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A Brief History of the White Out in College Football

Rob Carr - Getty Images

Alternate uniforms have rarely appealed to me.

Part of this is because in my time as a Carolina fan, I've been subjected to some pretty bad ones. The throwback 1957 basketball uniforms eventually grew on me; the 1999 interlocking NC version never did. I've also been less than thrilled with some other innovations, like the Carrier Classic camo. But I am old and cranky; the folks who actually wear the alternate uniforms genarally love them — even the abominations in College Park. So UNC football has gotten in on the game with the first of what promises to be many alternate uniforms, an all-white version to go with the planned white out for tomorrow's game against Virginia Tech.

White outs are a funny thing; something that sounds like a venerable college tradition that actually just caught on in the last few years. The first such tradition sprung up in professional hockey, when the Winnipeg Jets encouraged their fans to wear white in 1987 in response to the red Calgary Flames' fans wore. The Jets won that series, and a tradition was born that continues on in Phoenix, where the Jets moved in 1986.

It's doubtful Penn State was thinking about hockey when they introduced the white out to college football in 2005. They were mainly thinking about how the previous year's Code Blue promotion had failed miserably. Perhaps because everyone owns a white T-shirt, or that the Nittany Lions home uniforms are a little more iconic, the concept of wearing white caught on, as Penn State defeated Ohio State 17-10. It was only the student section who went color-free for the game; it has since been extended to the entire stadium and become an annual event, which I'll admit can be a pretty impressive effect. The name was also changed to the White House, because, well, the Coyotes sued.

Penn State, of course, did not change their uniforms for the event, as there was no need. The first school to pair the stadium promotion with the alternate uniform trend appears to be Virginia Tech, who broke out the extra-strength bleach for the season opener against Furman. The event was ostensibly to promote reading because, sure, why not. They've continued the tradition for the home openers since, culminating in this disastrous helmet in 2012.

Other schools have gotten in on the action, to the point that the Coyotes' lawyers have apparently given up in frustration. Georgia Tech has done fan whiteouts for a few years (it started ironically), only to have one ruined when N.C. State elected to wear white jerseys in Atlanta. N.C. State has tried a white out of their own, losing to South Carolina in 2009. Maryland, uniform wizards that they are, have made the bold play of wearing all-white uniforms on the road; WVU, presumably confusing their apparel for an attempt to surrender, went easy on the Terps and only beat them by ten. The white out's popularity isn't hard to figure out. It's a cheap way of unifying fans that can be easily bolstered by a cheap sponsored T-shirt giveaway. Barring that, it can be a fundraiser or just an excuse to get fans to buy a different T-shirt.

With Carolina, however, there's a bit of irony. I went to Chapel Hill in the mid-90's a time we all realize now was a bit of a sartorial wasteland. When you weren't wearing flannel, you were wearing oversized, ill-fitting t-shirts, most of which were, yes, white. My college wardrobe was basically a collection of white t-shirts, with a logo for some fraternity fundraiser on the right breast and a bad joke on the back. In fact, check out the primordial Kenan Stadium white out, as captured on a fundraising brochure for the stadium expansion:


It took years and a coordinated effort by the basketball program under Matt Doherty to get everyone wearing blue. They made it a requirement to get into the student bleachers behind the basket, and from there it spread. Now, it's difficult to find anything but that shade on students, or in the stores. But for one game at least, we'll get a '90's revival. Hopefully the effect ill be awe-inspiring, even if it's hampered by the noon start. The players will be excited, at least, and it's a great chance to get one up on the Coastal Division. Now if only we can get Archers of Loaf to play halftime, everything will be just perfect.