[Editor’s note: This morning we have a guest post from reader, contributor and overall great guy Kary Klismet, about the uniform Iowa State will be wearing today. Enjoy! — PH]
by Kary Klismet
The Iowa State Cyclones football team will take the field today against TCU wearing special uniforms to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Jack Trice, the first Black player in team history. Trice died on October 8, 1923, following severe injuries suffered in the Cyclones’ matchup against the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Trice was 21 years old at the time of his death. It was just his second collegiate football game.
The Cyclones’ uniform-related tribute will mark the culmination of a year-long tribute to Jack Trice’s memory that has engaged – and been embraced by – the entire Iowa State University community. And it caps a dedicated effort (spanning more than 50 years) of Iowa State students, alumni, faculty, and family members of Jack Trice to bring the recognition and honor to his name that he has so thoroughly deserved.
It’s virtually unheard of for a football program’s most iconic player to have played less than two full games for the team. Most schools reserve honors such as on-campus statues or the names of their stadiums for Heisman Trophy winners of a bygone era or long-serving coaches. But Trice’s legacy as a racial trailblazer, a man of character and courage, and a tragic hero has made him a unique figure among the celebrated players of the game. From a sociological and cultural perspective, Jack Trice is arguably one of the most important – and long one of the most overlooked – names in college football history.
As an Iowa State alum, I can attest to the enormous impact that Trice has had on the culture and collective psyche of my alma mater. He has been held up as the ideal of so many virtues Iowa Staters strive for, and, in particular, as a model of perseverance in the face of adversity (something to which we long-suffering Cyclone football fans can certainly relate).
Trice’s story is a compelling read and has been told by many writers much more capable than I. Perhaps no one is better at conveying Trice’s significance than my fellow Iowa State alumnus and the world’s foremost Jack Trice historian – author and artist Joshua Kagavi. His most recent profile of Trice was just published in the Smithsonian Magazine.
With that background in place, it’s time to look at the uni-centric and aesthetically-related ways that Iowa State has honored its favorite football son. (That’s the whole reason we’re all here in the first place, isn’t it?) Knowing how revered Trice is among the Cyclone faithful, the lengths to which the university and its athletic department have gone to incorporate references to him into their visual identity in recent years should come as no surprise.
Let’s start by looking at the most prominent and lasting tribute to Trice on the Iowa State campus – the football stadium that bears his name. Jack Trice Stadium remains the only NCAA Division I – Football Bowl Subdivision stadium named after an African American.
It wasn’t always called Jack Trice Stadium, however. When the stadium was first proposed and constructed in the early 1970s, students quickly called for it to be named after Trice. But their pleas fell on deaf ears, as the university administration and the Board of Regents eventually named it Cyclone Stadium instead. Facing continued activism, the Board of Regents relented somewhat and named the field after Trice in 1984, creating what was then known as Cyclone Stadium – Jack Trice Field. Finally, in 1997, the university took the final step and gave the stadium its current moniker, applying Trice’s name to the entire structure rather than just the playing surface.
And the stadium wasn’t the first on-campus tribute to Trice, either. That distinction belongs to a small plaque that can still be found inside State Gym, the school’s old basketball arena and multipurpose athletic facility, which is now a student rec center. It was placed there by Trice’s teammates the year after his death and includes the text of a letter that Trice wrote to himself as encouragement the night before what would be his last game.
While the university leadership dragged its feet for decades on renaming the stadium, it did have the good sense to erect a statue of him on central campus in 1988. It was moved to the stadium grounds in 1997 before being returned to the main campus in 2019. Trice is now commemorated at the stadium with a relief sculpture on the east concourse as well as a new modern art sculpture.
With all those fixtures recognizing Trice in place, Iowa State has more recently turned its attention to remembering him through what they wear on game days. The first such instance was a retro-styled uniform donned against Iowa in 2013. While well-received by the fans, the uniform made only one appearance, likely because of questions about its accuracy.
Designed to resemble the uniforms worn by the 1923 team, they were rendered in Iowa State’s school colors, featuring cardinal jerseys and helmets and old gold pants and vertical jersey stripes. Those stripes mimicked the friction strips on the old jerseys, a common feature of football uniforms in the early 20th century.
The main problem with the 2013 uniforms was that the color scheme was speculative. The only surviving photos of the uniforms were in black and white, with the assumption being that the darker fabric must be a shade of red. But Joshua Kagavi’s exhaustive research revealed that the jerseys were actually a deep yellow with gray friction strips.
Inaccuracies aside, the chevron-shaped stripes on Trice’s jersey became a popular visual symbol. The team added a patch with that design to their uniforms in 2020 and it has since become a perma-memorial, a la the Kansas City Chiefs’ Lamar Hunt AFL patch. Likewise, it’s now a favorite among fans on team apparel and merchandise.
The use of the Jack Trice logo has increased significantly since then. It’s on the side of the football offices that can be seen from inside the stadium. The team has added it as the midfield logo for today’s game. And the marching band will wear it on their uniform hats. Even the gymnastics team has debuted leotards this season featuring the design.
And, of course the chevron stripes will be prominently featured on the uniforms the Cyclones will wear today, this time in the more historically accurate gray. But the uniform, despite being called a “throwback” by many sources, is more accurately a “fauxback” by Uni Watch’s definition. The base of the jersey is red when, as mentioned earlier, it’s now known that the Jack Trice-era jerseys were yellow.
Why the discrepancy? No one’s said anything official, but I suspect it’s because of head coach Matt Campbell’s not-so-secret disdain for the color yellow. During his tenure, Campbell has relegated yellow/gold to a trim color, eliminating gold pants from the team’s current uni set. And he’s never been seen in primarily gold ISU apparel, dressing almost exclusively in red, white, or (especially) black.
Further evidence of Campbell’s aversion to yellow could be seen in September 2018, after the shocking murder of Iowa State golfer Celia Barquín Arozamena. The university encouraged all Cyclones to wear yellow – Arozamena’s favorite color – to the following home football game in her memory. While the fans in the stands – and even some of the coaching staff – obliged, Campbell could bring himself only to attach a yellow ribbon to his ubiquitous black sideline cap.
It should be noted that Iowa State has the slightest bit of historical cover for choosing red as the primary color of their new Jack Trice tribute jerseys. Iowa State wore cardinal jerseys for Trice’s first college game against Simpson to contrast with their opponents’ gold uniforms. But the friction strips on those jerseys were squared off on top rather than the familiar chevron shape now so strongly associated with Trice. So either way, the jerseys are still historically inaccurate.
Besides the red/yellow color swap on the jersey, the helmet also marks the uniform as more of a fauxback than a throwback. It’s white, with the word “Ames” in block letters on the side. (This obviously differs from the helmets worn by the 1923 team, which would have been plain brown leather.) The wordmark is a nod to the college’s informal metronymic name (especially for sporting events) used for much of the early 20th century.
Although it’s not quite a faithful recreation, I’m impressed with the look of the tribute uniform that Iowa State has put together to remember Jack Trice a century after his untimely death. I’ll be eager to see it in action today! Go Cyclones!