

In 1994, the sleeves featured a dual-stripe pattern, with a large, white "Y" imposed overtop, while a conference-logo shoulder patch made its first annual appearance.

Also that season, the players voted to discontinue the use of helmet stickers, a source of discord since the honors favored the skill-position players and hindered team unity.

After wearing jerseys manufactured first by Russell and later Champion, Nike became the BYU outfitters in 1996, with its trademark "swoosh" first featured on a shoulder front. After spending a couple of seasons on the pants, the Nike logo eventually ended up in both locations by 1999.

The 1996 season was when Cougar pants went stripeless for the next several seasons.

The Cougars looked more black-and-blue in 1998, with the blue two-stripe helmet pattern replaced by two black stripes straddling a blue stripe and the blue-oval side logo accented with a heavy black outline.

Then came the onslaught of changes in 1999, 2000, 2004 and now 2005.

And there you have it for the 2005 line of BYU football uniforms — something old (the general design), something new (Northwestern pants stripes, never used before below the waist by the Cougars), something borrowed (the sense of tradition) and something blue (the still-debated, darker hue).


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com