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Duke football joins the trend of adding black helmets

The Duke football team unveiled two new sets of helmets, black and blue ones, this summer. The Blue Devils first wore black uniforms last season.
The Duke football team unveiled two new sets of helmets, black and blue ones, this summer. The Blue Devils first wore black uniforms last season.

Blue is our color, and black is our other color. At least, that is the message of the Duke football team.

The Blue Devils unveiled two new helmets for the upcoming season, adding a black and a blue helmet to their existing white lid. Last season, the team wore black uniforms for the first time in its history, in its season-opening loss to Richmond. But there were no black helmets to accompany the new jerseys.

“Nobody is going to accuse them of looking like the [Indianapolis] Colts anymore,” said Paul Lukas, an ESPN columnist who analyzes sports uniforms. “Duke basically has the same uniform as the Colts and the white helmet definitely reinforces that notion.”

Although the team plans to wear an all-black outfit at least once this season, it will not be in this year’s Sept. 1 opener against Florida International, head football equipment manager Wes Pickell said. Head coach David Cutcliffe, though, gets the final say on which uniforms will be worn for a game.

The team knew that it wanted a black matte-finish helmet option, and discussions with supplier Nike began in January. The final selection for the blue helmet came from four samples provided by Nike. Duke meets with Nike, which has a contract through 2018 to sponsor the athletic apparel for all 26 Blue Devil athletic teams, annually to discuss uniforms, and the design process is a collaborative one, Pickell said.

Beyond the aesthetic value, different sets of uniforms play a role in attracting recruits, Lukas and Pickell said.

“We put them out in January for our recruits to see, and you could already tell the difference in the way they were viewing Duke football,” Pickell said.

Although Duke’s official colors are blue and white, black has become an unofficial third color for the Blue Devils, with many of the varsity uniforms featuring black. This trend has been seen not just at Duke but across the entire sporting world, something Lukas referred to as “BFBS”—black for black’s sake.

“It just seems like this default thing a lot of teams do,” Lukas said. “When in doubt, do a black uniform or black helmet. The matte finish is definitely a big trend right now.”

But Duke’s football threads have not been in vogue for some time. The program has been behind the fashion curve when it comes to adopting the latest in uniform trends.

“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?” Lukas said. “They’re at the tail end of the trend.”

With Duke basketball, on the other hand, the Blue Devils are at the forefront of uniform innovation. Last January, Nike provided its new “platinum” line of grey uniforms to the nine teams—seven men’s and two women’s—who had won national championships under Nike sponsorship.

The football team, though, has not reached a bowl game since 1994, and so is not typically a prime target for the merchandise giant’s latest and greatest in football attire. Lukas said that grey uniforms are also the newest fad on the gridiron.

“That’s the difference—Duke is in the vanguard of teams with basketball,” Lukas said. “But for football, they’re not at the head of the class. It’s really interesting, actually, the split athletic personalties of those two sports at Duke.”

Pickell, though, does not see the same class division between basketball and football. But he understands how the success of a team can factor into those decisions for an outfitter such as Nike. “They’re one of the top two or three programs in the country for basketball,” Pickell said. “We’re not at that level, but we aspire to be at that level.”

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