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Ching: New uniforms don’t have to be gimmicky

HOOVER, Ala. – As soon as Georgia confirmed on Wednesday that it has another football uniform change in store for the opener against Boise State, the “G” word began to circulate within the fan base.

“G” as in gimmick.

Here’s a “G” phrase for those folks, too: Get over yourselves.

The outfits worn by a bunch of 20-year-olds are only as significant as you make them – and some Georgia fans seem to experience odd psychological issues whenever the Bulldogs add some variety to their traditional on-field get-ups.

Having a preference for the Bulldogs’ red tops, silver britches and oval G logo on a red helmet is perfectly fine. Georgia’s football program is rich in tradition and the Bulldogs’ typical uniform combinations have a place in that history. But occasionally straying from tradition is not the same as spitting on it.

In fact it’s fun for those involved – and they should have some say in the matter, shouldn’t they?

“Getting new uniforms and trying new things out, it’s exciting,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who along with cornerback Brandon Boykin modeled the team’s new Nike Pro Combat uniforms at a team meeting on Wednesday. “Especially with recruiting nowadays, the more flash you have, that’s huge for recruits. You’ve gotta keep your tradition, of course – that’s what’s special about Georgia – but adding a little flavor adds a little fun.”

Of course, it’s a lot more fun when you win while wearing new duds. That’s an area where Georgia failed miserably in its last two outings in non-traditional uniforms: a 2008 loss to Alabama, where the Crimson Tide led a black jersey-clad Georgia team 31-0 at halftime, and a 41-17 loss to Florida in 2009, where the Bulldogs wore black helmets and black pants.

But those outfits were no more a curse than the black jerseys worn in emotional 2007 wins against Auburn and Hawaii were good-luck charms.

Georgia finally seems to understand that the way it introduced new uniform combinations had grown stale. The buildup to the original “Blackout” game against Auburn, veiled in secrecy, created energy and emotion inside Sanford Stadium that was impossible to replicate.

Georgia coach Mark Richt and company backed themselves into a corner with the black jerseys that year because the fan base and media began to equate a uniform adjustment with an attempt to create special “fake juice” when the team needed extra energy or motivation.

“The way we have presented it lately has been kind of a shocking, or some way to surprise, a way to generate excitement with our players by catching them off guard and you jolt ‘em to some type of energy,” Richt admitted. “But those kinds of things only last so long.”

Even if that was part of the intention behind previous uniform switcheroos, it doesn’t have to be that way every time. Sometimes you just do it to make the game more fun for the current players. Sometimes it’s to attract recruits’ attention or even to occasionally appease Nike – a company that pumps millions into Georgia’s athletic budget.

Just win while you’re wearing the new stuff – and emphasize that a new jersey has no effect on the outcome – and you won’t hear too many gripes.

In fact, schools can reap major benefits from being open to occasional variety – or frequent variety in some cases. Ask the recruits considering scholarship offers from Oregon what stands out about that program and nearly all of them will refer to the Ducks’ wide selection of uniform options.

While traditionalist Georgia fans might say the Bulldogs shouldn’t have to resort to such tactics, what does it hurt? Especially when even the occasional change can make a difference.

Dawgpost.com publisher Dean Legge, Georgia’s Scout.com affiliate, tells a story of a highly recruited player who picked Georgia over numerous other offers after the Bulldogs stormed out of the Sanford Stadium tunnel in black jerseys for the Auburn game.

Even “fake juice” can help some 18-year-olds make their college choice. Goodness knows the decision-making process of the average 18-year-old isn’t always steeped in sound logic.

“That’s how crazy recruiting is,” Legge said. “You don’t have to sell your soul to the devil, but every little thing helps and any little thing helps.”

Perhaps this is an early step in Georgia’s adapting to the times. Marketing the university properly takes more than flipping on the stadium lights and filling the place with rich old people who sit on their hands for most of the game.

Any method that generates excitement around the program deserves consideration in this time of cut-throat recruiting – and stadium energy is an aspect of Georgia’s game-day experience that likely lags behind some of the Bulldogs’ rivals who don’t play Miley Cyrus songs over the stadium sound system all the time.

Richt didn’t guarantee Thursday that future uniform changes are in the works, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be steadfastly against any changes the way he was early in his Georgia tenure.

“If you do it often enough, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “… We might have any combination of these sets of helmets, jerseys and pants, if everybody knows on the front end that’s what it is and you just decide what combination you want to wear on a weekly basis, I think people would get used to it and probably enjoy it.”

The occasional uniform change is absolutely not selling out Georgia’s tradition, nor does it have to be a gimmick. Just let it be the largely inconsequential occurrence that it is and have fun with it.

Isn’t fun what the act of watching sports is supposed to be about, anyway?

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