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Jack In The Box: Football Meets Fashion At Russell Luncheon

Aug. 19, 2008


Incredibly, until Tuesday afternoon, I’d somehow managed to spend 35 years in sportswriting without ever having been to a football fashion show. And Wes Durham had never emceed one.

“You’re emceeing a fashion show?” That’s what Durham’s wife, Vicky, asked Tuesday morning when he told her that yes, he was indeed emceeing a fashion show. And not just any fashion show. Classic hut-hut couture [sorry].

So there was Wes, fittingly at high noon at Twelve in Atlantic Station, as Georgia Tech officially introduced its new football uniforms and the rest of its fall line of athletic apparel from Russell Athletic. Winter and spring wear, too.

Not since Gisele Bunchen and her umlaut first cozied up to Tom Brady and asked him to explain the mysteries of the two-deep zone has there been a confluence of fashion and football, of cover girl and Cover 2, quite like this.

“This is as close to being on Tim Gunn’s `Guide to Style’ on Bravo as I’ll ever be,” said Durham, who, like me, had wisely avoided a fashion faux pas by wearing socks for the occasion. Unwisely, Wes actually told that…joke [sorry] on stage. It was met with deafening silence.

“Nobody got it,” Durham said later, laughing. “I should’ve said `Project Runway.'”

Not on your life, Heidi Klum. You have nothing to worry about. Neither does Georgia Tech, not with its new 10-year agreement with Russell Athletic that Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich said may be worth more than $20 million in cash and apparel for all Tech’s athletic teams.

While models modeled — as models often do — Tech apparel and sportswear for fans, coaches and casual, off-the-field clothing for athletes, uniforms for various teams were on display. From volleyball to baseball, softball to Tech’s wildly-popular women’s basketball jerseys.

The highlight of Fashion Week, though, was clearly football. But forget old school. Forget Oldsmobile. This is not your father’s tearaway jersey.

“Oh, I love `em,” said Janie Mitchell, the ex-Tech All-ACC forward and basketball captain and one of Tuesday’s models. Those old starched stuffed shirts at the NCAA forbid current athletes from strutting their stuff on an active runway.

“I love that color. So rich, so dressy,” Mitchell said. She was talking about the new Old Gold — not to be confused with Tech’s classic old Old Gold — on the Jackets’ football jerseys and pants.

“I really like these,” Jamal Lewis, the former All-ACC safety, said of the Old Gold jersey he was modeling above a pair of new white game pants. “They’re very tight, they’re up-to-date. Very modern. Seems like we have a lot more swag than last year.

“I think that’ll build a lot more confidence with the team,” said Lewis, who was recently cut by the Falcons. “If you feel good, you play good. I talked to a lot of the players. They like `em [the new unies] a lot. A lot more swagger. But I think it still is an old-fashioned look. Not hand-me-downs, but old-fashioned. They’re tight. Real together.”

“It’s a very new look, and I like `em,” said ex-Tech safety Djay Jones, who graduated in May. “I like the Old Gold. It’s a new look. Some people maybe won’t like `em at first, but it’ll grow on `em.”

Paul Johnson was a bit less effusive in his fashion assessment. “They were here when I got here,” Tech’s new head coach said of the new football uniforms after Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t worry about stuff like that. I just try to make sure everybody works hard.”

Johnson, whose debut is Aug. 28th at home versus Jacksonville State, doesn’t care whether his spread option offense is in vogue or his defensive line’s in Vogue. Or Elle. Or Vanity Fair. Or even Athlon or Street & Smith’s. He just cares about the W. No, not the fashion mag W. The win.

And Darryl Richard? The defender doesn’t wear Prada. Rather, Rusell. And proudly.

“I like `em,” said the defensive tackle, who returns for his third season as a starter and is a big fan of the new football unies. “They’re something different, but they definitely stayed true to Georgia Tech tradition.

“In the college game, you’ve got to [adjust],” said Richard, who graduated in three years, is in Tech’s MBA program and may pursue a career in athletic administration. “They’re still white and gold. The things that get people excited about the games — whether it’s recruits, or fans, or uniforms — that gets people into the stands.

“You’ve got to understand, it’s 17-, 18-year-olds we’re dealing with, not 50-year-old men,” said Richard, who’s keenly aware of the importance of marketing. “The uniforms are stylish. I think they bridge the gap from the old to the new. For a long time we haven’t been doing that. And the uniforms can help do it.”

And next week is Fashion Week on the Flats. And yes, Tech will continue to dress `em in white and gold — just in 21st-century style.


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