When most of us think of what a Kansas football should look like, blue is the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, the nickname "Big Blue" didn’t come out of thin air, but you’d be surprised at some of the inconsistencies and cosmetic changes that Kansas football has endured from an aesthetic point of view over the years. For the sake of ease, I have focused my attention on KU’s bowl teams in the modern era, and after a bit of research, it was easy to see that Kansas has struggled to maintain a consistent look over the years, an inconsistent look they continue to this day and one that will be the focus of future columns. The bowl games are just frequent enough to provide a pretty nice sample size. Here is the first portion of my analysis featuring games between 1961 and 1981.
1961 Bluebonnet Bowl
Sure, most of the photo evidence of this game is black and white, but even without color, these uniforms are winners. These are the uniforms that the 2011 team wore as throwbacks to the 1961 season when they wore light blue, but if they truly threw back to that season, they got a few things wrong. First, Kansas wore light blue helmets that season and not the white ones featured in the throwbacks. KU later showed a light blue helmet in 2013 that was a more accurate depiction of the 1961 version although I don’t recall these seeing any action on the field. Also, KU wore white over light blue in that game and the 2011 team went light blue over white. Perhaps they were commemorating the team by wearing the home jersey at home and not the road jersey worn by the Bluebonnet Bowl champs.
Uniform Highlights: Number on the helmet, red numbers on the chest and back
Overall Grade: B+
1969 Orange Bowl
By this time, Kansas had transitioned from light blue to navy blue, but as the road team in this bowl, the only blue seen on the uniform was the helmet and numbers. Kansas wore a navy blue helmet with no decal or stripe, and had a plain white jersey with two small sleeve stripes. The light grey (silver?) pants were stripe-less as well. Nothing to complain about from an aesthetic standpoint, but some would call these uniforms boring. The home blues would spruce things up a bit, but there’s nothing here that really says "Kansas" in my opinion other than the use of blue.
Uniform Highlights: Traditional look. I love the two red sleeve stripes and think they save it from being a really boring set.
Overall Grade: B-
1973 Liberty Bowl
Finally, someone decided to add some flair to the Kansas set. For the third time in a row, KU is the selected road team at the bowl, but this time, they bring a truly unique look (as far as KU football uniforms go) to the table and one that I wished they chose for a throw back in 2013 as a 30-year throwback. Where to start? Well, how about the Jayhawk on the helmet. Always a good choice. It’s an iconic logo, one that is immediately identifiable with the University of Kansas, and one that should have never left the football helmets in my opinion. But as great as the Jayhawk on the helmet is, the unique shoulder yokes take the cake on this one. Look at how they completely cover the shoulders hockey-style and take over the entire sleeve. The white numbers on the sleeves pop. They look great. I looked up the home blues in 1973 and disappointingly found no shoulder yokes. But in all the photos that I found, QB David Jaynes had no Jayhawk on the right side of his helmet while the rest of the team appeared to have the proper decals on the right side. Weird right?
Uniform Highlights: Shoulders, Jayhawk on the helmet
Overall Grade: A-
1975 Sun Bowl
Unlike baseball, football stayed pretty conservative in the 1970’s, and Kansas maintained that trend with a solid look in the 1975 Sun Bowl. All the essentials are there: home blues for the first time in a modern bowl, Jayhawk of the helmet, and solid striping on the pants. Honestly, Kansas could come out every game at Memorial Stadium this fall looking like this and I’d be satisfied. My only complaint is that the blue is too dark. Make the blue a true KU blue and I think we have solved our uniform woes. No need for 5 million flashy uniform combinations when you can look like this every week.
Uniform Highlights: Everything but the navy blue
Overall Grade: A-
1981 Hall of Fame Bowl
Stripes, stripes, and more stripes! Now while these aren’t perfect, they include stripes in all the right places. I especially like the helmet stripes. You can’t go wrong with the thin red and white stripes flanking the thicker blue middle stripe. Combine that with the Jayhawk on the helmet, and you’ve got yourself a mighty fine looking lid. While we’re at it, the sleeve stripes (remember when football uniforms had sleeves?) are pretty sharp as well. My only criticism after seeing brief highlights of the game is the shade of blue. It’s just a little off, but otherwise a solid effort.
Uniform Highlights: Stripes
Overall Grade: A-
Overall, pretty sound from an aesthetic point of view. Next week we take a look at the bowl teams from 1992 to 2009. Can they score as high as these? Thoughts, opinions, agreements, and disagreements are always welcome in the comments section.