The Elephant in the Room: How Alabama got ‘Big Al’

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Image Courtesy of etsy.com

Anyone familiar with Alabama football knows that although their athletics nickname is the “Crimson Tide,” their mascot is an elephant. There’s no clear connection between crimson and elephants, nor the “Roll Tide” shout, so how did this come to be?

History

The story starts with Wallace Wade, legendary Alabama coach (as well as a legendary Duke coach, and the namesake of their football stadium). Wade’s 1930 Alabama team was like many others he had coached; menacing and tough. They were known for their strength and blocking abilities.

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Image Courtesy of pinterest.com

Following a hard-fought victory over Ole Miss, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal used very imaginative language to describe the sheer power of the Alabama football team:

“Coach Wade started his second team that was plenty big and they went right to their knitting scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against one of the best fighting small lines that I have seen. For Ole Miss was truly battling the big boys for every inch of ground.

At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble, there was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stamped this Alabama varsity.

It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”

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Image Courtesy of bsnscb.com

“Elephants” wasn’t a team nickname at the time, but it soon became one. Sports writers would refer to the Alabama linemen as the “Red Elephants.” That 1930 team would go on to have an undefeated season, one of Alabama’s claimed national championships.

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Alabama informally accepted the moniker. In the 1940’s the University actually kept a live elephant. This elephant would carry the homecoming queen every year. When keeping a live elephant became too expensive, Alabama began renting elephants for homecoming weekend.

Big Al

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Image Courtesy of rolltide.com

The first use of an elephant mascot suit was in 1960, when student Melford Espey Jr. began wearing elephant costume head to games. Espey would go on to become an administrator at the University of Alabama, and Coach Bear Bryant would ask him to don the elephant head for games.

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Image Courtesy of ncaa.com

In 1979, Alabama’s homecoming committee decided they wanted an official mascot suit. They met with Coach Bryant, who approved the idea, and then purchased the first Big Al suit from Disney with athletic department funds. Big Al debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, in which Alabama defeated Arkansas. The actual name “Big Al’ came from a student vote. Al Brown was a popular DJ on campus at the time, and thus was voted in.

Since his formal adoption, Big Al has appeared in many forms as an alternate logo for Alabama. Many incarnations of this are shown throughout this article, with the most recent form below and at the start of this article:

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Image Courtesy of tirecovers.com

Love Big Al? Hate him? Think Aubie is better? Leave your comments below, and check out our last historical branding spotlight here!

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Must-Watch Spring Games

While the basketball world is in the depths of March Madness, College Football fans are gearing up for spring games; the slight whiff of fall ball that gets us through the off season (besides of course, frequent and rampant speculation).

Here’s our list of must-watch spring games with details.

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Thoughts on the games? Think we should have included others? Let us know in the comments below.

Requiem for Russell Athletic

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Image Courtesy of ramblinwreck.com

On September 28, 2017 Russell announced they would cease producing uniforms for football teams.

This didn’t come as much of a surprise since they only had two FBS college football teams left wearing them, Georgia Tech and Southern Miss, who both announced they would be switching to Adidas when their Russell Athletic contracts expired in 2018.

So, in memoriam, we take a look back at Russell Athletic’s history, contributions and mistakes in sports apparel design.

The History:

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Image Courtesy of logonoid.com

Russell Manufacturing Co. was founded in Alexander City, Alabama in 1902 by Benjamin Russell. However, they did not produce athletic apparel until 1938, six years after they acquired Southern Manufacturing Company.

During World War II, Russell Manufacturing’s main focus was supplying the U.S. Army and Navy with shirts, athletic wear and undergarments. However, they continued to expand their athletic wear production during this time and by the 1960’s would become the largest sports apparel manufacturer.

From the 70’s onward they began to dominate many sports leagues as uniform of choice. 18 of the 28 NFL teams during this era sported Russell at some point, including the New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. The corporation signed a five year deal to become the exclusive producer of Major League Baseball uniforms in 1992, which was expanded until 1999. Between 1999 and 2004 (when Majestic took over) there was no sole supplier of MLB kits, but Russell continued to supply many. Russell also had deals with Little League Baseball and the Harlem Globetrotters.

As far as college football, current FBS teams that once donned Russell Athletic include Coastal Carolina, Washington State, Western Kentucky, Ohio University, Southern Miss and, of course, Georgia Tech.

However, Russell’s partnerships waned throughout the 21st century until we got to where we are today. Russell has announced that they plan to focus their resources on providing consumer apparel, and will cease producing team uniforms for any sport.

The Highlights:

While most won’t remember Russell uniforms fondly (especially Yellow Jacket fans), there were some diamonds in the rough. Here are some of our favorite past kits from the manufacturer:

Western Kentucky: Boca Raton Bowl, 2016

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Image Courtesy of latimes.com

This uniform might be one of Russell’s most memorable, and not just because of WKU’s 51-31 victory over a strong Memphis team. WKU’s helmets are one of the few chrome domes I approve of (another being Memphis’ striped buckets), and the bold black and red on these jersey supported them without overshadowing them. I think the black and white shoulder striped looked great with the numbers and black pants. This was a great victory for both the Hilltoppers and Russell.

