Blue is our color, and black is our other color.
At least, that seems to be the message--the Duke football team unveiled two new helmets for the upcoming season this week, adding a black helmet and a blue helmet to supplement Duke's primary helmet, which is mostly white. This comes after the Blue Devils wore new black uniforms for the first time last season, donning them in their season-opening loss to Richmond.
For a better perspective on the uniforms, The Chronicle spoke with Paul Lukas, who writes the Uni Watch column dedicated to uniform design in sports for ESPN.com. Lukas' work can also be found on his website at his website Uni Watch.
The Chronicle: What was your first reaction to seeing the helmets?
Paul Lukas: My first reaction was nobody is going to accuse them of looking like the Colts anymore.
TC: That is something people have talked about uniform-wise in the past?
PL: It’s that Duke basically has the same uniform as the Indianapolis Colts and the white helmet definitely reinforces that notion. Personally, I like the blue helmet. I don’t know if I like it better than the white helmet, but I like it. And the black helmet is not really working for me. I assume it’s going to be paired with the black uniform.
TC: The same black uniforms they wore in their season opening loss to Richmond last year.
PL: Duke football is obviously in a tough position because it’s a basketball school…. I’m sure from a recruiting standpoint, if you’re a football prospect, you’re thinking, ‘Why do I want to go to a basketball school?’ And that’s part of what these helmets are about for recruits and all of that. And I realize that’s part of the challenge Duke faces.
TC: Different uniform sets are something schools and recruits talk about a lot?
PL: Absolutely. Schools make all sorts of prototypes and experiment all the time, that never end up seeing the light of day on the field, and they have no intention of wearing on the field. But they show [them] to recruits and will say, ‘Well, here’s some stuff we’re experimenting with,’ or ‘Here’s some things we’re trying out or thinking about,’ and kind of wave that in front of the recruit’s eyes to change the person’s initial impression, especially at a place with a very traditional uniform like Duke. They’re trying to say ‘Don’t think we’re this stuffy, old, traditional thing. Look at the stuff we’re toying around with.’
It’s tough when you’re trying to appeal to 17-year-olds. And then on the other end you’ve got your boosters and you’re long-time fans in the community that you want to appeal to. So it’s a balancing act. If you follow college football, you can see where the balance is starting to fall. More schools are going to the 17-year-olds than the boosters, at least in aesthetic terms.
TC: It seems as if these black helmets with the matte finishes are something we’re seeing more and more--how does Duke fit in with that trend?
PL The matte finish is definitely a big trend right now. Black, obviously has been for a very long time. It does seem like a shame—why would any team want to be the 40th school to try something, as opposed to the first or the second? On the one hand, it seems like Duke is saying, ‘Look, we’re getting there.’ But on the other hand, people would say by the time you get there, everybody else has gone someplace else. They’re at the tail end of the trend.
This is sort of the challenge you face with a football program like Duke’s. They’re not going to be the school that Nike goes to, or any outfitter is going to come to, and say, ‘We’ve got this new innovation and we want to showcase it with you.’ Certain schools have that status and Duke does not with football.
TC: And we’re seeing black more and more at Duke in the basketball and football uniforms.
PL: Uniform fans, and those of us who talk about those things, we call it BFBS--black for black sake. It just seems like this default thing a lot of teams do. When in doubt, do a black uniform or black helmet….
Black, I get. It’s cool. It looks bad-ass. It has a lot of history in a lot of different contexts as a kick-ass color.