It's New Year’s Day in Dallas, Texas and the Oregon Ducks just finished playing Colorado in the 1996 Cotton Bowl. The year prior, the Ducks were in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. They were blown out in both games.
After decades of irrelevance, most Duck fans were just happy to see the team end those seasons playing games in the national spotlight.
But for one fan, just playing in big bowl games wasn’t enough. He wanted to see the Ducks win.
That fan is Phil Knight, an Oregon alumnus and the co-founder of Nike.
After the Cotton Bowl loss, Phil Knight approached then head coach Mike Bellotti with two burning questions: What did Bellotti need to start winning and what could Phil Knight do to make it happen.
His goal was to win a national championship in every sport, but certainly football. — Mike Bellotti, Oregon head football coach from 1995-2008
Then, Phil Knight put a different idea on the table — something that would make it more exciting, more visible, more recognizable to athletes across the nation and to that 16-19 age group. Knight was talking about changing the perception of the entire program’s character.
Bellotti/Knight’s approach to overcoming their challenges was three-fold:
1. Facilities — Once we had the facilities that would get the ‘wow factor’ when recruits came to visit or when parents came to visit
2. Uniforms— When they were on the TV they’d pop
3. Winning — Success in bowl games so that it could back up the other two
And thus, the crazy, eccentric, tricked out, statement-maker Oregon football uniforms were created.
They showed me a picture of what looked like Spiderman on steroids with an amazing uniform that was much different than even what you see now. Sort of futuristic, sleek, obviously very recognizable because it was different than anything else out there. -- Mike Bellotti
Spiderman on steroids? That's an interesting way to describe it.
Listen for yourself in The Uniform Craze That Revolutionized College Football, an NBC Sports NW podumentary on the Sports Uncovered podcast series.
I remember the very time we showed it to Phil and he about fell out of his chair. Normally he's pretty stoic about new ideas, new designs. But literally though, when he saw this helmet in this shifting color he just freaked out. -- Tinker Hatfield, Nike shoe designer and creator
That helmet was the dark green coloring that looked like a different shade of green in different circumstances with a bright yellow “O” decal on the sides.
This is where it began, but the evolution of the Oregon uniforms is far from over.