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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The Legacy of Championship Blue

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

When legendary coach Al McGuire let player Bo Ellis design Marquette men’s basketball uniforms in the 1970s, Ellis’ tools were the same as any elementary school kid’s in art class: colored pencils and paper.

“I had colored pencils and everything,” Ellis says. “I could draw real well. That was another gift that God gave to me. I was pretty creative.”

The result was a jersey meant to be untucked with “Marquette” on the front and “Warriors” on the back. When Ellis collaborated with Medalist Industries, a uniform provider in Wisconsin, the back text did not make the cut. Instead, they decided on a cleaner back design with numbering.

The 6-foot-9 forward says he still remembers McGuire’s reaction to his personally designed uniforms when he walked to McGuire’s office on 18th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

“He looked at it and looked at me and said, ‘Bo, this is pretty good. This is interesting. Let me take this and show it to some people,’” Ellis says. “And that’s how the whole thing evolved.”

Marquette’s newest uniforms, which have been in place since 2016, pay homage to Ellis’ famous “untucked” uniforms, though the design process is not as simple as an elementary school student’s design process.

“The ‘untucked’ jersey has really deep roots in Marquette history and tradition because of its uniqueness and because of the success the team had that was wearing it,” current men’s basketball head coach Steve Wojciechowski says. “Obviously when you go to Jordan brand and you’re designing a uniform, that was one of the elements everyone felt like needed to be included in the current version.”

The new uniforms feature iconic aspects of other uniforms. One of those is the “bumblebee” uniforms, which had bright, thin gold stripes across navy blue uniforms, in the early ’70s. They’re represented with faint stripes across the whole uniform in the new series. The thin, tight stripes on the side of uniforms are reminiscent of Marquette’s uniforms in the 1940s. A buckle space on the shorts show the rainbow stripes that Marquette brought back from its previous iteration of uniforms.

“We were that type of team,” Ellis says. “We did new uniforms all the time, and we were also trendsetters with the other uniforms before the ones that I did.”

“All the people involved felt like it was time for a change,” Wojciechowski says. “Knowing that the uniforms would be unveiled for the 100th anniversary, the idea was to try to pay homage to all the different uniforms of the past … Marquette basketball uniforms throughout history have been uniforms that have garnered a lot of attention.”

The design process for the current uniforms dates back several years and includes intense planning between Wojciechowski and Nike officials. Meetings on campus and at Nike’s headquarters in Eugene, Oregon, highlight the lengthy process. Phone interviews and email communication fill in the gaps between in-person meetings. 

It also includes some aspects of Nike’s latest technology, which involves custom sizing. Instead of ordering a size medium or large jersey, Nike tailors one to fit each player’s body.

“Jordan has been and will continue to be on the cutting edge of design,” Wojciechowski says. “That design element is something that our players have embraced.”

The powder blue, dubbed at the university as “championship blue” for its connection with the 1977 National Championship team, has gone beyond just the men’s basketball program’s secondary uniforms.

“Championship blue is a color that all Marquette fans get excited about,” Wojciechowski says. “Without question, we wanted to have a championship blue uniform in our arsenal. It’s such a cool color.”

Wojciechowski says having a championship blue jersey is “a non-negotiable.”

Last year’s National Invitational Tournament promotions included a championship blue-out against the University of Oregon, a move orchestrated by associate athletic director for marketing Torrey Ball. After a gold-out a few days earlier, Ball says he wanted to try a championship blue-out for the following game.

“We don’t utilize the championship blue enough, and it’s one of those things that make us stick out,” Ball says. “We wanted to make the arena look really, really nice, but also give us that swag that we were looking for in the NIT. … It looked great in person, but on TV you just saw the pop.”

It is a key part of the university’s brand guidelines. Uses vary from Homecoming week to club sports uniforms.

“Championship blue gives us that pop when we need it,” Ball says. “Most schools, outside of the Oregons and some of those schools, only have two colors. Having that third color, I think it gives our look new energy.”

Ball knows how impactful a well-executed marketing scheme can be. He has previous experience working at Oregon, which many dub “Nike University” for its constant use of new, flashy uniforms.

“I saw the swag that (Oregon’s) players had with their uniforms,” Ball says. “When I came here, I heard the stories of the crazy jerseys and the bumblebees. Marquette was the Oregon of its time. I loved that, and it helps to continue that story.”

Now the goal is to use the history of Ellis’ drawings to recreate Marquette’s Oregon-style creativity.

“It was something that was innovative and new and something that Marquette back in the day was absolutely known for,” Ball says. “We’re trying to get back to that now.”

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