The Pittsburgh Panthers are taking their talents to the ACC and bringing with them a history of football success. There was running back Tony Dorsett, offensive lineman Mark May and quarterback Dan Marino, among others.
But many people remember the Panthers for their mustard yellow, script Pitt helmets that they wore from 1973-1996. Sure, that’s no one’s favorite color, but those helmets had a certain character to them; you knew you were watching Pitt football when you saw them.
But in 1997, the Panthers switched to perhaps the ugliest college football helmets of all-time – lids with logos that looked more like the ugliest dogs in the world than something football players would wear on their heads.
And that’s a problem when your mascot is a Panther.
Compounding the problem, the logos looked cluttered on the helmet. They weren’t stark, didn’t pop off the helmets’ backgrounds and, most of all, are completely unrecognizable to the college football fan.
The move came after the unsuccessful second stint of John Majors and the hiring of Ohio State quarterback coach Walt Harris. The ’97 helmet change was part of a bigger overhaul to rebrand the university from “Pitt” to “Pittsburgh” by new athletic director Steve Pederson, who even altered the school’s colors from navy blue and yellow to midnight blue and “vegas gold.”
All these moves were very controversial to Pitt’s loyal following, especially the new helmet and logo that was dubbed “Dinocat” that was given a prehistoric look after adidas creative director Peter Moore used a steel cut piece to design the logo and tie in the city’s steel history to the design. Ironically, Moore had previously worked for Nike and oversaw the Air Jordan and Nike Air brands.
“We’re unveiling a new look and a new attitude,” Pederson said at the time.
Unfortunately, the “Pittsburgh” overhaul and new look failed miserably.
The school went back to referring to itself as “Pitt” under athletic director Jeff Long after Pederson left for Nebraska in 2002 (Pederson was since returned to the Pitt job). And once alum Dave Wannstedt was hired to taking the head coaching job in 2005, the program went back to “Pitt” on the side of the helmet, although it is no longer in script and the midnight blue and vegas gold remain.
But now, with new coach Todd Graham and a move to the ACC on the horizon, it will be interesting to see if the school decides to change its style once again, possibly to the awesome script Pitt look from the glory days.
We know what it won’t go back to.
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