New Gopher football jerseys, designed by Kasson, Minn., native, are a nod to glory, tradition of decades past (Ed. note: I freelanced this article for the Post-Bulletin, where it can be read here. Or just read below. Photo credit: Michele Jokinen / Post-Bulletin. For some videos and other photos of the jerseys, check out this link on the official Gophers football site.)
If Jerry Kill wants to rebuild the Minnesota Golden Gophers football program one brick at a time, he now has the jerseys to do it.
The Gopher program unveiled new uniforms Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium, with Nike delivering a new inlayed brick pattern within the numerals of the white and yellow jerseys. The maroon jersey, with yellow numbers, does not include the brick pattern. It caps off what those involved with the design have called a blue-collar, grab-your-lunchpail theme.
“It’s a blue collar, one brick at a time mentality,” University of Minnesota Director of Football Equipment Kyle Gergely said. “We want to bring the tradition back from ‘The Brick House.’
Drawing on that history was Minnesota native Josh Iverson, who grew up in Kasson.
Iverson is now a graphic designer for Nike and has been involved with several high-profile uniform redesigns, including those at Texas Christian, West Virginia and Ohio State universities. He was also involved with the design team that created the Naval Academy’s jerseys for the Army-Navy rivalry game this year.
When it came to Minnesota, Iverson said many conversations eventually came to old Memorial Stadium, aka “The Brick House.”
“I remember my dad saying, ‘I remember the Gophers playing at ‘The Brick House,’ and Kyle’s guys brought me around to see that,” said Iverson, who has been with Nike for more than six years. “The big idea was to pay tribute to the past and kind of the golden age of Gopher football.”
The grueling work of rebuilding the University of Minnesota’s football program will have to take place on the field, but program officials hope the team’s new jerseys can at least begin the process of resurrecting Minnesota’s prestigious football tradition from decades long past.
Drawing upon a history that includes six claimed national championships — but none since 1960 — the nod is most literal on the maroon numerals of the gold and white jerseys.
The wink to former glory goes deeper than inspiration from the Memorial Stadium bricks, though.
Decades ago, a young man walked past deteriorating Memorial Stadium on the University campus, where the Golden Gophers had played football before bolting for the then state-of-the-art Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The stadium held the lasting memories of championship teams long past; the man spotted a manageable gate climb, looked around to make sure he was alone and jumped it.
He walked inside “The Brick House” and checked it out for himself, a story he would later tell his son, Kasson native and current Nike Football Graphic Designer Josh Iverson.
“I remember him telling me how cool it was,” Iverson said.
Late last year, Nike tabbed Iverson to take the lead in designing the Gophers new uniforms. Flying back to Minnesota from Oregon, Gophers staff members handed him several old photos, held a few meetings with him and even took Iverson on a tour of campus. Iverson learned about former coach Murray Warmath and his blue-collar work ethic, as well as how current head coach Jerry Kill hopes to bring that same mentality back to the program.
The nexus of those ideas came when the tour reached McNamara Alumni Center, as Iverson stared up at the original entrance of Memorial Stadium, the home of those teams he had been researching, the spot his father had told him about several years ago.
“I started with Coach Warmath and his personality and also with Coach Kill and his intensity and blue-collar work ethic. I just wanted to it to feel right for Minnesota and communicate the values that Minnesota has,” Iverson said of the jersey design. “The working hard, brick-by-brick (sentiment), Coach Kill really seemed to like that.”
Athletic department employees handed Iverson several different historic items for him to peruse, but he was drawn to a photo from the Gophers’ 1940 National Championship team. He spotted a No. 4 in the photo, which he used to create an entire font, using the characteristics of the block Minnesota “M,” angular with little curvature. The result is the text on the new helmet’s back bumper, now sketched with the university’s Ski-U-Mah slogan.
The slogan is also scrawled on the back of jersey collar, as Iverson said, “the last thing a player sees before he puts his jersey on.”
The team released new helmets Dec. 19, which no longer carry a sparkling maroon paint job. The helmet now has a matte finish that upon closer inspection shows a bit of dark veining or pores like that of a brick.
Also gone from last year’s jerseys, which had been the design since 2008, is the Minnesota text across the front of the uniform.
Uniform redesigns have become a huge trend in college football, as programs look for anything that might prove an advantage in terms of recruiting and notoriety. For example, Nike outfitted the University of Oregon players in a different jersey and pants combination for each game, while Under Armour and Maryland made their players look strikingly close to a Baltimore-based Roller Derby team. Those modern designs weren’t really considered, though.
The U of M wasn’t looking to become the next Oregon or Maryland, Iverson and Gergely said.
“I don’t think we could pull off the ‘Oregon’ here,” Gergely said, referring to the Ducks’s varied uniform combinations, including six different helmets. “It’s what works for their program. This is a very tradition rich program. All of that off the wall stuff, I don’t know if it would work here.”
It had been rumored weeks ago that the Gophers would incorporate black into the new uniforms, with dozens of fans taking to the Internet to levy their criticism. While adding a black accent was originally about by U of M staff, it was nixed fairly quickly, ironically enough by someone who has ended up a regular target for those same hardcore fans – University of Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi.
Maturi made the right call, said Gergely, after looking at the new design.
“We said, maybe let’s try a little bit of black trim, but (Maturi) really wanted to keep it traditional. He said, ‘Let’s keep this traditional, with our main colors, with no black in them,’” Gergely said. “We all wanted a clean, traditional and contemporary look and it turned out great.”
Instead, the helmet has a both black facemask and back bumper.
Nike officials said that Minnesota will not have a Pro Combat jersey design this year, but that they would be open to the idea in the future if U of M football staff expressed interest.
Reached by phone in Korea while on assignment, Iverson said he jumped at the chance to design the Gophers’ uniforms.
“I’ll put it this way, we couldn’t keep him away from it, even if we tried,” said Todd Van Horne, Nike creative director for football and basketball, who headed up the Gophers’ redesign project.
As Iverson spoke about what inspired Minnesota’s new design, Van Horne said incorporating that type of history and culture is what makes each project unique. He also joked that Iverson’s brick theme may have come from one of his jobs prior to Nike, masonry.
“Like Todd said, I grew up doing construction. I never thought I’d be designing any uniforms for Nike, let alone working for Nike,” Iverson said. “It’s a dream job.”