Mgo-reader J.P. sent over this question into mgoblog.  Brian forwarded it my way for some level 2 support:

Is it just me or is the ‘maize’ portion of Michigan’s uniforms–in all sports except Hockey–getting lighter?  I see old games on BTN and remember from watching Michigan for the past 30 years that the maize used to be a deep, rich, gold/yellow.  Over the past 10 years, the maize has gotten lighter and lighter to the point where it looks pastel now.  This drives me nuts.  I can’t stand the winged helmet that’s highlighter yellow instead of the richer maize.  The pants look canary in color!  This seemed to have started at the end of the Nike era and carried over to the Adidas unis.  I’ve attached some pics.  


So, is it just me and the color remained the same?  Is my eyesight getting worse?  Is it the setting on my tv’s over the years?

After a quick read I escalated this to a Severity One ticket and dispatched Michigan uniform guru Steve Sapardanis to resolve this.

Take it away, Mr. Dr. Sapardanis:

Let’s get this out of the way first:  never, ever, ever go by the color you see of pics online, in mags/programs or even in photos – see these Harbaugh photos as reference:

1986NDHarbaughThese two pics are from the same game, maybe even the same play, maybe even the same photographer (probably not), but notice the difference in colors.   

So how do you explain the difference?   It’s all in the photo processing, developing and printing of the mag/program!  The way the chemicals are mixed, the way the photo is taken and developed ALL have an effect on what the colors end up being.  Remember, an object is “colored” because of the light it reflects on your retina and what color your brain tells you it is.

With that as a starting point…

Yes, the helmet color has varied slightly over the years – way before Nike and Adidas took over the team outfitting contracts – but not to the extent of the orange color of the Desmond photo that J.P. sent over (see the Desmond photo inset for color difference):

1991 Desmond Yellow Heisman Pose, Orange Heisman Pose, Oranger Herby

The helmets were painted yellow back in the day – just not as bright a yellow as today’s helmets are painted.  Curtis Worrell from has game used helmets (gamers), and he assures me that the UM helmets over the years have had an orangey-tinge/hue to them since the Ron Kramer days. (This is why you see them on sale at the M-Den and such places with that orangey-yellow color because HelmetHut creates ALL these throwback replica helmets!).

A friend of mine also has his own collection of gamers, and while he agrees that the yellow color has varied over the years, he maintains that it is more of a yellow than orange tint.

When I did my exhaustive research for my 1977 Leach helmet, in going through countless old photos of the day, what struck me was that the offensive linemen’s helmets would get so scuffed up, you could see the real helmet color underneath the painted wings and stripes.

That’s when I realized, and later had confirmed, that the factory color of the helmets are NOT yellow, or even maize – it is called Vegas Gold or Green Bay Packer Yellow – take your pick.

Back in the 70’s I don’t think the helmets were primed before the yellow was applied – the attached pics of Donahue, Lytle and Woolfolk bear that out:

With bright yellow being considered a “weak” player in the color spectrum, the stronger orange/Vegas Gold appears, at times (depending on the lighting and other atmospheric conditions), to bleed through the outer yellow, thus giving the appearance of an orange hue.

The recent helmet yellow color change (I think) is attributable to Capitol Varsity and Riddell (UM’s helmet-design suppliers) using a primer before applying the yellow.  With a primer, the true yellow color does not interact with the color of the helmet, thus giving it a brighter maize look.

When did this change occur?  I can’t say for sure, but I noticed a “brighter” yellow on the helmets in the early 2000’s.

Sometime during the early Bo years (1976?), U-M went with rubberized numbers.  Before then – and maybe since the first time numbers appeared on the back of the unis in the 30’s – U-M had sewn-on tackle-twill numbers. This is an important distinction because material will reflect color differently and consequently give the observer the appearance of a different color. 

For the longest time, the material and the color of the numbers were the same.  But when Nike took over in 1995 they made a few changes.

Mesh hole size was different on one version. (Note: When Russell was outfitting the team in the late 80’s, large-mesh-hole jerseys were used for a few years, as well.) Tackle-twill sewn on numbers returned, and yes, the yellow color was different.

I have a 1979 game-used Gator Bowl jersey (the first time U-M had the players’ names on the back of the blues) and that shade of yellow is different from the 1995-NIKE-Amani-Toomer-#18-Cheryl-Tiegs-Fish-Net-large-mesh-Coolio-video-replica-jersey.

I understand that it is a replica, but from the games that I went to over the years, Nike did change the color (and font-size for that matter) of the numbers. It was very apparent on the sewn on tackle-twill jersey numbers that Henne and company wore.

Yes, the pant color also changed over the years – part of that was due to a material/cloth change & part of it was indeed a color change.

In the mid to late 70’s UM sported the two-tone pants (see Ricky Leach below, right) where the front side of the pant was noticeably brighter and the back side had more of a lighter color and flat or matte look to it.  [Ed. More on the Two-Toned pants here].

Hoard and Leach

In the late 80’s UM’s pants had more of a “sheen” look to them (think Leroy Hoard, above in 1988). U-M was not alone as ND also sported the same style pant (with sheen). I would have thought this style would have caught on more than it did as I’m sure it would have made it more difficult to tackle/grab onto the pants, but maybe not.

Don’t change the settings on your TV!

