How Nike's Visual Tricks Made the Oregon Ducks Look Fast (Despite Defeat)

A Nike designer speaks on the visual tricks at play in the uniforms that stole the show in last night's BCS Title Game.

Oregon suffered defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and Auburn last night in the 2011 BCS championship game. But hard as it may have been to watch the gut-wrenching loss, you probably couldn't take your eyes off the Oregon players the whole time, thanks to flashy uniforms that made Auburn look stuck in the 1950's. How'd those Oregon guys get to looking so sharp? And why did those uniforms look the way they did?

"Oregon is one of the fastest teams in the nation, and we wanted them to look fast," Todd Van Horn, Nike's top football uniform designer, tells us. (Van Horn was on his way home from the game, and his voice was more than a little hoarse.) Visually, the colorway of the uniforms is meant to bring your eyes to the fastest moving parts of the player's bodies — the hands, and in particular the shins, which move twice as fast as the thighs do while running. The bright yellow socks, which blended seamlessly into the cleats, drew attention to that fact.


Those color contrasts are functional as well. "We hear constantly from teams and quarterbacks that having a bit more visual acuity and contrast on the field makes things easier," says Van Horn. The white jerseys and grey pants, combined with the green accents, allowed the players to stand out vividly against their Auburn opponents.

You might have also caught sight of those flashy helmets — the swirling pattern on the outside emphasizes the fact that Nike's padding system on the thighs and shoulders contain carbon fiber plates (layered over breathable foam and a moisture wicking base). Nike worked with a company that usually applies custom graphics to cars to create the special decals applied to the helmet. Combined with the green highlights of the Oregon "O," these created a visual vibration you could probably discern on your TV last night as an almost moire pattern effect.


The final piece of visual flare is a custom font designed to make the players look, basically, meaner and more physically imposing. The numbers, are wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, thus making the player's shoulders look wider and the waist look narrower. "The artistry comes in in how we make the players look fast and look dynamic," says Van Horn.

If only that one freak tackle hadn't happened!


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  • SmarterThanYou

    Speed wasn't the issue, the physical size of the players was. The average size of an SEC lineman is larger then the NFL average. Look at the talent pool that the SEC draws from. 

    Oregon has to recruit to get their talent not rely on their geo location. It is much easier to ask someone to play where his parents can come watch than it is to get them to a tiny town in Oregon. The fact that Oregon was in the national championship game is huge considering all of this.Bunch of haters in the comment section...that is the problem with comment sections, everyone gets a voice even if they don't have any idea what they are talking about.The article is about the engineering that went into the uniforms people, get a clue. This is cutting edge stuff. Innovate people, or get left behind. Look at all the teams this year with new uniforms...By the way, where is Auburn ranked this year? And if you follow the recruiting, and look at how deep Oregons roster is, you will see where the real athletes are playing the next 4 years. Hint, it isn't a team in Alabama that has a tiger mascot.

  • Diane Farrell

    Actually, my husband thought they looked like their practice uniforms. I think the look was totally boring and can't believe anyone would think the Auburn uniform was '50's. Do you know anything about the 1950's?

  • eric stovall

    All that time and effort spent to make them look fast sure didn't work when you see 300lb+ stuck in the 50's uniforms chasing them down from behind!! LOL that is about the dumbest thing I have ever read. Maybe you should make sure they actually recruit some fast players if they want to look fast! Oregon felt like they had been knocked back into the 50's I bet. Phissst you could have gave the rocket shoe's and they wouldn't have been faster that Auburn but I understand why they wanted to "look" fast because they sure weren't!

  • eam

    I can't believe you got grown men to wear such AWFUL suits. They didn't even look human!


    Is this article serious? It is about the athletes in the uniforms, not the fashion statement being made! The real athletes from the real conference won the game. Maybe the silly little duckies should focus on getting some athletes not built like fashion models,so they can compete with real football players!

  • Bill Martin

    Loved the uniforms, but, on the other hand...Boise State has been very successful wearing uniforms that make their players almost disappear into their blue field. Perhaps the Ducks were too easy to target.

  • SimpleScott

    I thought the uniforms where amazing. They played a hell of a game, fought to the very end and were good sports the entire game. Was proud to be a duck. Robert didn't your dad teach you. "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it matters, how you play the game." I enjoyed the game and the uniform.

  • Jason Gondron Jr.

    Yes, great "look", stick with this one and ditch the horrible dark green. The neon is a little 80's.

    Imagine if Oregon had to play a defense like this every week in the SEC.

  • Brian Joyner

    Really dug the look during the game on Monday. Like many who've seen Oregon play this year, I was curious what they would be wearing. Love the silver/gray green and white. They did not disappoint, except in the final score.

  • David Stockwell

    Drawing the focus to the Oregon players may have helped the QB to find his receivers. However, the relative drabness of the Auburn players may have enabled them to sneak in for the two picks they got.

  • Robert Bevilacqua

    You've got to be kidding! They looked like a buch of extras from a bad sci-fi movie. They deserved to lose when wearing bad design like that.

  • Trudy Cherok

    Wondering if the 'highlight(er)" color is the same as the UMich men's basketball uniforms?

  • Jamey Boiter

    love the carbon fibre and overall look, right down to the socks. fast looking or not, the socks and shoes i'll pass on.

  • Jason Loehr

    The uniforms were fantastic. Visually stunning. The challenge I saw was in the function over the form. Both teams were slipping and sliding all over the place, however it seemed Oregon more than Auburn. Same issue appeared with TCU in the Rose Bowl with "specially designed" equipment supposedly designed by Nike just for the Rose Bowl.

    I'm all about a fantastic design, however the performance should match it. Maybe in the cleat or spike design, something to innovate against the challenging conditions of the field.