A black shirt in football is a practice jersey worn by the defensive starters on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team.
During practices for the Cornhuskers, there are several different jersey colours that are worn. The offensive players are going to wear white jerseys, and the non-starting defensive players will wear red jerseys.
On top of making it easier to identify players the black shirt comes with a lot of history in the Nebraska football program. So much so that the Nebraska defence has been referred to as the “black shirts” for over fifty years.
History Of Black Shirts In Football
The origin of the black shirts at Nebraska football is believed to have started in the early nineteen sixties. At this time it was common for a large portion of football players to play both offense and defense.
The year the black shirts were introduced the NCAA made a rule change allowing two platoon football.
Two platoon football meant that teams were able to break their players up into two groups, one for the offense, and one for the defense.
When this rule change occurred the Huskers decided to divide their players up between these two groups.
The story goes that a coach headed out to a local sports store to find jerseys to help identify the defense from the offense. The store was said to have given the coach a deal on black jerseys because they were not selling very well.
This small decision to choose black jerseys for their defensive unit ended up having a much larger effect than the coach would realize.
The black jerseys were then given to the players that were named starters on the defense. Once the practice ended jerseys were to be returned to the coach.
This meant you would have to continually earn your black shirt throughout the year as the coach could take it away at any time.
To this day wearing the black shirt is still a very important right for a Nebraska football player. So much so that there have been multiple occasions in which the defensive players temporarily gave up their jerseys after a bad performance.
The black shirts stand for a certain level of quality of the defensive end of the ball. Each year players are taught about the importance of this tradition and ultimately become more motivated by it.
Black Shirt Vs Red Shirt In Football
Football terminology can sometimes be confusing, and when terms are similar it can become even more difficult.
These terms are different because one refers to an actual jersey while the other is more of an official designation.
A black shirt as we’ve explained is an actual practice jersey that players wear.
A redshirt on the other hand is a term used to describe players that are taking a year off from playing in football games in order to retain a year of eligibility. These players are able to practice with the team but are not able to suit up for games.
In most cases players red shirt in order to hone their skills for the next season. These players typically aren’t going to get a ton of playing time so they redshirt in order to save a year of eligibility as they improve.
Interestingly enough the term redshirt came from the Nebraska Cornhuskers as well. A Nebraska player was one of the first to sit out for a season in order to improve his play. His numberless jersey in practice was referred to as a red shirt.