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Decades of KU Football Style

How Uniforms Have Changed Over Time

It's a crisp autumn day in Lawrence. The stands are full of football fans anxious to cheer on the University of Kansas Jayhawks. The band is playing, and everyone jumps to their feet as the team runs onto the field…

…wearing long-sleeved sweaters, canvas pants, and high-top boots. And no helmets!

In the late 1800s, this is what KU football fans would have experienced. Football players back then dressed very differently from what we see today. Early football shoes were more like work boots. Shoulder pads were leather and wool concoctions sewn into the player's jerseys, and the pants were canvas with pads sewn in to protect the knees and thighs. Writer Amy Daughters described the look in a 2013 "Bleacher Report" article as "players dressed like they were in a Civil War era street fight."

Since then, uniforms evolved as the sport developed and player safety came to the forefront. Considering in 1905, 23 athletes died from playing college football, upgrades in player protection and rule changes eventually led to the style players wear today. KU Football recently unveiled new uniforms for the 2023 season made by Adidas. These are far different from what players wore more than a century ago.

The most significant distinction between then and now is the helmet. In those early days, players didn't wear them! However, by the 1890s, they started to think about their well-being. Some wore headgear made of leather straps and moleskin with ear flaps and no facemasks, looking more like aviators than football players.

Helmets didn't become mandatory until 1939. The Riddell company made the first plastic helmet in 1940 and created the style we're more familiar with in the 1970s. Facemasks started showing up in the 1950s. Today, companies are studying ways to make helmets safer. Some are styled based on the player's position on the field and their head's impact on other players and the turf. 

Visually, one significant change in this year's new KU uniforms is the font for the lettering and numbers. Gone is the Trajan font used since 2007. Instead, everything is in a bold block font. Also missing this season is an all-red uniform option.

The new all-blue look will be the primary home uniform—a blue jersey, pants, and helmet. Details include white stripes outlined in red on the shoulders and an all-caps Kansas in white above the white player's number, also outlined in red. Plus, each jersey has the Adidas and Big 12 Conference patches.

"It's exciting to be upgrading our uniforms," says Jalon Daniels, starting quarterback and Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year. "Since I've been here, we've had those same blue uniforms. These are a little more skintight, so it's going to be easier for us to be able to get away from a defender."

Defensive lineman Tommy Dunn, Jr. adds, "For me, it fits very nice. That's upgraded from my old uniforms. Like JD said, they are skintight, so the offensive lineman won't hold on to us. It'll be easier to make a move, get vertical and sack the quarterback. The other jerseys wouldn't move with you, so this is way easier."

An all-white option will be the primary away game uniform. In this style, the stripes and numbers are blue with a red outline. The helmet is white with a blue stripe down the middle and red accents. Both helmet styles feature the Jayhawk logo.

One noticeable difference between the uniforms of old and the ones today is gloves. Players in the past didn’t wear them, and not all players wear them today, including Daniels. He says the feel and grip on the ball is better without gloves. Conversely, defensive lineman Tommy Dunn, Jr. wears them to protect his hands and fingers while fighting through the opponent to sack the quarterback.  

Center Mike Novitsky falls in the middle. He says, "I don't wear a glove on my right hand, so I can feel the ball when I snap it to JD. But I wear one on the left to protect it for blocking."

Fans will first see the new uniforms in action on September 1st against Missouri State at the David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, also known as "The Booth."

Daniels says, "I'm a big fan of these uniforms and excited to see how they feel when we play."

For more photos of KU football uniforms, old and new, go to citylifestyle.com/lawrenceks.

"I'm a big fan of these uniforms and excited to see how they feel when we play."

KU Quarterback Jalon Daniels

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