At some schools, uniforms change from season to season, and often from game to game. Alternate jerseys and helmets are all the rage in college football.
At LSU, alternate uniform combinations make the occasional colorful appearance, like for the 2016 "gold game" against Mississippi State. But instead of swirling the palate seemingly at random, the focus at LSU is on polishing one of the most recognizable brands in the game.
A cursory glance at the Tigers’ ensemble when LSU takes the field Saturday against BYU in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will show the same uniform LSU has worn for decades: The dominant white jersey with purple and gold shoulder stripes has been essentially the same since 1957, the year before the Tigers won their first wire-service national title. And the helmet with the purple “LSU” letters above the image of a tiger head debuted in 1977.
But in subtle ways, LSU’s gear has undergone significant, if not radical, changes in recent years. The impetus, said Jason Feirman, LSU’s director of creative services, is to make a distinctive look even better and more, well, uniform.
“Custom numbers, the font, your logo — that’s what sets you apart,” Feirman said.
The uniform changes started with the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson. That’s when LSU debuted jersey numbers that are angled on the corners at 58 degrees. The so-called “58 font” is in honor of LSU’s 1958 national champs. The chest numbers on those bowl jerseys were found to be too small and were later enlarged.
A year later, the LSU tiger head logo underwent a remake. Feirman, working with graphic artists at Nike to come up with a logo that could be stitched properly onto uniforms, redesigned the Tiger head that made its debut in 1972. That Tiger head was temporarily replaced by another side-facing Tiger logo when the now iconic LSU “Geaux" font made its debut in the early 2000s but was derided for not being fierce enough.
The 1972 Tiger head logo was likely hand-drawn, Feirman said, and angled slightly to the left. Feirman’s tiger is similar but symmetrical, with eyes inspired by the “Eye of the Tiger” logo at midfield in Tiger Stadium. The new Tiger head first adorned the basketball court in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for the start of the 2013-14 season, then was changed on LSU’s helmets for the 2014 spring game.
There are several alterations to LSU’s helmet for 2017. Instead of stickers spelling out “LSU” on the front above the face mask and “Tigers” on the back, the bumpers now feature a 3D look with raised purple and gold letters. The player’s number on the back of the helmet is now in the “58 font” as well, and the warning sticker next to the purple and white center stripes has also been tweaked.
One change you won’t see is the purple “LSU” letters on the side of the helmet in the Geaux font. Feirman said he has made a mock-up of a helmet that way, but the Geaux letters don’t work well when curved as they are on the Tigers’ headgear.
As for the uniform, the biggest changes over the past 60 years have been in shoulder stripes. They’ve gone from all the way around the arm to what they will be this season, a half-moon crescent worn like epaulets atop each shoulder.
Greg Stringfellow, LSU’s director of equipment, said the length of the stripes (which were longer last season) are often dictated by the way the jerseys are constructed.
“You’ll see the stripe change through the years with the types of jerseys,” Stringfellow said. “You want get a good fit to have a performance advantage.”
This type of jersey debuted for last season’s "gold game" but wasn’t ready for full-scale use until this season. The Nike jerseys are composed of fewer fabric panels than last year’s model and are perforated toward the bottom. LSU’s traditional gold pants are also one piece now instead of the stripe being a knit fabric, again for a better fit.
It will take a close-up from one of ESPN’s cameras to catch the alterations to this year’s uniform. But guys like Feirman and Stringfellow will know, and they're content in the knowledge that LSU’s image has not only been preserved, but improved.
The equation that didn’t add up
In 1952, LSU coach Gus Tinsley and sports information director Jim Corbett concocted a unique letter and number system for the Tigers’ jerseys. Ends, guards and tackles wore the letters “E,” “G” and “T,” followed by a single number, even for the right side of the line and odd for the left. Similarly, centers, quarterbacks, left and right halfbacks and fullbacks wore “C,” “Q,” “L,” “R,” and “F.” The 1953 edition of LSU’s yearbook predicted the new system “may revolutionize the football jersey manufacturing industry.” It didn’t. After a dismal 3-7 season, LSU reverted to conventional numbers for the 1953 campaign.