Untold Bulldogs history: The UGA helmet that almost was

Vince Dooley gave us one of the best-looking helmets in college football. (AJC staff)

Vince Dooley gave us one of the best-looking helmets in college football. (AJC staff)

I heard someone asked Mark Richt about the infamous black helmets at the Atlanta fan gathering the other night. Richt, having picked up on the fact that a lot of fans hated the helmets, noted that ideas like that are “good when you win, but not when you lose.”

I think it’s safe to say that the black helmets would have gained more fans had the Dogs upset the Gators last year while wearing them. But even then I think there would have been some resistance to them, simply because Georgia’s iconic red helmets with the elongated black “G” on the side are among the best-looking headgear in all of college football. In all of sports, for that matter.

They’re a tradition and part of a beloved uniform with the red jerseys and silver britches. My son tells me that many young fans aren’t aware there was a time the Bulldogs wore anything else.

The pre-Dooley silver helmet. (NCAA)

The pre-Dooley silver helmet. (NCAA)

And yet those red helmets are a tradition that I can clearly recall being started, because that design was introduced at the start of Vince Dooley’s first season as coach in 1964. For at least a dozen years before that, under Wally Butts and Johnny Griffith, the Dogs had worn plain silver helmets to match their silver britches (though it’s mostly forgotten that a square G was affixed to the side of the silver helmets for a few games during the 1962 season).

Georgia football was in a sorry state when Dooley arrived in Athens, and the new coach decided a new look was in order. In a move that I don’t remember causing much, if any, uproar at the time, Dooley canned the silver britches in favor of white pants. And he got Anne Donaldson, my seventh grade art teacher, who was married to UGA assistant coach John Donaldson, to come up with a new helmet design to replace the silver gear.

Detail from Page 77 of "Georgia Football: Yesterday & Today." (West Side Publishing)

Detail from Page 77 of "Georgia Football: Yesterday & Today." (West Side Publishing)

The “new look” helmets were red with the new black “G” logo in a white oval on each side. The “G,” which Dooley liked because it was forward-looking, was inspired by the helmet design worn by the Green Bay Packers, who gave their blessing to Georgia’s design.

And yet the untold story is that the red helmets were almost … white!

This is something I first became aware of last year when I was looking at Mark Schlabach’s book “Georgia Football: Yesterday & Today” (West Side Publishing), and on Page 77 was a photograph from before the 1964 season in which quarterback Preston Ridlehuber modeled the new look: red jersey with white numbers and white pants featuring red and black stripes down the side. The photo apparently was intended as some sort of demo of the new uniform because it has arrow notations on it for the color and width of the stripes.

But what really caught my eye was the helmets sitting on the ground in front of Ridlehuber. They both sport the elongated “G” that we’re now familiar with, but instead of being the familiar red helmets that the team ended up wearing, they are white. One has the “G” in red; the other has it in black. And both have red and black stripes down the center of the white helmet.

I was shocked to see something other than red helmets in the picture. When I eventually got the chance, I asked Dan Magill, who’s forgotten more about UGA sports history than anyone else will ever know, what he knew of the white helmets. But he didn’t recall them.

He said to ask Coach Dooley, so I did. How close, I wanted to know, did we come to actually having the Bulldogs wear white helmets? And who finally decided on red?

Dooley’s explanation: “We were experimenting with different helmet colors at the time, though I was always in favor of the red helmet and decided on the combination of black on white on red, described by a very noted person as the ‘most harmonious colors in existence.”’

The former coach added that the final decision of going with red helmets instead of white “was my call.”

While I was at it, I asked what prompted him to bring back the silver britches in 1980 after 16 years of mostly white britches (with red road pants worn for a number of road games in 1978-79).

“Just a hunch,” Dooley told me. “I felt that the not so tasteful cheer associated with the silver britches when I first arrived had gone with time.” (The UGA student body used to have a chant in the pre-Dooley era that rhymed “britches” with another word, which the new coach didn’t like.)

Plus, Georgia was coming off a 6-5 season in 1979, and Dooley thought the silver britches “would rekindle the spirit of the Bulldog Nation.” (In reality, with Herschel Walker in the backfield, the national champion Dogs of 1980 could have worn just about any color pants and no one would have cared.)

Generally speaking, UGA has messed around with its uniforms a lot less than many other programs. (Check out one Clemson fan’s lament about his school’s Oregonesque mix-and-match wardrobe here.)

