How gray-striped jersey sleeves became popular playoff tradition for Ohio State football
ATLANTA — The aesthetic alteration is slight.
Three gray stripes outline two scarlet stripes on Ohio State’s jersey sleeves, a modest departure from its current road uniforms that maintain a simpler pattern to mirror the helmet stripe.
But the thicker stripe design denotes the arrival of the College Football Playoff.
Since the Buckeyes’ first appearance in the four-team tournament in 2014, resulting in a national championship, they have donned a variation of the look on this stage, one that returns for Saturday’s semifinal against Georgia.
“It’s kind of a subtle way to add it back into a uniform and gives fans something to be excited about for playoffs,” said Kevin Ries, OSU's director of football equipment.
More:Where does Ohio State football stand in its 2024 recruiting class?
For as much as the gray sleeves have evolved into a popular postseason tradition for the Buckeyes, it’s one that began by a bit of happenstance. Nike stitched throwback uniforms honoring Ohio State’s 1968 national championship-winning team that were to be worn for its rivalry game against Michigan in 2014, but the program opted for another set of the retro threads instead, leaving them in stock with its apparel provider for the postseason run that followed.
“We had them in the back pocket,” Ries said, “so we said, 'Let’s push these to the playoff.' ”
Had the Buckeyes instead worn them against Michigan that year, Ries isn’t certain they would have returned in the later weeks.
“We probably would have just been in a traditional stripe for the playoff,” he said. “We would have never thought to push it as a championship uniform. And then we had that run.”
The Buckeyes wore road jerseys when they upset top-seeded Alabama in the semifinal, then home uniforms with the gray sleeves when they toppled Oregon in the final.
Images of Ezekiel Elliott's game-sealing touchdown run against the Crimson Tide, celebrated as 85 yards through the heart of the South, and of players hoisting the CFP trophy on a stage in Arlington, Texas, linger as memories.
Ries said the continuation is more homage than superstition, a way to recognize past national champions. When the Buckeyes won titles in 2002, 1968 and 1954, they were in uniforms with the thicker gray stripes on the sleeves, moments of success that have deepened the resonance of the design among fans.
They also featured the pattern throughout the three decades of the Woody Hayes era, their most distinct period of success. Ries and the equipment staff refer to the thicker stripes as Woody stripes.
They wore gray sleeve jerseys as part of their predominant uniform as recently as 2005 before switching to the current look.
“We try to honor the traditions,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said, “and try to do the best we can in that area and make sure we're doing a great job. Our guys like it, and we've got good feedback, so we decided to do that again this year.”
The only significant departure until present day came in the 1980s during Earle Bruce’s tenure. The stripe pattern on the jerseys from those years closely resembles the current one, lacking the layers of gray. They also, naturally, call those Earle stripes.
Planning for use of the playoff threads began early this year. Ries said it was about 10 months ago when Ohio State placed an order with Nike for a set, and production began after the Buckeyes received a berth. The jerseys have been reserved for CFP bowl games.
Other alternate uniforms have been worn in recent years. The Buckeyes wore all-black alternate jerseys when they hosted Wisconsin in September and all-scarlet uniforms the previous season against Penn State.
Most players like the variety, Ries said. But the gray sleeves are distinct, adding a layer of gravity.
“When these jerseys are being worn, you're playing for it at all,” Ries said. “Other games are more for just emotional excitement, anesthetics in the atmosphere of a home game or a black-out or red-out or something like that. This one is more the history of Ohio State football and some of the great teams that have won in this look. It's a different frame of mindset of championship tradition and history.”
More:Former Ohio State linebacker Jerry Rudzinski sports a passion for athletics
More:'Coaches bleed, too': Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles seeking redemption
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @joeyrkaufman.