"For me, especially on a homecoming game, it was an opportunity to link the present -- with the 'Gators' script on one side -- and unite it with the past with the 'Block F' on the other side," said Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Rumors circulated for days that the Gators planned to alter their uniform in some fashion for last week’s homecoming game against Vanderbilt.
Those rumors turned to fact when the Gators raced out of the tunnel for the opening kickoff wearing a two-logo white helmet.
The helmet choice was a popular topic on social media for Florida fans throughout the Gators’ 9-7 victory over the Commodores. The last time the Gators wore white helmets was in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.
Team captains traditionally choose Florida’s uniform combination each week. The Gators have yet to wear the same combination in back-to-back games this season.
With an opportunity to clinch the program’s first trip to Atlanta in six years, the Gators opted for the white headgear.
"This time it was in front of the whole team," senior defensive back Brian Poole said. "The whole team pretty much made the decision."
However, the decision had nothing to do with the potential return to Atlanta.
"Some of our players asked about a white helmet and of course, I looked around the building and there are pictures of white helmets everywhere, so I just thought we had them and found out we didn’t," Florida head coach Jim McElwain said.
With the players interested in wearing them, once McElwain learned white helmets are not part of Florida’s regular inventory, he set in motion a plan to order them to use during his first season.
Homecoming seemed the perfect opportunity. The helmets featured the familiar "Gators" script logo on the left side and Florida’s "F" logo on the right side. A blue stripe ran from front to back, bordered by a pair of orange stripes.
"I think there is some true symbolism in those helmets," McElwain said. "For me, especially on a homecoming game, it was an opportunity to link the present — with the ‘Gators’ script on one side — and unite it with the past with the ‘Block F’ on the other side. That was really the driving force behind it and our guys appreciated it because some of them were recruited here thinking they were going to wear a white helmet sometimes."
"I was excited we could do something for them and in turn honor all of those who played here in the past with the different logos on the helmets."
The Gators revisited the past during homecoming weekend in more ways than wearing the alternate helmet. They had a captain’s lunch on Friday afternoon that featured several former players.
McElwain enjoyed the interaction between the current and former players.
"As I speak to our guys about legacies, about what it means to wear that Florida Gator helmet and to play in The Swamp, part of the responsibility is that you are playing for all those players who have played there in the past," he said. "[We try] as much as we can do to link that and open our doors, because those past players are the ones who have built what is the University of Florida."
Coincidentally, McElwain has a two-game win streak when the Gators wear white helmets. He was Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2009 when the Crimson Tide defeated the white-helmeted Gators in the SEC title game.
McElwain said Florida’s traditional orange helmets have significant value to the program’s brand. He also understands players and fans like to mix it up once in a while.
"When you look around college football, I think there’s a couple of things you see, people looking for a splash and an identity," he said. "Where at the University of Florida, quite honestly, the tradition of our orange helmets, when those are on TV everybody knows who it is, which makes this a special place. There are certain programs around the country who are like that. And yet, there is something exciting about just having an alternate here or there.
"That’s part of what we do. But in our alternates, I’m a true believer in honoring the past and that’s something we wanted to do with this."