Poetry on a football uniform? Under Armour seeks again to push boundaries

Poetry on a football uniform? Under Armour seeks again to push boundaries
Quarterback C.J. Brown of the Maryland Terrapins reacts in the third quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers. (Patrick Smith, Getty Images)

It's hard to imagine what the snarling football coaches of yesteryear — think Bear Bryant or Woody Hayes — would have made of the poetry on the helmet and sleeves of the uniforms the University of Maryland played in Saturday.

But the Under Armour designers of Maryland's "Star-Spangled" uniforms, which highlight the Francis Scott Key poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry" in cursive, would like to think that the old-school coaches might have approved.


The uniforms, which the Terrapins wore in Saturday's home loss to West Virginia, were intended to promote the team and inspire players and fans. Ohio State's Hayes and Alabama's Bryant — who also coached Maryland in 1945 — were all about calculating novel ways to give their programs an edge.

Maryland's uniforms, which paid homage to the 200th anniversary of the poem that became the national anthem, are among eight unique designs produced by the Baltimore-based apparel and footwear company this season for its partner schools, including Navy and Notre Dame.

Specialty football uniforms are among Under Armour's splashiest, highest-profile offerings.

"I think the business of uniforms and the importance of that variety has taken on a life of its own in the last five years," said Adam Clement, Under Armour's creative director for team sports.

Not everybody is a fan. When Maryland unveiled the first generation of its multicolored "Pride" uniforms in 2011, NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted "#Ewwwww!" and Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Walton tweeted: "I hope someone pays Maryland to never wear these horrid uniforms again."

Some media observers poked fun at the school for unveiling a series of uniforms several years ago at a fashion show complete with a runway, blaring music, and players strutting and posing in them.

Specialty uniforms usually are designed to be worn once, perhaps twice. There was only moderate attention paid when Maryland and Under Armour released Pride 2.0 last season. The helmets, which evoked the state flag's Calvert and Crossland coats of arms, were hand-painted and airbrushed to create a sense of motion.

Unbeknownst to Maryland fans, the next new-fangled design, honoring Key's poem and the Battle of Baltimore, already was being developed.

"We'd been working on it for about two years," Clement said. "We identified that they would actually be playing on the 200-year anniversary."

The cursive writing on the jersey sleeves, helmet and shoes stands out most. "It's intended to look like parchment and an ink pen," Clement said.

Replicas immediately went on sale in the campus book store in College Park.

"To put everything from that battle into the uniform was just magnificent," said Maryland football coach Randy Edsall when the design was unveiled last week.

While the look might be radical, the message isn't. "Triumph" appears on the back of each player's jersey, referencing both football and military success.

Under Armour's specialty uniforms seem to embrace thoroughly vetted values or images.


Navy's specialty uniform, which it wore in its season-opening loss to Ohio State, was inspired by the "summer white" military style and featured a gold buckle, white gloves and white cleats.

Notre Dame's "Shamrock Series" gear was designed to pay tribute to the school's main administration building, known as the "golden dome."

Besides the state flag and the Star-Spangled Banner, Maryland's specialty uniforms also have evoked the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs for injured service members and their families.

Maryland and Under Armour recently announced a new 10-year contract under which the school will receive about $33 million in rights fees and products.

"The Maryland football team is giving Under Armour a great platform to showcase their creativity," said Marc Bluestein, president and CEO of Aquarius Sports and Entertainment, a Gaithersburg-based marketing firm. "Baseball teams might wear camouflage uniforms for the military. What Maryland and Under Armour are doing would be kind of out front of what other schools are doing in terms of creating uniforms that have some sort of meaning."