Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Maine Black Bears (2011-13, 1965)

And so we begin this long and winding project with my alma mater, the Maine Black Bears, who field competitive teams despite a tight budget and a location that’s … well, I’m not sure a GPS could find Orono, Maine in winter. Despite the obstacles, coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears have reached the NCAA FCS tournament three of the last six seasons and have sent several players to the NFL (and yes, I know that includes Jovan Belcher). Now if they could only beat UNH once in a while. … 
Here are some notes and rules of thumb regarding Maine:
* The basic template has been unchanged since 1949: Navy helmet and jersey. Blue pants were used from 1949-54 and were resurrected in 2000.
* Names were used in 1980 and again from 1985-93.
* Some experimentation: Black pants were used from 1997-99 and a light blue alternate was worn from 2008-10. Red-trimmed socks worn on and off from late 1950s-1972.
* Oddity: When making a uniform change, Maine typically switches one set of jerseys one year, then the other set the next year to match. For example, Maine changed its road jerseys  in 2010, then changed the blue shirts to match the whites in 2011. Other times this was done: 1976-77, 1985-86, 1995-96, 2001-02. I’m guessing it’s because UMaine could often afford to change only one set at a time, but that’s total speculation. 
You can find pix from the late, great Prism yearbook here.
Above are the 2013 uniforms: A fairly clean, simple design. Last season, Maine won the Colonial Athletic Association title, its first outright league title since 1965. 
(Just an FYI: The Yankee Conference, which formed in 1947 and originally consisted of the six New England land-grant institutions, morphed into the Atlantic 10 in 1997 and the CAA in 2007. Original members Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island are still in the league today.)
Leave it to arch-rival UNH to spoil Maine’s party, as the Wildcats crushed the Black Bears in the regular-season finale, then knocked them off in the NCAA FCS tournament two weeks later. I’m still in recovery mode. …
Maine will have new uniforms this season, made by New Balance, which also makes the school’s baseball and basketball uniforms and ponied up some dough for the naming rights to the field house, currently under renovation. I can’t think of any other college football team with New Balance unis, but someone out there probably does ... just maybe not in Division I. The “Black Bears” wordmark returns to the front of the home jerseys after a four-year absence. I’ll get ‘em on here once they see game action.

For our “classic” look, here's the aforementioned 1965 team, which is the first (and, almost certainly, the last) Maine team to reach a bowl game. Maine went 8-2, ran the table in the Yankee Conference and lost to East Carolina in the Tangerine Bowl. Personally, I’d love to see the Michigan-style helmets make a comeback someday, but that might be like waiting for the snow to melt in eastern Maine.
Maine wore the bear shoulder patch on the road jerseys from 1963-72, with the bears facing in from 1963-67 and out from 1968-72. The blue shirt with the bear patches was worn only for the Tangerine Bowl. The trim on the road jerseys, from my research, was light blue when the style was introduced in 1963, and dark blue trim was introduced in 1965 as light blue was phased out. The two styles were worn simultaneously, but by 1967, only dark blue trim was worn.
Number 32 was worn by linebacker John Huard, a two-time first-team college division All-American who later played for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos and coached a bit on the CFL. He was recently elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, the first Maine player to receive that honor.

Coming up next: the New Hampshire Wildcats!

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