The Huskers played the entire 1919 season wearing green jerseys and scarlet socks. What was their athletic director thinking? And how did fans react?
By David L. Bristow, Editor
August 31, 2022
When the Huskers squared off against Notre Dame at Nebraska Field on October 18, 1919, one of the teams wore green jerseys, and it wasn’t the Irish. Notre Dame wore their traditional blue. Nebraska, meanwhile, was having a season-long wardrobe malfunction.
Nebraska’s colors had been scarlet and cream for a number of years, but in the spring of 1919 the athletic director E.J. “Doc” Stewart decided to try something different. He placed an order with Spalding for heather-green jerseys for the Cornhusker football team.
The university “countermanded” the order when Stewart resigned later that year, but due to a mix-up at the factory, Spalding went ahead and knitted the jerseys with heather-green yarn. The new uniforms arrived just before football season—too late to place another order.
So the Huskers played the entire 1919 season wearing green jerseys and scarlet socks.
What was Doc Stewart thinking? And how did fans react?
The Nebraska State Journal suggested a rationale in its October 14 edition:
“The Huskers may look odd when they step onto the gridiron… Football men of experience say heather green is preferable to scarlet. The scarlet makes a team look larger than it really is, while heather green has the opposite effect. Cornhusker teams in past years always have been rated as being heavier or bigger than their opponents. The coaches have held the exaggeration was the result of the scarlet sweaters.”
One might think the team would prefer to look larger than life in hopes of intimidating their opponents. After all, there’s a long tradition of soldiers exaggerating their size with tall headgear and gaudy uniforms. Stewart may have valued the element of surprise over intimidation.
Even so, “Cornhusker players clad for battle in heather-green jerseys is something that most Nebraskans cannot imagine,” the State Journal lamented on October 18. After Nebraska lost to Notre Dame, the State Journal noted with sarcasm that “The scarlet and cream machine (camouflaged in heather-green) seemed utterly powerless to stop the passes dished out of the Rockne pot.”
Nebraska (apparently on defense, with backs to camera) versus Notre Dame at Nebraska Field, Oct. 18, 1919. This and the 1919 team photo at the top of the page are from the Cornhusker 1920 yearbook.
The Fremont Herald, meanwhile, complained that the “Huskers played in this strange and foreign make-up.”
Later that season, when Nebraska took on the Iowa Aggies,* an injured Husker was carried from the field and a substitute entered the field wearing a red jersey. “The referee sent him back to don the heather green,” the State Journal reported. Maybe the player thought it was worth a try.
The Huskers went back to red jerseys the following season. In recent years the team has made some questionable choices regarding alternate uniforms, but their 1919 colors remain long forgotten, and appear indistinguishable in the black-and-white photos from that time. As a wise person once said, it’s not easy being green.
*The “Aggies” were the Iowa State Cyclones by then, but apparently many people still referred to them by the school’s earlier name, Iowa Agricultural College.
“Green Sweaters for Husker Team,” Lincoln Daily Star, Oct. 14, 1919, p. 11.
“All Set for Notre Dame,” Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln), Oct. 18, 1919, p. 3.
“Sporting Gossip and Comment,” Evening State Journal, Oct. 20, 1919, p. 9.
“Nebraska Suffers Defeat, 9 to 14, at Hands of Notre Dame,” Fremont (NE) Herald, Oct. 24, 1919, p. 5.
“Aggies from Iowa Down the Huskers,” Sunday State Journal, Nov. 2, 1919, p. 7.