Vols Back in Black

When the Volunteers put their collective best foot forward this fall it will clad in solid black.

For that matter, so will the symbolic worst foot, as UT has decided to go Goth below the knees this season with black socks and matching shoes. Call it a tip of the hat to an accessory trend that's en vouge and a retreat from the retro white-shoes look of the last two seasons.

In that respect, the black shoes are something of a re-retro look at Tennessee, making a third incarnation. But the addition of the black socks is definitely a step away from the traditional orange and white color scheme.

UT is for the most part conservative when it comes to fashion uniformity, opting for small changes through the years as is typical with successful programs. One of the biggest changes came with a redesign by addias in 2002 that included the addition of an orange stripe on the side of the white road jersey that converged with a single, wide orange stripe on the pants.

The home uniforms also had the wide orange stripe on the pants which was a extreme modification from no stripe at all. Former Vol linebacker Eddie Moore described the uniforms as looking "like a split-open pumpkin." The aim was to bring in a more modern look and create greater consumer market penetration, but the look didn't last the season.

In 2004, the orange stripe on the helmet was smaller and throw-back uniforms were used in the home opener. However generally, uniform changes are minor. Tennessee experimented with light blue shading of numbers and didn't go with the black outline on the numbers of road uniforms until the so-called protest away jerseys of 1972, when TV broadcasters required greater uniform contrast. Until that time, Tennessee didn't need away uniforms. There was ample color and a lot contrast between UT Orange and Georgia Red, between UT Orange and Alabama Crimson, between UT Orange and Auburn Blue.

Most Big Orange fans weren't even aware the Vols had white road uniforms until Tennessee wore them against Texas in the 1968 Cotton Bowl. The Vols continued to use the basic white and orange road uniforms until a change in 1994, that included solid black lettering on names and black trim around the numbers. That made numbers easier to indentify from the stands.

There were rumors of the Vols wearing solid black road pants in recent years, but that bold fashion statement remains in moth balls, perhaps awaiting a Halloween game on some future schedule.

What comes of the latest change only time will tell. But you can be sure if the team isn't successful the Goth look will never catch on.

That was part of the problem with the 2002 uniforms as the Vols plunged from top five preseason rankings in an injury-plagued campaign that ended with an 8-5 record and a 30-3 loss in the Peach Bowl. The other part of the problem was those unis were simply ugly. The question is: if UT had won a national title that season would the uniforms still be in use today? The fact they aren't may be the only positive to emerge from the worst season in the Phillip Fulmer era.

Remember, when the Vols debuted those hedious orange shoes in the 1987 game against Alabama. After a stunning 56-28 setback to the Crimson Tide the consesus among UT fans was that it had to be the shoes.

It's safe to say the acceptance of this season's fashion statement will depend more on how well the Vols play than how good they look.

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