Ohio University: vs. Eastern Michigan, 2012

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

If you’re a close follower of Gridlines you know I’m a huge fan of “color rush” uniforms; and this 2012 Bobcats kit is no exception. It’s such a beautiful shade of green on these bad boys, and it looked even better matched up against Eastern Michigan’s white background. Russell stuck to the basic here, but the simple all green look definitely made an impact. Only flaw here, in my opinion, are the white/black/white shoulders, but they don’t detract enough to take away from this overall stunning kit.

Georgia Tech: Orange Bowl, 2014

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Image Courtesy of rantsports.com

This one might not be as stunning as the last two, but it was one of the acceptable uniforms Russell ever put out for the Yellow Jackets. Why? Because Georgia Tech’s colors are white, *gold* (old gold, if we’re being nit-picky) and blue. Russell really struggled with the concept of gold, and for some reason used what I can only describe as p*$$ color. Here, however, we get a brilliant blue and a real gold color, at least on the helmet. The pants were fine, too.

The Lowlights:

Yes, what we all came for. The true eulogy for Russell Athletic. Here are the worst of the worst.

Southern Miss: vs. FAU, 2013

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Image Courtesy of fansided.com

I genuinely do not even know where to begin. Digital camo has long been trying to worm its ugly way into athletics, with no signs of stopping (I’m looking at you, San Antonio Spurs). But this is truly one of the worst. If they had gone for solid black with the camo accent it might’ve been somewhat redeemable, but these kits just look like a West Virginia uniform if I was watching the game while on salvia. I hope Adidas treats you better, Golden Eagles. Just please, no tire treads.

Georgia Tech: Chick-Fil-A Bowl, 2008

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Image Courtesy of uniformcritics.com

Yes, these uniforms somewhat capture the blue and gold, but…no. The shoulder spread looked absolutely atrocious, separating the jersey into a strange top half and bottom half look. This kit looks like mustard stains all over a Penn State uniform. The gold on the sides looks terrible as well and certainly doesn’t help the cause. Georgia Tech should’ve stuck to it’s classic looks, and at most used it’s honeycomb alternate pattern. Tech, I hope Adidas treats you better too.

Ohio University: vs. Miami-Ohio, 2013

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Image Courtesy of uniformcritics.com

While I always appreciate special looks for a rivalry, this didn’t do the Battle of the Bricks justice. The brick pattern came out looking more like a loosely-applied stamp, and was done in the absolute ugliest shade of green possible. Green and white are classic colors and Ohio has some of the best branding in the MAC, so it hurts me to see Russell disrespect them like this. This was a neat concept too, ruined by an inept athletic apparel company.

At least you can’t hurt us anymore, Russell. Goodnight, sweet prince, and good riddance.

Did we forget a highlight, or an abomination? Comment below, and be sure to check Gridlines for weekly updates!

University of Louisville Breakdown

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Image Courtesy of thecardinalconnect.com

With Louisville making all sorts of unpleasant headlines today, we figured it would be a pleasant break for Cardinal fans to have something else to read.

The Cardinal was chosen as the Louisville mascot in 1913. It was chosen because the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of Kentucky. Although the University’s logo is often ridiculed for showing teeth (which, believe it or not, don’t have), it really is one of the most iconic logos in sports.

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Image Courtesy of wikipedia.org

That’s no small feat. “Cardinals” branding is extremely diluted by the numerous other teams that go by the moniker. The Arizona Cardinals and St Louis Cardinals are both massive professional brands. Furthermore, there are 26 Cardinal mascots in college football alone and, while University of Louisville is the most prominent of those schools, Ball State has fielded a football team for just about as long (with programs beginning in 1912 and 1924, respectively).

Plus, Louisville has some of the best throwback logos. This guy always look great on the basketball team’s shorts.

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Image Courtesy of collegevault.com

But back to football. Louisville’s classic kit looks crisp and clean. Red and white are great colors to begin with, and that toothy cardinal looks damn fantastic on the helmet.

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Image Courtesy of bleacherreport.com

But when you’re talking Louisville uniforms, you’re not going to talk about their regular kits. Their alternate elements are what make the Cards one of the sleekest teams in the FBS. First of all, there’s the red-chrome helmet, which definitely pairs best with the color rush combo. Louisville’s “red-out” games are a sight for the eyes.

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The Cardinals typically hold a black-out game once a year too.

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Image Courtesy of thecardinalconnect.com

The black-out kits vary every year, with some better than others (Adidas: please stop using the tire track pattern). But my personal favorite would actually be the all black military appreciation uni. These kits look fierce as hell, and it’s not easy implementing the American flag into uniforms. Just ask the dozens of schools every year who simple overlay it with the helmet sticker.

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Image Courtesy of cardinalsportszone.com

It’s not a stretch to say Louisville has the consistently best alternates in the ACC. Their only real competition would be Miami and recently, NC State, but the Cardinals find ways to always come out of the tunnel fresh. Think otherwise? Prefer red-outs over black-outs? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.