The black helmets probably wouldn't have been a hit even if Georgia had beaten Florida wearing them. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The black helmets probably wouldn't have been a hit even if Georgia had beaten Florida wearing them. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The red road pants, which Herschel wore in his debut game in Knoxville, were trotted out a few more times between 1985 and 1988 before being retired. Jim Donnan introduced black britches, which looked great with the road jerseys in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day 1998, but were a flop with fans when paired with the red home jerseys the next season in Jacksonville. Donnan also briefly tried to insert white pants back into the rotation, but that didn’t last. Neither did the black stripes he added to the center of the red helmet, an idea that Ray Goff also briefly had tried out.

Early in his tenure, Richt made a point of saying he liked Georgia’s traditional uniforms and didn’t see any need for variety, but he eventually gave in to player and fan pleas for a black spirit jersey — and it was a resounding success in its two appearances in the 2007 season, combined with fan “blackouts.” The red helmets, black jerseys and silver britches looked really sharp, no doubt about it.

But a lot of superstitious folks soured on that look after the Dogs lost handily to Bama in black. And then came the return of the black britches last year in combination with the black helmets in another loss to Florida. After that, black was suitable only for describing the mood of the Bulldog Nation.

Still, at some point I figure the black jerseys will resurface on an occasional basis. Hey, they’re 2-1, the players love them and UGA has sold an awful lot of replica black jerseys to fans.

Actually, I don’t think there’d be too many complaints if the black pants were worn with the traditional red helmet and white road jerseys every once in a while. (Maybe wearing them in a game that Georgia’s easily expected to win would be a way to ease them back in.)

And the black “Grambling” helmets? The 2009 lids are being sold off — hopefully a sign we’ve seen the last of them.

But I do have one other thought about uniform variations. Unlike many schools, Georgia hasn’t ever done a “retro” game because the idea behind those generally is to sell replicas of old uniforms, and who’d want to buy a plain silver helmet? But what if the Dogs were to sometime do an “alternative history” look?

While I’m glad Dooley ultimately decided on the red helmets, the white one with the black G would make an awfully cool collectible.

200 comments Add your comment

tom

July 29th, 2010
10:27 am

Darn good looking uniforms. quit messing with them!

dawgcrzy

July 29th, 2010
10:30 am

keep’em red

RJ

July 29th, 2010
10:34 am

That is what I like about Bama, Penn St, ND etc. The helmets never change

Scott

July 29th, 2010
10:34 am

I thought the black helmets were kinda cool. I wouldn’t want them every game, but I think the variety is fun (used sparingly).

robodawg

July 29th, 2010
10:34 am

I’ve always been curious about the Georgia G’s relation to the Green Bay G. I think the media guide makes it sound like Ms. Donaldson just happened to come up with a design that was similar to the Green Bay design of the time, and sometime after that Green Bay modified their design to make it identical to ours. But you say our design was “inspired” by Green Bay’s and that we got their blessing to use it. Can you clarify?

Also, do you happen to have any pictures of the G Green Bay was using in the early 60s? A side by side comparison would be cool to see.

Thanks for the uniform history.

edumacated

July 29th, 2010
10:37 am

Bring on the nerd and gayturd comments. They have nothing better to do I guess……

rrgunn

July 29th, 2010
10:38 am

Actually thought the black helmets/black pants looked pretty good. The problem was the timing – using them against Florida in a game we were so destined to lose smacked of desperation and really made Richt look bad/dumb. The risk was way too great for the highly unlikely reward.

Scott

July 29th, 2010
10:40 am

Agree with rrgunn – cool idea – poor timing.

JB

July 29th, 2010
10:47 am

I like that we don’t change up our uni’s. That said, if they go with the black jerseys, every once in a great while, that’d be fine. I also don’t mind the red pants, frankly but please, never those god awful black helmets. Never mess with the helmet.

HBTD!!!

FedDawg

July 29th, 2010
10:49 am

DONT MESS WITH THEM….EVER AGAIN !!!

Mit

July 29th, 2010
10:52 am

Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever wear those hideous black helmets again!!!!

Phillip

July 29th, 2010
10:53 am

I didnt mind them that much. I dont know if id test it in a game, but I kind of want to know what black helmet, pants,and jersey would look like. It looks pretty good when florida state does their all black.

