Traditionally in college football, a new head coach has the prerogative to alter his team's on-field appearance. For Oregon, this tradition held sway until the Bellotti era and the increased influence of Nike in the team's uniform design beginning in 1997, leading to the now-famous Three Year Uniform Complaint Reload.
It is inaccurate to say, however, that Oregon's livery maintained a Penn State type of consistency in the pre-Bellotti era. It wasn't all "Donald Duck"; in fact, Donald's presence on the uniform itself was a historically recent (1984) phenomenon. But there were enough significant changes in the uniforms between the early 1950s and the late 90s to merit a review. (For all we know, Penn State might have changed its uniforms a few times on coaching changes, if they ever actually got around to changing coaches.)
A prehistoric Duck Football fashion show, after the jump...
The Casanova Era (1951 - 1966)
Len Casanova may have been an innovator, but college football was as hide-bound as anything in the 1950s. The Duck uniforms were as mundane as any you'd see of the time, with Green Bay Gold helmets bearing a single green stripe, white jerseys with green block letters and three green upper arm stripes (away) and Kelly Green jerseys with white and gold stripes (home), in both cases wearing gold pants.
Cas made his first and only major uniform revision for the 1956 season, adding multicolor arm stripes to home and away jerseys, enlarging the numbers and edging them in white on the home jerseys. The home unis were relatively unadorned, with block "Green Bay Gold" letters lined with white on Kelly Green, gold pants with two thin green side stripes, and gold helmets (home and away) that for several years bore player numbers.
(Color photos of home games during the Cas years are difficult to come by, hence the necessity of colorizing Mr. Mel Renfro in his 1962 livery on Media Day.)
The road whites featured a "UCLA shoulder loop," a feature that was popularized by Red Sanders with his UCLA teams in the mid-50s. For Oregon, a thin green stripe bordered a thicker solid middle yellow stripe on each side. The shoulder loop was a very noticeable feature on the jersey that helped Coach Sanders decipher his Bruins on the grainy black and white game films of the time. This look was eventually adopted by several college teams as well as some pros -- the. Vikings, Colts, Chargers(w/center bolt), Patriots, 49ers, NY Titans, and Rams. (H/T: GreenGlare)
This look could have made Jack Crabtree, QB of the '58 Rose Bowl team, feel right at home at the game, except for the fact that UCLA didn't start playing its home games in Pasadena until 1982.
In '63 a white stripe edged in green replaced the single green helmet stripe. This was the last significant uniform change until Jerry Frei took over as coach in '67.
From Frei to Brooks (1967 - 1977)
Ten years, four head coaches, four athletic directors, two stadiums.. why wouldn't you mix up the uniforms as well?
1967-71 (Jerry Frei)
Jerry Frei started his career by changing around the hats. In '67 the team sported an interlocking "UO", in gold lined with white, on a solid green helmet, with an oddly generic and un-footballish font that resembles Futura Bold.
In '68, Frei jazzed up the uniforms, adding numbers to the sleeves and moving the sleeve stripes on the road jerseys down the arm. The helmet decal changed to a somewhat morphed block "U-O" with green letters edged in gold on a white oval background.
In 1969 there was another helmet change, the last under Frei, with "U-O" now in the familiar interlocked Block-U style, unlined gold on green.
Note how green the overall combination looks. The pant stripes, changed to a green-white-green look, promised a level of Green Bay Packer-style distinction that the team never was quite able to deliver.
This uniform combination was retained until Frei wasn't.
1972-1976 (Dick Enright, Don Read)
Not much happened during the tenures of Dick Enright and Don Read, other than a certain uniformity.
Enright implemented a retro look in 1972, moving back to the Casanova-era gold helmet with green and white Packer-style central stripe and no logo, and dropping the arm numbers from the road jerseys. Which was probably just as well, considering how poorly the team played; why call attention to yourself or your affiliation when you suck?
Read replaced the road arm numbers for 1976, for no obvious reason, but this was the only visible change in Oregon's uniforms during a period of consistent sub-mediocrity.
From Consistency to Nike (1977 - 1999)
1977 - 1994 (Rich Brooks)
Brooks immediately re-added Frei's Block-U style interlocking "U-O" to the helmets in '77, while keeping the EnRead design. In 1978, the gray masks were changed to Green Bay Gold to match the helmets.
This look was maintained with only one significant tweak through the Brooks tenure -- the move of the sleeve numbers to the shoulder, to make room for the "Donald Duck- through-the-O" logo, in 1985.
From Bellotti to Nike (1995 - 1998)
On promotion to HC after Brooks bolted for the pros, Mike Bellotti finally had a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream.. of eliminating stripes from his team's uniforms.
Gone were the helmet stripes, arm bands, and leg stripes. The helmet decals and Donald-O sleeve logos remained, giving the team a very clean and professional look that would be retained for all of four years, when Nike took over uniform design.
This combination was the basis for the "throwback" unis worn against Cal and OSU in 2009, minus the Donald and with the modern "O" helmet decal. The choice of white and green jerseys, and yellow and green pants, meant fans could experience a whopping four different uniform combinations.
In 1999, the new Nike-designed multistripe uniforms, with the introduction of multiple shades of green, were unveiled, and the rest -- four complete makeovers in 10 years -- is history.
Personally, I'd like to see them bring out an early-70s throwback, with green jerseys and hats and the Packer stripes, but I'm not holding my breath.
(Many thanks to Helmet Hut, which is not only a great source for authentic reproductions of period helmets but offers a surprisingly comprehensive look at the history of a number of CFB teams.)
Note: If any AtQers have access to color game-action photos from the pre-Brooks era (say, the '48 Cotton Bowl team?), please contact me, I'd like to see them and would be happy to get them digitized and preserved.