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October 5, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Football has turned into a fashion statement

MORGANTOWN — I don’t get it.

West Virginia University plays a football game at Baylor tonight, a big game.

For Baylor, it’s the Bears’ Big 12 opener, just their second game in almost a month, their first against a real football team … and it seems like they are almost as excited about the helmets they are going to wear.

Must be because they are safer helmets than other teams wear, right? After all, that is the reason for wearing a helmet.

But no, that’s not the reason.

They are chrome helmets.

That’s right, chrome, like a car’s bumper.

But let’s listen in to the Baylor players’ press meeting this week.

First, blame the reporter who asked about wearing chrome helmets, but someone did, and this is how quarterback Bryce Petty responded.

“Bring the bling. I think that is what they are saying. It will be alive. I am excited for our guys. One game in 27 days. We are ready to go again.”

Remember, it was a big, big deal a couple of weeks ago when Maryland wore hand-painted helmets.

That they were ugly didn’t matter. It was simply a case of “Bring the bling.”

See, football has turned into a fashion statement, even if they do get carried away to the point that last week WVU went out there looking like a bunch of bananas in all gold for a “Gold Rush.”

Wear gold, they tell their fans, and if you don’t happen to have a gold jersey, they’ll gladly sell you one. And if you can’t spring for a gold game jersey which can run a college student or a new graduate a nice chunk of change, they’ll sell you a gold T-shirt.

It’s become part of the world of college football, this “uniformania.”

“We were talking about this in the weight room yesterday, about motivation external and internal motivation,” Petty said during the Baylor press conference. “You always want to look good. It’s that saying, ‘Look good, feel good, play good.’ It always helps to spice it up if you will. Does it affect us going out there and playing harder because we are wearing chrome helmets? No. But it does add to the atmosphere and the hype for us going out to know we look good so let’s play good.”

I, and those who are familiar with my wardrobe, know that I have never exactly believed clothes make the man, especially in sports apparel. Maybe it goes back to the JV baseball uniforms from high school, which were hand-me-downs from the varsity and aptly named “The Fishnets” because of the many holes in them.

In truth, there was a time in sports when if you had a team win a game wearing a certain uniform the coach would never let you change for fear of changing his luck. There have been hitters in baseball who have gone on 30-game hitting streaks and refused to change their underwear for that month … maybe even wash it.

Ugh.

Today, though, it’s bring the bling. Probably dates back to the Pirates in the 1970s, who were the first team to really have mix-and-match uniforms, known more for their originality than their beauty.

And in college football it was Oregon, through its Nike ties, that pushed the envelope to the point that at times it got so absurd that if it had been a letter the postman might have refused to deliver it.

There are those who believe the mix-and-match uniforms are simply to increase jersey sales to the public, but, in truth, reports point out that schools do not make as much money off jersey sales as you would think.

ESPN noted that last year Texas A&M, with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, took down only $59,690 in jersey-sales revenue.

In fact, jersey sales accounted for just 1.53 percent of Texas A&M’s licensing revenue last fiscal year. Out of the total of $3.9 million, the largest source of revenue was $750,000 in men’s T-shirt sales.

The article also noted that Wisconsin, whose licensing revenues also totaled $3.9 million, says just 1.23 percent, or $47,437, of its licensing revenue last year was derived from jersey sales, and our own West Virginia says $56,728 of its licensing revenue last year came from jersey sales, 1.62 percent of its $3.3 million total licensing revenue.

And WVU was selling Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey jerseys last year.

The thing is, we’ve reached a point in time when we just have to accept that they will continue to “bring the bling,” but somehow it’s hard to believe that Sam Huff, Jerry West or Major Harris would have played any better in fancier uniforms.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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