The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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New turf, new coach — now, new look

Tradition plays, significant role in football uniform, helmet re-do

After never winning a Super Bowl championship in their 44-year history, the Denver Broncos changed the design of their uniforms. They won back-to-back titles the next two years at Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII.

Now, amidst this ever-developing era of SMU football, which has seen the introduction of a new stadium and a new head coach, the Mustangs hope to usher in a new attitude with their freshly redesigned uniforms. Hopefully, the new design will invoke some of the excitement around campus and the Dallas-area that the program has been trying to rebuild.

“We’re changing the perception of who we are,” says Mustangs’ head coach Phil Bennett. “Although the white helmets were not bad looking at all, we were looking for a new identity.”

This new identity is crowned with new navy blue helmets with a matching navy facemask, a red stripe down the middle and the distinct red, running Mustang decal on the side. This is a dramatic change from the white helmets that the Mustangs have worn for more than 25 years. The white helmets, which are usually compared to the University of Arizona’s helmets, will be replaced by ones similar in design to the University of Mississippi.

The new gray pants are also similar to those of Ole Miss. Solid red armbands and collars finish off the navy blue jerseys, and NFL-style, white and blue socks complete the look.

“I talked to people with the Denver Broncos, and at Tampa Bay in the NFL about their uniform changes and both of these teams have had success after changing uniform design.” Bennett said.

Bennett says he also contacted the University of Pittsburgh, which also recently changed uniform styles. Pittsburgh made the switch from its traditional cream-corn yellow helmets with “Pitt” written in blue cursive to a gold helmet with an intimidating navy blue panther decal on the sides. Intimidation is one factor that SMU hopes to add with its new look.

“The new look is sinister, which is what we’re going for,” Bennett said. “We want to look tough.”

There is a trend within college football that is shifting towards this assertive style.

The TCU Horned Frogs, who changed their uniform look in 1998, incorporated solid black pants with their purple and silver uniform design. Their helmets also changed from silver to dark purple with the “roaring” horned frog decal on the side.

“Navy blue is a strong color,” said Associate Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron. “The emphasis is on the navy blue, while still keeping the running pony on the side. That is one thing we knew couldn’t change. The Mustang is one of the most recognizable symbols around, and with the Mustang on the side, you have to play with pride.”

Heilbron’s sentiments are similar to those of equipment manager Ed Davidson. Davidson agrees that the uniforms have obvious similarities to Ole Miss. While he claims that the white helmets were “some of the best in the NCAA”, he also says that he feels the same about the new navy blue ones: “Red, white, and blue… you just can’t miss with our color scheme.”

The helmet colors were a cause of concern. People wondered if the solid red Mustang decal would stand out against the helmet’s navy blue background enough to be seen from the stands. After trying the decal with a white outline around it, Davidson says it was clear that there was no question that the solid decal gave the helmet a clean, tough look.

“Coach likes a clean look,” Davidson said.

Clean is only one of many ways the uniforms have been described.

“They’re tight,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Melvin Williams said. “The old uniforms said ‘Southern Methodist University’. They were nice, but kind of plain,” he says, “the new uniforms say ‘S-M-U’, straight up, right to the point.”

Williams’ feelings towards the change are echoed by many of his teammates.

“The change helps us all get in our heads that we’re getting a fresh look on everything, and reminds us that we’re building from the ground up,” says junior offensive tackle Eric Neal.

D.D. Johnson, a junior outside linebacker, recently modeled the uniforms at an unveiling ceremony for the Mustang Club, an alumni group.

“[The uniforms] felt good,” Johnson said. “The jersey fit tight, which is more pro-style, and the socks and pants also felt more pro.”

About 150 Mustang Club members attended the unveiling ceremony, including President Tom Yenne. Yenne says the atmosphere at the ceremony was positive, full and excited. He personally approves of the change.

“The new look is a tougher, meaner look, more modern, I guess. It is tough to mess with tradition, but I think this uniform still keeps a traditional look. Coach Bennett has done a great job in taking elements of history [such as the pony] and put his own stamp on it,” Yenne said. “Coach played against SMU in the 1970s, so I think he’s trying to incorporate some of the tradition and history he remembers.”

Yenne, a 1974 SMU graduate, is no stranger to changes in SMU uniforms. From 1967 to 1972, SMU wore silver pants, a blue jersey and red helmets with a pony on it. These red helmets had been the traditional look for the Mustangs since the program began in 1915. This changed in 1973 when head coach Dave Smith came from Oklahoma State and dressed the team in red jerseys and silver helmets. This look was not well accepted; it was different from anything ever seen at SMU, and far from traditional.

“The ‘Ohio State’ look was terrible,” Yenne said.

The silver helmets only lasted until 1976, when then-head coach Ron Meyer ushered in the classic white helmet that Mustang football has worn ever since with only slight variations in facemask color and stripe patterns down the center. Before the Meyer era, SMU had only worn white helmets once; in 1960 and 1961 at home games.

To the latest generation of pony fans, the white helmet with running mustangs has become a signature of SMU football. Only one other time have the uniforms drastically been changed. In 1999 when then-coach Mike Cavan let his senior class decide on the style. The players went for a red uniform similar to the current New York Jets look. The non-traditional look did not go over well and the team soon reverted back to blue uniforms.

The newest change is clearly going over much better, with the 2003 season marking the first time in history the team will wear blue helmets. With the new, clean look, SMU hopes to clear its slate of recent history and begin a new winning tradition, one in which students, players and alumni can take pride. The football program has been working to regain this sense of spirit on the Hilltop since the NCAA handed down the death penalty to the program in 1987.

In the 17 years since the setback, SMU has only won 42 games.

“It’s time to get this thing turned around,” says sophomore quarterback Tate Wallis. Wallis, who split time with fellow sophomore and good friend Richard Bartel, encourages people to come see the new uniforms in action this fall. “We’re a new team, with a new coach, and now, a new look,” he says.

It has been hard renewing the tradition and pride back into SMU’s football program, and although new uniforms may only be a part of it, the bigger picture may be getting clearer.

“New uniforms, a new look, it’s only a piece of the puzzle, and part of the overall plan to instill a new feeling into the program,” Yenne said.

With a solid recruiting class coming in, and a positive buzz around campus about next year, it appears the pieces are falling into place.

For more SMU football helmet/uniform history, visit http://swchelmets.tripod.com/smu.html. For a look at the new uniforms visit www.smumustangs.com/football/2003/uniforms.asp.

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