Cal Uni Countdown: High Five

As we continue our uniform countdown to the April 10 unveiling of the new California football uniforms, we delve deep into the archives and break down the first of our top five looks.

Cal Uni Countdown: Polar Bear Checks in at No. 10
Cal Uni Countdown: Far From Cloud Nine
Cal Uni Countdown: The Ocho
Cal Uni Countdown: Lucky Number Seven
Cal Uni Countdown: Gold Reserves Check in at No. 6


Rarely is a uniform defined by a single player who wears it, especially in college sports, where the uniform – its stripes, its colors, its history -- carry the weight of an entire institution. But that weight pales in comparison to the weight carried by one Joe Roth in the fall of 1976.

Knowing that he was playing with terminal cancer, Roth still took the field for the Golden Bears. His No. 12 is still the only number ever retired by the program.

Checking in at No. 5 today is the uniform that Joe Roth wore in 1975 and 1976.


Why it worked

Cal wore variations on this uniform from 1972 to 1981, and boy, were they pure 1970s. The blue was a brighter, almost royal blue -- a far cry from the generations of Bears who had worn a nearly-black shade -- and the gold was officially bright yellow.

Everything about this uniform was louder than any other set Cal had ever worn. For the first time in history, the Bears wore stripes on its pants, and added blue bottoms for the first time in its history, worn on the road.

In previous years, the Bears had been no strangers to sleeve stripes, but they had always been gold, as had the helmet stripes, from when they first appeared in the mid-1950s. And that helmet? The first ever Cal football helmet to be anything other than dark blue, and it was also the first time in the photographic record that the Bears used merit decals.

There was a standard blue-over-gold at home and white-over-blue on the road. This uniform completely changed Cal's visual identity, and for that reason alone, it ranks as highly as it does, not to mention the fact that greats like Roth and Chuck Muncie wore it.

Why it didn't

With all of the changes to the Bears' look that came with this uniform, there came a lot of things that could be tweaked and changed. Cal had no fewer than four variations over the 10 seasons this basic uniform was worn. As the helmet changed, so did the jerseys. By 1979, the distinctive sleeve stripes were gone, and by 1980, they were replaced with television numbers. The pants stripe colors varied in width.

The biggest reason why these uniforms didn't work is a retroactive reason. At the time, and even when they were worn as throwbacks, they were magnificent, but looking back through the lens of the past several decades, the lightening of the shades used – from Yale blue to navy or royal blue, and from gold to yellow – shaped the on-field look we see today.

From the banana look to the Polar Bear to the too-many-bumper-stickers look, you can trace all of Cal's uniform troubles to the advent of this uniform set, which is too bad. Camp can work if it doesn't take itself too seriously, and that's why many other uniforms of the 1970s -- while outlandish -- worked so well. This was an experiment in sartorial sanity, and while it made some daring leaps, it was able to pull itself back in time for perhaps some of the best uniforms the Bears have ever worn (more on that as we continue the countdown HINT HINT HINT), but there was still damage done.

When ridiculous uniform additions started to become the norm, no matter how ridiculous over-the-top they looked or how much they betrayed a team's history by assigning colors not a part of an institution's identity, that's when the fun spirit of uniforms like the Joe Roth-era duds gets lost, and you wind up with designers either asleep at the wheel or just plain drunk with power. Top Stories