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
10:53 am

Disagree with black helmets. Bad timing, bad idea. Can’t imagine anyone but Gators want to buy those for a souvenir.

VA DAWG

July 29th, 2010
10:54 am

The black helmets/black pants only need to show up against teams like Vandy or non-conference games. They looked good coming out of the tunnel, but that’s were it ended in Jacksonville. I like the look, just not when we’re a two touchdown underdog. GO DAWGS!

Alan jordan

July 29th, 2010
10:55 am

So what is the official color for panties.

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
10:56 am

Red, stupid. Pay attention.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by UGA Alum Charleston, Christopher Hawkins, Andrew DeMillo, Tim Tucker, Gordo and others. Gordo said: DawgFan Untold Bulldogs history: The UGA helmet that almost was: Vince Dooley gave us one of the best-looking helm… http://bit.ly/cMGLfX [...]

Bill King

July 29th, 2010
10:58 am

The UGA media guide says that Dooley wanted a “forward-looking” G on the helmets and Anne Donaldson volunteered to come up with a logo “with the general specifications Dooley had outlined.” Dooley was, of course, well aware of the Green Bay logo.

alabamadawg

July 29th, 2010
11:01 am

I said at the time and I still say now, I actually liked the black helmets. Would be a nice change…occassionally.

Mit

July 29th, 2010
11:05 am

Don’t ever, for any game, under any circumstances, wear that hideous black helmet again. Black jerseys with red helmet looks good. Black pants with white jersey doesn’t look bad. But the black helmet is NOT Georgia football.

How2fish

July 29th, 2010
11:06 am

Agree with rrgunn and Scott also Bill made a good observation about the black jerseys I like them if used once in a while and they do look sharp.

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
11:08 am

I don’t care if it was 2007 and we wore black helmets. They looked terrible.

Old Dawg

July 29th, 2010
11:22 am

I liked the silver helmet and paints uniform, sort of like the Notre Dame uni. But the one we have now is fine. My only complaint are the wide stripes on the paints. I’m not one for changing uniforms, it’s a sign your program isn’t established. For me, simple and traditional is the best. Like Bama, Penn State, Michigan and UGA.

Erk Russell said it best when Georgia Southern showed up for their first game and a few fans complained about their Alabama and Penn State inspired uniforms. “Every stripe costs $20 per uniform, and we don’t $20. If I remember correctly, fancy uniforms never win games.”

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
11:25 am

Well said Old Dawg, GATA!

uga_b

July 29th, 2010
11:26 am

Haha. Old Dawg just stole my thunder.

droopydawg

July 29th, 2010
11:28 am

We have great uniforms, but I do like them changing it up every now and then (particularly on the road). I was one of the few people I know who liked the black helmets and I actually think it would be cool to wear the old white helmets in a game.

P T Barnum

July 29th, 2010
11:29 am

What a bunch of clowns. I remember when Clemson and Danny Ford broke out the orange pants against Carolina with Heisman winner George Rogers and upset the gamechickens. Carolina’s coach Jim Carlen was asked if the Orange pants had an effect on the Tigers upset win in which Carlen responded “Its what you put in those orange pants that wins football games”. So true and CMR and UGA just needs to win football games and quit lolly gagging around with gimmicks and hip hop sideline dancing!

joemoedee

July 29th, 2010
11:31 am

The Green Bay Packers own the trademark on the “G” logo, and allow Georgia and Grambling (as well as other lesser known organizations) limited permissions to use it. They’ve used it since 1961.

uga_b

July 29th, 2010
11:34 am

I think the stripes look awful and outdated. Solid colors never go out of style. If you go with white, silver, or black, nix the stripes. I dont know if they could pull it off but a solid red uniform might be aweome for one game.

Angie Daddy 2

July 29th, 2010
11:34 am

you are so correct Mr p t burnum !!!!

PDawg

July 29th, 2010
11:35 am

Well I guess we better not wear red pants any time soon.

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
11:39 am

A solid red, how about no. We want to avoid being Oregon.

Dawgs Rule

July 29th, 2010
11:45 am

ALAN jORDAN = PIMPLE-FACED, VIRGIN LOSER

RUSS GATA

July 29th, 2010
11:49 am

That white helment can be seen on the gainesville High Red Elephants

GeorgiaDawg84

July 29th, 2010
11:55 am

I don’t care what we wear. Just go out and roll heads and win ballgames. Who cares about the fancy stuff, play ball.

