With the NCAA tourney now in progress, several teams are wearing new March Madness uniforms. The problem is that many of those unis are not so hot, and most of them seem like depressingly rote attempts to move more retail product.
If you want to see a really inspired uniform design that took March Madness by storm, you must go back four decades to the mid-1970s. That's when Marquette came up with what is still one of the biggest innovations to appear on a basketball court: the untucked jersey.
First, some quick background: Marquette had already developed a reputation for unusual uniforms during the coaching reign of Al McGuire, who was famously free-spirited and co-owned a local uniform manufacturer. But nothing the team had worn previously could prepare fans for what happened when McGuire allowed forward Bo Ellis, a 6-foot-9 junior majoring in fashion design, to create the team's 1975-76 uniforms.
Ellis had developed the distinctive uniform quirk of wearing his jersey untucked while his teammates kept theirs tucked in. As he later explained: "When it was tucked in, my jersey was so tight that I didn't feel good when I was out playing. So once I had pulled it out and started playing, it was a lot looser and [had] a lot better fit. I didn't feel restricted."
Even before Bo Ellis (No. 31) designed Marquette's untucked uni, he had already begun wearing his jerseys untucked. pic.twitter.com/t66h26Ki4J- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Ellis figured a jersey designed to be worn untucked would be even better, so he drew up some sketches and showed them to McGuire. Most coaches would have said: "No way. " But McGuire, to his credit, gave the project his blessing. And so the untucked era began.
Marquette's 1975-76 untucked jersey, designed by forward Bo Ellis, allowed for ease of movement. pic.twitter.com/5doksdt6RG- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Rare color shot of Marquette's first-generation untucked uni. pic.twitter.com/SYDkuolXzY- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Traditionalists blanched, but the players loved the uniforms. And it was hard to argue with success, as Marquette ended up wearing the uniforms all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Indiana.
Marquette's first untucked design made it all the way to the Elite Eight before losing to Indiana. pic.twitter.com/gLVeonwcV3- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Ellis and McGuire upped the ante the following March, as Marquette paired its untucked white jersey with gold shorts -- a combo that worked surprisingly well and still looks great today:
Marquette's 1977 March Madness uni: Not just untucked - white jersey paired with gold shorts! pic.twitter.com/nev8uttbbs- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Marquette wore that uniform all the way to the national championship, defeating North Carolina in the finals. You can see a good chunk of that game in the following video, which is probably the best available document of the untucked uniforms in action:
After that season, Ellis graduated and McGuire retired, but Marquette continued to wear untucked jerseys into the early 1980s:
Doc Rivers wearing untucked jerseys for Marquette in the early 1980s. pic.twitter.com/ZqIZmuhsmL- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
By this time, Marquette wasn't alone. The untucked look caught on with several other schools during this period. Here are a few examples:
Several schools copied Marquette's untucked look in the late '70s and early '80s, including West Virginia. pic.twitter.com/my2N3nggES- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
Another school that followed Marquette's untucked lead: UMass. pic.twitter.com/NWWQyo2u6J- Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 11, 2016
The NCAA eventually banned untucked jerseys. But even that didn't stop teams from trying to look untucked. Iowa, for example, added striping to its shorts to simulate the untucked style. From a distance it was hard to tell the difference:
If you want to know more about how Al McGuire and Bo Ellis reshaped Marquette's uniform program, ESPN produced a "30 for 30" documentary about them two years ago -- called "Untucked," appropriately. You can check it out here:
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas will be ranking the uniforms for the teams in the Sweet 16 round next week. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.