Extra Points: Southern Sophistication

Extra Points: Southern Sophistication

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By Lee Pace, GoHeels.com

Somewhere across the landscape of college football—between the bland, one-color looks and the peacock approach of multiple psychedelics— there lies a balance of aesthetics, tradition and dynamic appeal that can satisfy all elements of college football's universe. The grizzled septuagenarian can sign off from Section 210 and the teen-aged linebacker feels cool pulling the jersey over his shoulder pads.

That's much of what Carolina's unveiling of its new football uniform package is all about. The idea is to combine its traditional and recognizable Carolina blue color and interlocking NC logo that appeal to the traditionalist with cutting-edge design and bold elements that are stock in trade of teens and generations X and Y.  

New to the threads the Tar Heels will don when they face South Carolina in Charlotte on Sept. 3 is the argyle pattern that renowned fashion designer Alexander Julian introduced to Tar Heel basketball in the early 1990s. Still a part of the uniform as it has been over the last three years is the color black, which has historical ties to the state dating to the Civil War.

And of course—there's Carolina blue, white and a long-standing logo that dates back more than a century.

“The colors, the argyle, the NC logo—they're all classic, heritage-driven and own-able by the school,” says Kristy Lauzonis, a football graphic designer for Nike and the point person on the Tar Heels' new football uniform. “Those elements are highly unique and recognizable. Carolina is the only school where you literally have a color named after your university. There is so much southern sophistication where Carolina is concerned and that's reflected in the uniform.”

The uniform palette includes jerseys and pants in white, Carolina blue and black, with the sides of the pants and the jersey collar adorned with an argyle pattern of five diamonds hollowed out in the garment's base color against four diamonds in a contrasting color. The interlocking NC is the focal point of the helmet and is also positioned above the right thigh at the top of the pants. No longer is navy blue a part of the base uniform, and black can be worn on a limited basis for special games.

“The argyle is the biggest change,” receiver Mack Hollins says. “Before, the basketball team was the only ones wearing argyle. I remember talk in our locker room, 'Why can't we have the argyle too?' Now a year later, we see the change happen, and all the guys love it.

“The black is good to have has an alternate. The guys who played here in the past love their traditional blue and white. The newer crowd likes the black. So it helps both eras.”

Fellow receiver Kendrick Singleton modeled the new uniforms and said the look and feel is outstanding.

“The uniforms couldn't have been done better, and I think everyone on the team feels that way,” he says.

Lauzonis spent considerable time at the outset of the project 18 months ago doing historical research of the state, the institution and the Tar Heels' overall athletic program and, of course, its football heritage. The results of those efforts found their way into what the Tar Heels will wear next fall.

“Every time we get into a design project, we like to delve into the history and try to understand the culture of the program,” she says. “The more you can dig up and deeper you can go helps. We want to bring history to light in a modern interpretation of the program.”

Take the number 45, for example. Lauzonis found it interesting that Carl Snavely returned to Chapel Hill for his second coaching stint in 1945 and proceeded to lead Charlie Justice and his World War II veteran teammates to heights the program had never seen before. Photographs showing Snavely's sartorial displays on the sidelines were duly noted. Lauzonis also read where Michael Jordan's favorite number as a kid was 45—but that number was taken by his older brother, so Michael halved 45 and rounded it up to get the ubiquitous 23 he wore to stardom in Chapel Hill and then Chicago in the NBA.

Ergo the argyle pattern on the sides of the pants is comprised of four diamonds of one color, five of the other.

Nike's staff also connected the Tar Heel state's tough and resolute demeanor in the Civil War with the black elements of the uniforms.

“The Tar Heel story goes back to Robert E. Lee saying, 'God bless those Tar Heel boys,'” Lauzonis says. “How could we pay homage to the idea of sticking in your heels and never losing the battle front? Carolina has been a defensive powerhouse over the years. Lawrence Taylor was one of the greatest players in the history of football. You already have Jordan in basketball. That's why the black color works—it ties directly into the word 'tar.'”

And though the argyle was introduced to Carolina uniforms through basketball, it's enough of an identifier with all of the Tar Heels' sports that Nike designers believed it was time to spread the look. Football players will be the first to wear the argyle look beyond the basketball team. 

“To me the argyle is such a unique part of the heritage, it's something that can be owned by North Carolina and no one else has,” Lauzonis says. “The southern sophistication and style really comes into play in the treatment of the collar, the embroidery, the argyle into the collar piece. They speak to the local community and Snavely and Julian and his attention to detail and the elevated level of men's wear he's made.”

Styles come and go, tastes evolve, technology makes quantum leaps with fabrics and manufacturing. Imagine wearing navy blue cotton jerseys under a hot summer sun as the Tar Heels did at Texas in 1947 (no wonder they lost, 34-0). By 2008 they were wearing a wicking/mesh fabric cut to skin-tight dimensions—all the better to let air circulate, sweat evaporate and opponents hands slip off.  

The Tar Heels wore two-tone leather helmets back in the Snavely era and their first helmet design was a ram's horn courtesy of coach George Barclay in the early 1950s. Jim Hickey favored a clean, white look in the 1960s with white pants and helmets, but his successor, Bill Dooley, scoffed and said, “Good guys wear white hats” and promptly switched the helmets to as dark a shade of light blue as he could get away with. Dick Crum wanted to separate football from the rest of the sports and designed a “stair-step” UNC logo that graced his team's helmets in the 1980s, and Mack Brown reverted back to the traditional interlocking NC in 1988.

Now all 28 Tar Heel sports will wear the same PMS 542 color, have the same custom font named “Carolina Bold” and display a logo newly stylized for geometry, scale and balance.

“I think it's good that every team will have a consistent look,” Hollins says. “In recent years, you've had football with one look and basketball another look and baseball another look. Now we're all on the same page. It helps the brand equity for everyone to be in the same uniform. Even when you see the lettering, you say, 'That's Carolina lettering.' We've gone past just the color being the main thing people notice.”

Lauzonis speaks of the process of designing uniforms that appeal to alumni, fans, students and even recruits and the modern “arms race” that the uniform business has become.

“I think sometimes people go overboard in trying to bring flash,” she says. “But if it's not based on anything, I think it misses the mark. What Carolina has is a look that is simple and clean, and everything has meaning.”

Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace (leepace7@gmail.com) in his 25th year writing “Extra Points” and 11th reporting from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network. His unique look at Tar Heel football appear regularly throughout the year. Follow him on Twitter @LeePaceTweet.

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