SEATTLE, July 1: It’s a gorgeous sunny Monday in the Emerald City. There’s a big purple crate sitting on a big purple barge floating on Lake Washington, just a quick stroll down the path from Husky Stadium. And Husky Nation’s biggest stars are mulling about: former UW and current NFL players Desmond Trufant (2013 first-round draft pick, Atlanta Falcons), Myles Gaskin (2019 seventh-round draft pick, Miami Dolphins), and Byron Murphy (2019 second-round draft pick, Arizona Cardinals). On the cusp of a massive 10-year deal between adidas and their alma mater, they’re here with members of the 2019 roster to see the unveiling of their new football uniforms — and to see, frankly, if adidas got it right.
Trufant is standing next to the purple crate, and he’s as curious as everyone else here. “I haven’t seen ‘em yet! I’m excited to see what they look like.”
It’s no surprise that a VIP event of this kind would attract so many Husky players and boosters who remember their history — especially the glory days of 1991, when UW won the coaches’ poll for a share of the national title. This is a town where everyone has an opinion, from the Gen Z first-year class to the Boomer boosters. Eighty percent of UW alums live within a 100-mile radius of Seattle. With a College Football Playoff appearance in 2016 and eight NFL draftees this year, many believe the Huskies are ready to take that last step to a national title in the playoff era.
It’s not far off to say they might just have a bit of a chip on their shoulders about that, by the way. Some members of the 1991 team insist that in the BCS era, the Huskies would have whipped co-national champs Miami to win that title outright. And while adidas is known more as a huge player in European football, it’s continuing to double down on its commitment to American collegiate athletics.
So two programs with swagger and something to prove get together to create something big — and the whole city wants a piece of the action. When it’s time to show off the final product, Husky Nation will be watching.
What does it take to design a new uniform in the modern-day era of athletic apparel and social media? Adidas learned quickly that designing that new Washington uniform meant running a gauntlet: the players, alums, boosters, coaches, athletic director, every kid who dreams of Husky Football on Saturday afternoons, and even the take-no-bullshit, old-school footballer and director of equipment operations for the Huskies, Bart Fullmer. Having been in the job for three decades, he’s (understandably) opinionated about a new jersey design. Creating a winning look even meant winning over Bart Fullmer. Especially Bart Fullmer. “If it was up to me, everyone would wear just a solid color jersey and a solid color pant and we’d all go play football,” Fullmer says.
When UW athletic director Jen Cohen and the university’s athletic personnel started working with adidas on the new look, Fullmer’s office was one of their first stops. Fullmer pulled up video and photos of every Husky uniform he could find to help anchor the design conversation around what mattered most to the Huskies: respect for tradition, but with a modern touch. “We want to appeal to our fans, and we really want to appeal to our kids that are playing here and the kids we want to come play here,” Fullmer says. “That’s really our focus.”
Cohen’s policy line to her boosters when the adidas deal was signed in April 2018: “Not everybody is going to love the new uniforms.” Last week she smiled when she was reminded of that moment. “To adidas’s credit, they were very patient with us,” Cohen says. “They knew the uniform had to resonate with the fans, the coaches, and the players.” But the task was daunting. How could you possibly put together a look that would please everyone in a town where the history of college ball goes back 130 years?
Husky Nation en masse wanted a voice in what the Huskies’ image would become. So adidas surveyed 3,600 stakeholders, from students and players to alumni and boosters. “The number one answer from students was that they were most excited by being part of a rich heritage of athletics,” says adidas senior design director Todd Rolak. “I think we expected that from alumni, but the pride from students in the history of the university was eye-opening.”
Something else that resonated with the adidas team was the constant reference to the glory years of the early ‘90s and the coach who guided them there: Don James. Known as the “Dawgfather,” the no-nonsense James led the Huskies from 1975 to 1992, but the 1991 squad was the highlight of his coaching career. James coached that team to an undefeated season, including a blowout win against Michigan in the 1992 Rose Bowl. (And, it should be noted, James is also the guy who first hired Fullmer.)
Don James was beloved in Seattle, the face of Seattle sports way before a couple of guys named Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson moved to town. To a certain generation, Seattle is a Husky football town first. “Coach James was awesome,” says former UW quarterback Damon Huard, who was a redshirt on that national championship team. “He was a real leader of men.”