The best way to know what color has been used over the years is to put each helmet, jersey and pant next to each other and see with your own eyes what the real colors were/are – you’d be amazed at the subtleties!

I’ve been going to U-M games for over 30 years – I’ve never thought U-M had orangey-looking pants or helmets or numbers. But did I think there were subtle changes over the years?  Yes, but not to the extent that I thought the color pantones had changed.  Remember, U-M even posted its true color pantone numbers in the media guides years ago.

What I have noticed is that Adidas has introduced a much bolder and brighter yellow/maize to all U-M uniforms.  The basketball yellows are much brighter and I think the U-M football pants and helmets have a brighter yellow to them, as well.

I think Adidas has finally gotten the yellow correct, and I for one am VERY happy that they have!


  1. As a long time college fan, I could tell Michigan color or maize has changed slightly. but as Steve says one should not just judge from any picture. Being a uniform buff and one who has studied Ohio State’s uniform history. I really enjoyed this article.

    Interesting about the numbers too. I think long long ago teams used felt for numbers. I wonder if Steve knows about the earlier Michigan uniforms. Such as when Michigan had that oval patch on both sides of the front jersey in the 1920’s. Was it black or brown? Sometimes I can make educated guesses and most times you can tell if the color was white. Or black helmet or brown.

    I have the Michigan Vault book and on page 39 it has the following. In 1927 Michigan wore new deep blue jerseys, black helmets and maize numbers on the back. So I assume the blue was lighter before 1927.

    Also I have noted some pictures from that era, the back of Michigan jerseys you can see a number but they look like the have no color at all. Almost as if they were blue. I have to find a picture and post it to see what I mean.

    Is there any more information from Steve on Michigan’s uniform history? Such as a timeline. College uniforms from say 1910 on really interest me.

  2. Thanks for this post! It irritates me so much when people complain about the color of today’s uniforms, as if they were “better” in the Nike days. I’ll take a bright, rich yellow-maize any day of the week!

  3. Purdue calls its shade “Vegas Gold.” Is that the same as the factory color as the helmets or just a coincidence?

  4. Steve in Duluth

    The change in the Nike numbers was, as far as I could tell from close observation, entirely due to the change toward tackle-twill numbers as opposed to screened ones. It’s fabric-based. I used to think that colors changed, but that’s because I watched most games on low-res television and looked at newspaper photographs; when I started going to games on a regular basis, I realized what I had been missing.

    Great post.

  5. @John M.
    I thought Purdue called it “old gold”

  6. mgosap :I’m surprised to hear that Purdue’s Gold color is called Vegas Gold. Theirs is more of a truer Navy/Notre Dame Gold. The helmet Vegas Gold is definitely more on the orange side of the color spectrum and not metallic gold. Speaking of “metallic,” I wonder if Larry could tell me/us when OSU added the metallic “sparkle” to the Buckeye helmets? Being a traditionalist, I have to admit, I think moving away from the traditional gray on the Buckeye headgear was a little too Hollywood…but then again, I’m also not in favor of the three stripes converging at the back of the UM helmets…they should converge a little higher up in the back of the helmets – I’m Just Saying!

  7. Steve, nice write up about the uniform colors. I agree that the adidas maize works.
    I, too, wondered about the differing shades of maize earlier this year, so I compared a selection of high quality – but replica – Michigan wear. From late ’70s Powers Mfg. baseball jersey and jacket to ’80s Rawlings and Russell football and basketball tops to current adidas stuff, the maize appears pretty similar. Only on a Spanjian (?) replica football jersey from, maybe, 1984, does the maize seem lighter and creamier.

  8. Spanjian was actually the official jersey company for UM in the 70’s and early 80’s. On these jerseys you will also notice more of a rounded “crew” neck collar versus the newer Nike & Adidas V-Neck collars. The numbers on these Spanjian jerseys actually were placed a little higher on the front of the jersey, as well – much like the Leach photo on this posting.


  9. mgosap Not sure of the exact year Ohio State went to the metallic. I am guessing mid 90’s I have to try and verify it.

    Again very interesting feedback on the maize color and numbers and helmets. I remember seeing the Michigan helmet pictured from the 70’s with the blue paint scuffed off the front.

  10. @Larry
    Larry – I’m working on a Timeline for Greg – look for that in the next few weeks.
    As for the color of the oval patch in the early days, my pictures show it as being brown, if I recall correctly.
    I’ll see if I can send Greg a pic to post…


  11. mgosap,
    Thanks. I really look forward to the Timeline. And as I said one can usually tell if something was black from old b@ w pics. Such as old leather helmets.

  12. Fyi, confirmed via the PU athletics website that their colors ARE old gold and black, not vegas gold.

  13. i call the new yellow ‘electric piss,’ and it is much different than the much richer golden yellow it used to be. you can see the change in all of the merchandise as well.

  14. Great post. I agree the yellow with Adidas is brighter; with Nike it was a slightly more pale yellow. Personally, I like Nike’s version better, but think both look nice. What bothers me is not the maize, but the blue. It seems to me that at the end of the Nike era, continuing through the Adidas era, the home blues have gotten lighter. In the late 90s (and for as lobg as I could remember before that) the blue were a very deep navy; now they almost a true blue. Has anyone else noticed this?