Trailers for the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot take me back almost 25 years, to a time when I was fixated not on teenagers and early 20-somethings playing football, but rather teenagers whose DNA was spliced with that of turtles.
Like every child of the early ’90s, I was TMNT-obsessed. I cringe reminiscing about the sheer volume of Nina Turtles paraphernalia I owned. For the amount of money my parents spent satiating my want for Ninja Turtles action figures and accessories, they could have sent me to a prestigious university–on Mars.
Alas, we were no different than millions of other American families, whose hard-earned dollars were spent propping up an economy based solely on kids bugging their parents to plop down $10 to $100 for the manufactured facsimile of whichever character/vehicle/lair debuted on the cartoon.
Every Turtles fan remembers the core group: Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael; April O’Neil and Master Splinter; and a rogues gallery of Shredder; the oafish henchman Bebop and Rocksteady; a seemingly endless parade of foot soldiers, the ninja version of Star Wars’ storm troopers; and Krang the Brain.
Children are fickle. Maintaining a captive audience–ergo, a captive consumer-base–the cartoon spit out one new villain or sidekick after another.
More than two decades later, I’ve realized the seemingly daily headlines announcing yet another program is introducing another alternative uniform are college football’s parallel to the cartoon/toy world’s endless stream of new characters.
As I discussed when Oklahoma debuted alternates earlier this month, the audience that football programs are trying to keep captivated are their players and recruits. Some fans grumble with the reveal of alternates–much like our parents undoubtedly grumbled while borrowing from our college funds to buy the Ninja Turtles’ Party Wagon.
For a more recent indication of the general opinion on alternates, a Twitter search for the phrase “UCLA uniforms” elicits a truckload of snark and bad jokes.
— Greg Smith (@GregSmithBSO) July 16, 2014
Sometimes, a new uniform feels more like a desperate attempt to gain some positive attention than anything else–much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles introducing lame bit players like Panda Khan or Ace Duck.
Another Duck mastered the art of regularly trotting out new features without it harming the original brand.
Oregon Ducks football brass made a savvy decision when it embraced the unique and alternative uniform concept in the early 2000s. Through its partnership with Nike, the Ducks abandoned the tried-and-true yellow helmet and green jersey worn for much of the program’s existence, unveiling a neon-and-black look in Joey Harrington’s 2001 Heisman campaign.
Oregon is Pokemon. The children’s game maintained its relevance in the U.S. for almost two decades now because it ensured it could never grow stale. It did so in the same manner other as popular children’s cartoons: introducing new characters.
But while Ninja Turtles and He-Man’s regular array of new villains and sidekicks eventually wore on consumers as gimmicky, Pokemon built adding new characters into its identity: “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!”
Likewise, every time the Ducks take the field in something new–diamond-plating, duck wings, bright pink for breast cancer awareness–it’s as if Phil Knight is rolling out a new Pokeball.
Adam Kramer wrote a feature on this very topic–Oregon’s uniforms, not Pokemon–that’s well worth your time.
For those who doubt the power of uniforms, look no further than highly touted 2015 recruit Marvell Tell’s explanation of his interest in Oregon, per The Oregonian:
“It’s probably the same thing with everybody. It’s the uniforms.”
Now, there has to be substance behind the uniforms. In that same 2001 season when Oregon sported its first cutting edge look, the Ducks won the Pac-10 and Fiesta Bowl. They went on to win another three league championships in the ensuing decade and played for a national championship.
What’s the point of looking good in your gear, but not looking good on the scoreboard? Otherwise, you’re just the producers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, aimlessly throwing out a new character assuming the audience will bite. Or you’re Michigan in those bad Outback Bowl duds.