James was also a football purist. In an era before coaches became national figures, he instilled a sense of duty in his players from the classroom to the playing field. His aesthetic was similarly austere; he brought gold helmets with three stripes to the team uniform only because that minimalist look suited the San Francisco 49ers, who wore the exact same helmet. Good enough for the Niners, good enough for UW.
That aesthetic had an influence on adidas as they worked to create the new look. The reimagined uniform reflects what both adidas and UW are calling a close collaboration that honors the best of Washington’s football traditions, combined with a vision for where the university wants to go in the future. Here’s an inside look at what the designers at adidas did to meld the 1991 Huskies’ classic style with the fast lines and flashy colorways of the modern era.
They reimagined the numeral font used in the Don James era. Adidas combined the 15-degree angle that makes up the legs of the iconic Washington “W” with the classic block letter style of the Don James era. The result is an all-new numbering typography with modern touches, infused with Husky symbolism, that was created for exclusive use by the University of Washington. According to Rolak, the elegant typeface “was designed primarily from the structural and stylistic character of the iconic ‘W’ logo, as well as design cues from Husky history. The result is a strong, athletic typeface born from the W and built to create new traditions.”
They adopted the classic Washington colorways, with modern accents. Washington’s uniforms had strayed in recent years from the true purple hue that defines the school, according to Cohen. The new adidas uniform incorporates Washington purple into all versions of the jersey and pant, with the “W” icon returning to the seam of the pant (a throwback to 1991) and a reimagined adidas three-stripe pattern on the shoulder cap incorporating an iridescent fabric that catches the light like a suit of armor. The overall effect, according to one adidas rep at the event, is “Don James meets Tony Stark.” (Pics below so you can judge for yourself.)
They kept it simple, but added touches of elegance. The Huskies take pride in excelling in all weather conditions, so the fabric used for the uniform numbers is infused with a subtle rain pattern that can only be glanced up close. The final design looks minimalist, but it was the result of many iterations of the uniform and a massive amount of collaboration between adidas and UW. “I know Coach P [current UW head coach Chris Petersen] is traditional,” says Byron Murphy, “so he wants to keep the uniforms how they’re supposed to be. But once I saw [the adidas uniforms], I said, oh yeah, adidas’s uniforms are going to look nice. I can’t wait to see them on the field.”
They incorporated high-tech fabrics. Nobody’s playing in 1991 fabrics anymore. Today’s fabrics have to keep players cool while keeping their strength intact. The jersey features adidas’s seamless Primeknit fabric, created from a circular knitting machine. Tighter stitching over the shoulders and collar create a strong fabric where the uniform will absorb more stress, while breathability in the chest and stomach with Climacool technology protects players from overheating.
Let’s put it right out there: College football uniforms don’t win championships. Winning requires that magic combination of great players, talented coaches, a positive environment, and a little bit of luck. But looks do matter, especially for those donning the uniforms. A streamlined look may be just a confidence boost to some, but for players, it can be the extra nudge they need to perform well on the field. Just ask Murphy, who will be watching his alma mater debut its new look from afar as a cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals: “I want to look good on the field so I can play good.”
A well-made jersey is what lets the team focus on their game, Myles Gaskin says. “You don’t have to worry about your jersey, you don’t have to worry about your cleats or gloves or nothing, you just want to step on the field and just play football.”
It’s time for the big reveal. DJ SupaSam, who spins for Husky games as well as the Seattle Seahawks, towers on a deck over the crowd on the barge. The strains of “Purple Haze” by Seattle native Jimi Hendrix pierce the air. The doors are unlatched and the cheers begin as not one, but three versions of the uniform are finally revealed. The players waste no time walking up to the samples and stretching the fabric to test its mettle. Nods of approval cascade through the group. So far, so good.
”I love them,” says Murphy with a smile.
It’s still a few weeks until opening day of the Huskies’ season (August 31 — mark your calendars) and it’s only the beginning of a long partnership between UW and adidas. But in the twilight of a perfect Seattle evening, Washington purple and gold look just right.
Standing off to the side during the big reveal? None other than Bart Fullmer. We have to ask: Would Don James have approved?
Fullmer, the man on the barge who probably knew the Dawgfather better than anyone else in attendance, says it straight on: “Yes.” And he says it like the word should be written in bold typeface. It may not be a one-and-done (there are whispers of more uniform accents to come in future years), but according to the UW glitterati, adidas and the Huskies are officially in the house. Bow down.