They're bad-ass. They look like batteries.
The twitterverse, the Arizona Daily Star’s comment section, my cell phone and my email inbox all simultaneously exploded Wednesday night, when UA athletic director Greg Byrne announced that the Arizona Wildcats have added a third, copper-colored helmet to their football uniforms.
The UA offered only an artist's rendering of what the new helmets will look like. Don't expect to see the real thing for a while, either: Byrne told me Wednesday that the new helmets will remain "under lock and key" until they're debuted in a game. Nike is expected to produce a new, color-coordinated uniform to match the helmet, a move that could make or break the look sartorially.
Armed with only spare details, fans are split on the copper-top look — which, Byrne says, is inspired by the state’s proud mining history and some architectural features on campus, from the façade at McKale Center to the yet-to-be-completed North End Zone project. They're either, you say, brilliant or brutal.
Allow me to straddle the fence for a second.
Here are four reasons why the new helmet, while fun to talk about, isn’t nearly as life-changing as you might think:
1. It’s a “one-off” look. Byrne told me Wednesday night that the new lids aren’t certain to be worn in 2012 — and, even if they are, likely won’t be worn more than a few times. Arizona will still wear its navy (or white, depending on the opponent) helmets probably 90 percent of the time. As “one-off”, special-event helmets go, the Wildcats could have done worse: Oregon wore a mirrored helmet for this year’s Rose Bowl , the latest in a terrible tableau that’s included highlighter yellow , graphite gray and camouflage . Stanford, that pillar of academic and athletic integrity, wore a black helmet last year; UCLA went white . Boise State has looked like this , and Missouri just announced that it’ll be wearing this helmet for some games this fall.
Copper, while not a school color, doesn’t seem so bad by comparison. Expect Arizona to wear the funky new uniforms on special occasions, like Notre Dame does with green jerseys and Navy does during its annual rivalry game against Army — which, by the way, looked like this last year.
2. Uni tweaks happen. Face it: Arizona doesn’t have a proud (or at least, revered) uniform history. Under Dick Tomey, the Wildcats looked like Captain America’s rec-league team ; John Mackovic modernized Arizona's jerseys but didn't touch the helmets, and his players looked like a walking generational gap. Since then, the UA's uniforms have changed subtely but certainly. Mike Stoops added navy helmets when he took over, and Arizona donned a retro-inspired white helmet for the 2009 Holiday Bowl. Since then, the Wildcats have looked like blueberries , storm-troopers and the Houston Texans . None have been "traditional" in any sense of the word.
(An aside: Arizona’s current colors are the direct result of an 112-year-old uniform tweak. Equipment manager Quintas J. Anderson got a good deal on cardinal-and-navy uniforms in 1900, and, like that, sage green and silver — the university's original colors — were gone.)
3. Three words: Platinum basketball uniforms. Arizona wore this against UCLA this winter, and the sun still came up the next morning. One-off uniforms happen.
4. It’s a marketing/PR move. Uniform tweaks exist entirely to sell gear and generate fan buzz. And while the commemorative copper line isn't out yet — you’d have to think there’s a cap or t-shirt in the works — the fan interest is already off-the-charts. In that regard, Arizona has already won, whether you like the helmets or not. The exposure, for good or bad, has been priceless.