Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Maine Black Bears (1997-99)

I feel like I’ve been ignoring the 1990s, just as the rest of society has for the last decade or so. Seriously, do you ever hear anyone waxing nostalgic for the '90s? Let’s go back to the Decade That Time Forgot …

I attended the University of Maine in the mid-to-late ’90s, when the football team was working its way out of a string of 3-8 seasons following a period of instability in which the Black Bears burned through six coaches in 10 years. In 1993, Jack Cosgrove became coach and had stopped the bleeding by 1996, when Maine shot up to 7-4. In 1997, Maine made a uniform change for the darker (see above and below). This page is from the team’s 1999 media guide: 

All these years later, it still looks strange to me, a bizarre blip in Maine football history. The Black Bears, who had worn white pants the year before (and had worn them since the mid-1950s), switched to black pants, even though black was not, and never has been, a team color. The white facemasks from previous seasons also turned black. I remember George Hale, who was the Maine radio announcer forever, always called them the “Darth Vader” uniforms during the broadcasts.

Why the change? I’m not sure. The scuttlebutt I heard around campus at the time was that, well, they’re the called “Black Bears,” so why not wear black uniforms? Another possibility: Maine’s stifling defense was (and still is) known as the “black hole,” so maybe that was a factor. 

Whatever the reason for the change, the fade to black didn’t last long. In 2000, Maine switched to blue pants, and the Bears have spotted the monochrome look since, although white pants are being worn this year, too.

Two minor notes: 

1) The home jerseys, first worn in 1995, originally sported a Russell logo on each sleeve. By 1998, some of the jerseys had the Russell logo on the front, and virtually all the jerseys used the front logo by 2000, the last year of the style.
2) Nineteen ninety-seven also marked the debut of the Atlantic 10 football conference, which succeeded the old Yankee Conference, Maine's home since 1947. The A-10 patch made its debut on the Maine shirts in '97.

Up next: We turn to Holy Cross and the lost season of 1969.

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