Franklin Dawg

July 29th, 2010
11:58 am

Dooley did not re-introduce the silver britches. Those britches are GRAY. Anyone who saw the old pre 1964 uniforms knows that those britches were really silver. Looked great with the silver helmet and red jersey. Simple but striking.

blackout!

July 29th, 2010
12:07 pm

The blackouts are awesome! We need to be like Penn state and have blackouts once or twice a year big games at home!

dawgfanatic 24-7

July 29th, 2010
12:09 pm

Glad to see this topic. The black helmets would have looked better flat black like Oregon uses. With a black facemask and maybe a black G in a red oval. The black jerseys look good once a year tops. Heard a good quote the other day. Can’t spell Granthan without GATA!!!! Hope his name lives up to the saying.

beau brummel

July 29th, 2010
12:11 pm

I do think that the plain silver helmet is cool looking and should be used often. Wearing it specifically with our silver britches and the red jersey ……… would look great for home games and maybe a bowl game.

The traditional red helmet is a classic. We could supplement it however, from time to time with that silver cap.I have traveled all over the USA on business and at lunch, while talking college ball with customers, they always mention the famous UGA red helmet ………….. with respect.

Go Dogs.

mcdawghna

July 29th, 2010
12:12 pm

To my knowledge Green Bay signed papers allowing UGA to use it’s oval G pattern due to copyright details with their blessing……..But yes, by far, in my oppinion, the Dawgs helmet is the coolest looking, classiest in the NCAA………Also, I would kind of like to see the red britches brought back for a few road games…….always thought they looked cool……

SSIgator

July 29th, 2010
12:16 pm

I heard Mark Richt has hired the former fashion editor of Vogue Magazine to consult this year on game day wear. It really is what you wear that counts. Does each players locker have a full length mirror that they can check their uniforms and practice their dance steps before they come out to play? Like Bill King said the other day “talkin the talk” is one thing, but you have to look good while you are doing it.

DCJohn

July 29th, 2010
12:22 pm

I never want to see black jerseys again. A retro look would only be awesome if it was a 1980 jersey and you could buy a replica 34.

How2fish

July 29th, 2010
12:27 pm

SSIgator we heard CUM had hired Michael Jackson’s former doctor as his personal physician as it takes a trained professional to keep current on that amount of MEDS. Which up to this point you would have to say are working. Hell he hasn’t thrown a full blown hissy-fit in a couple of months. And for the record I’m all for dancing on a Gator..when we do we win.

SOGADOG

July 29th, 2010
12:28 pm

Interesting article, I suggest more articles about Bulldawg history during these boring dog days between spring ball and fall practice.

I am convinced the “Black Out” and black jerseys did a lot more to fire up Alabama in Athens a couple of years ago than it did to motivate the Dawgs. I am not a fan of going hollywood which we seem to have done in Athens. I am not crazy about the players dancing around to hip hop during the game and even on the field during tv timeouts, showing players in the NFL on the big screen, and I am not a fan of the Blackouts and uniform changes. I believe all of this fires up the other team more than our team and our home record compared to our away record reflects this.

Focus on the game, and dont showboat. When you win, then you can dance all night.

MoDawg

July 29th, 2010
12:29 pm

If a team needs to change their uniform to get “fired up” for a game, they have no business playing the game in the first place.

Leave the flipping helmets and uniforms alone. I love the classic look we have. I also love the Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State uniforms for the same reasons.

How2fish

July 29th, 2010
12:30 pm

Bill King no for the record we asked the Packers for permission to use the logo and they graciously granted said permission now troll on..

4th Place SEC East Dawg

July 29th, 2010
12:30 pm

I think “stole” is a bit strong. But it would be nice if we had some originality. Does anyone else think Glory Glory sounds just like I’ve Been Working On The Railroad?

SSIgator

July 29th, 2010
12:33 pm

Someone told me that they saw the technical crew from “Dancing With The Stars” going into the Butts building the other day. A very good move on UGA’s part. Let’s keep those routines crisp and smart looking.

Scott W.

July 29th, 2010
12:41 pm

Crisp and smart being the antithesis of your posts.

SSIgator

July 29th, 2010
12:43 pm

I don’t think it surprises anybody that UGA lifted the G from Green Bay. So in keeping with that theme, if you don’t like Glory Glory maybe you should change it to “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis. Just to keep up with the times.