[For the sake of full disclosure, Nike paid my way New York to cover Wednesday's unveiling of the new Pro Combat uniforms. While I am under no obligation to put the new uniforms in a positive light, the opportunity to cover the event would not have happened if not for Nike's generosity.]
Representing Virginia Tech at the official unveiling of Virginia Tech's new black uniforms were two people who embody the military history at Virginia Tech. Cadet Matthew Buffington, who will be the Highty Tighties' drum major this year, and Col. (Ret.) Rock Roszak, the Corps of Cadets' director of alumni programs, introduced the new unis that will be worn Monday against Boise State.
They were there because the Hokies' new uniforms are black to honor the history of the Corps of Cadets and the original football jerseys they wore. After the unveiling I had a chance to talk to Buffington and Roszak about the uniforms, their ties to Virginia Tech's history and, most importantly, the idea of football uniforms having the word "combat" attached to them.
During Nike's press event, the Ohio State presenter, Charles Csuri, was the only one to mention the elephant in the room. Csuri played on Ohio State's 1942 national championship team, served in World War II where he was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism and is currently a professor emeritus at Ohio State. While introducing the Buckeyes' uniforms, he said he couldn't help but comment on Nike's marketing efforts.
"I see the words 'boom' and 'prepare for combat' but I was in the war," Csuri said. "People forget in World War II 400,000 Americans were killed. Sixty million were killed in that war. We came home and were very different. Nineteen Forty-two seemed like something from childhood."
Roszak's comments on the subject were equally interesting.
Cadet Matthew Buffington
What are your thoughts on the new jerseys?
I like them. The black isn't standard for Tech, but it's a good throwback to the original colors. We still have the maroon and orange in there and those stand out.
How do you think about these compared to the white ones from last year?
I don't remember the white ones very well, but I really like these. I think with a night game, it'll be good to see them in black.
Col. (Ret.) Rock Roszak
How did they contact you to come here and help out with the presentation?
It started for us back in may. The football department contacted me and asked me if I had to say what colors the cadet colors were, what would they be? We talked about blue and white, which is what the cadets wear today. But I told them traditionally, in their daily uniform it's a gray pair of pants with a black stripe and a gray shirt with black trim. And I mentioned that the original colors of the school when it was founded back in 1872 were black and gray, the cadet colors.
They said, "can you corroborate that?" So I put them in contact with the historians at the university and they came back that it was gray and black on the football uniforms and they said with those stripes they looked like convicts. So they changed the school colors to maroon and orange. As soon as they found out you could pay homage to the cadets by going back to those original colors - we are the longest standing tradition at the university. So to go back to the very beginning, that is really special.
It's a very different uniform, but it's different for a really great reason and that's to honor that mission at Virginia Tech that has generated so many great leaders over our history.
So that was your involvement? Basically you told them black would be the best way to honor the cadets?
What I told them was the original colors were black and gray. Then they told me, ‘Thanks, I can't tell you about it, but you'll like it.' And then about three weeks ago they told me what this was going to be and asked us if we would send an administrator and a cadet up to this event, which we were honored to do.
So you guys give these a thumbs-up?
We're giving them the thumbs-up. And on gameday, there's going to be one edition. They're going to put our crest on the back of the helmet in honor of the Corps of Cadets, which will be in attendance because our athletics department and the Washington Redskins have donated tickets to the Corps.
One of the rumors I had heard was there wasn't going to be the "VT" on the side of the helmet, that is was going to be the crest.
I'm glad they went this way and put it on the back. I think it will be very visible at FedEx.
Talk a little more about the ties between the Corps and the football team and how these jerseys reflect that.
When the football team comes out of the tunnel, they carry three flags and they award those flags to players based on merit. Things that they've done in the last game and in practice. They carry the American flag, the state flag and a spirit flag.
Last year the spirit flag had ‘Ut Prosim' on it with a lower half of the body wearing fatigues with the slogan, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.' And when they play a home game, we pick three freshman cadets, based on merit, who are on the opposite goal line when the team comes out and those cadets receive those flags.
That's an initiative of the football team. When they travel, they take one or two cadets, depending on if it's a bus trip or a plane trip, and they take the cadets who go with the team, eats with the team, lodges with the team and goes to all the meetings and then receive the flags when they come out of the tunnel. It's a special moment.
When they wore the white uniforms last year, that was the first time they put ‘Ut Prosim' on the uniform and that was done in honor of the cadets. That's the motto of the university and that's something we live by.
How do you feel about them calling these ‘Pro Combat' jerseys and using the slogan ‘prepare for combat' when it's just football?
I understand the marketing aspect. It's certainly not combat. (The corps tries) to grow our young leaders to be ready for real combat. It doesn't offend us. We understand what the gist of the marketing is. Virginia Tech certainly understands.
Remember when the tight end for Miami a few years ago, Kellen Winslow, referred to himself as a soldier? This is not like that. That was poorly done, but this doesn't bother us. We know it's hype related to sports and Virginia Tech is aligned with this. We understand it's not combat and it doesn't belittle combat or the bravery of our troops, but it is just football.
Did you listen to Mr. Csuri bring it up while he was talking about Ohio State's jerseys?
Yes. I met him at dinner last night. He's a member of the greatest generation and I'm honored by his service. And I told him he was a member of the greatest generation. The people we're graduating now are getting commissioned into the armed forces and Matthew (Buffington) will be commissioned next May. They're the members of the next greatest generation.
The difference is when Mr. Csuri went to war, everyone in his generation went to war. When this generation goes to war it's a very small percentage and what our country asks of our young men this days is mind-boggling. What they do, voluntarily and for all the right reasons is really humbling.