Free-Sprited Oregon Football Team Wears What Nike Gives It To Wear

In the New York Times Magazine this past weekend, Michael Sokolove wrote about the No. 1 Oregon Ducks football team and its unstoppable high-speed spread offense. As is usual in such stories, the writer tried to make the case that the tactical innovation has some greater cultural resonance—Oregon football, Sokolove wrote, is “goofy” and a bit “out of the mainstream,” with a “lightness” about it:

There’s the matter of the nickname — the Ducks. And the uniforms. Oregon’s colors are green and yellow (the squad sometimes looks as if it dressed from the bottom bin of an Army surplus store), but the numerous possible uniform ensembles mix in so many grays, blacks and whites in various shades that the Ducks rarely wear the exact scheme twice in the same season. They broke out silver shoes for the first time in a game earlier this season at U.S.C. (It helps that Oregon has the ultimate benefactor and outfitter in Nike’s founder, Phil Knight, a graduate of the university who rarely misses a game, home or away.)

“Helps” is both an understatement and a strange bit of misdirection: Oregon wears multiple wacky uniform combinations because it has agreed to act as Nike’s experimental uniform-design marketing vanguard . The Ducks aren’t dressing from the bottom of an Army-surplus bin; they’re dressing from the top of the Nike gear catalog. Those silver shoes? Special edition Nike Zoom Vapor Carbon TD cleats . The jerseys? Nike Pro Combat .

So the Ducks are nonconformist the way Andre Agassi’s hair weave was nonconformist: because their nonconformity serves the marketing needs of a behemoth global corporation. Yes, Oregon lacks what Sokolove calls the “solemnity” of a program like Ohio State or Alabama. When it comes to the uniforms, what that means is that the Ducks have no institutional pride or traditions to prevent them from moving the Overton window for Nike’s latest ugly jive-ass football-pajamas .