In the humble (and correct) opinion of this reporter, the most valuable piece of real estate a university owns is its football helmet. The football team is often the first and most common way the general public interacts with a university, and the helmet is the first and most common way a viewer interacts with the football team.
That’s why, if they listened to me, teams would stock their proverbial wardrobe with but one helmet design. Mix and match your jerseys and pants all you want, but my subconscious should recognize your helmet as yours and yours alone the instant that light waves move from my television screen to my brain.
Ole Miss does not agree with me, and that’s their prerogative.
In fact, four games in, Ole Miss has worn four different uniform combinations, topped by four different helmet designs.
The Rebels donned white helmets over navy jerseys and white pants for their opener against Troy, powder blue helmets over red tops and gray bottoms against Central Arkansas, went all white (different striping/decals this time) for their first road trip at Georgia Tech, and navy/navy/white this past Saturday against Tulsa.
Again, that’s not what I would do — I’d stick with the powder blue helmets full time, then mix and match below that — but it’s a characteristic of Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss. Last year, the Rebels wore four different helmets and nine total uniform combinations in 13 games. At least all of those helmets left no doubt they represented the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi alone.
You can’t say that about the helmets the Rebels will wear this Saturday.
As No. 7 Kentucky comes to Oxford to face No. 14 Ole Miss in one of the biggest game of the weekend (noon ET, ESPN), Ole Miss will use the game as a vehicle to promote… Realtree?
The Georgia-based outdoors apparel company, founded by Ole Miss alum Bill Jordan, will put its design on Ole Miss’s helmets.
“We loved this idea from the minute we heard about it,” Carter said. “Today’s environment around lead times for any sort of equipment has presented challenges, but teamwork between the Realtree team and our athletics staff has been tremendous. Everyone, including head coach and our student-athletes, was determined, excited and eager to see this concept become reality, and we’re thrilled to launch the partnership and see how it grows in the years ahead. Our players will take the field Saturday wearing an exclusive helmet that will turn heads and generate excitement amongst our students, alumni and fans.”
“Our players and coaches are excited to partner with Realtree and wear this unique new helmet and gear,” Kiffin said. “I appreciate Bill, Tyler and the entire Realtree team for all they have done and continue to do for our program. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for this great collaboration.”
For any viewers unaware whose brand is painted all over the helmet, Realtree conveniently provided chin strips with the logo on the chin and the company name printed on the straps.
The press release reads like an advertisement for Realtree, which is great for that company, but it leads one to wonder why Ole Miss would do this, if not for the money. (A program spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.) The company that does pay Ole Miss to plaster its logo all over its uniforms, Nike, is featured prominently in the press release/advertisement, so it stands to reason the Swoosh will profit through the merchandise arm of this business arrangement.
There are certainly plenty of Ole Miss fans and recruits that will love these helmets, and that’s fine. As a helmet design, it’s not the worst an FBS team has ever worn, and possibly not the worst an FBS team will wear this season.
But as an omen, this is terrifying. If Realtree gets the Ole Miss helmet, why wouldn’t Georgia sell its to Vineyard Vines? Stanford to some company that makes overpriced finance bro vests? Ohio State to Faded Glory? And why stop at apparel companies? What’s stopping LSU from replacing the Mike the Tiger emblem with Raising Cane, the mascot of the chicken finger franchise? (Okay maybe not the best example, that one would be awesome.)
Point is, this Ole Miss helmet may be the worst thing you’ve ever seen, or it may be the best. But even if you’re in the latter camp, once one school does it, it opens the door for a second. Once a second school does it, soon a third, a fourth, a 28th will follow, and most of those designs will be an assault on your eyeballs, an affront to the Founding Fathers, and do more to promote their own brands at the expense of the university.
And by that point, it’ll be too late to turn the money spigot off.