“Mum” was the word when it came to producing the University of Tennessee’s first black football jerseys in almost 90 years.
“We told them that the key to this whole situation is we wanted to keep this quiet,” said Rock Saraceni, reciting the message he told his employees at S.M. Athletics last week.
There wasn’t much time to keep it quiet. Saraceni said UT equipment manager Roger Frazier inquired about the jerseys last Tuesday.
“He called and asked me on Tuesday if there was a possibility of getting these things done,” Saraceni said Monday on the News Sentinel’s radio show, The Sports Page. “I told him ‘Absolutely.’ ”
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said he met with two team captains — tailback Montario Hardesty and safety Eric Berry — around lunchtime Wednesday. The players broached the topic of wearing black jerseys for the game against the University of South Carolina on Halloween night.
Saraceni said the order was placed around noon Wednesday.
According to figures provided by Tiffany Carpenter, UT assistant athletic director for public relations, the jerseys cost $7,100. It is unclear what will happen to the jerseys, Carpenter said, but an auction for charity is a possibility.
S.M. Athletics did not have the jerseys in stock and each jersey — made up of 11 panels and three fabrics — was custom made, Saraceni said.
“It’s really miraculous that this all got done,” he said.
S.M. Athletics has been in business since 1976 and has worked with UT since the mid-1980s, mostly on sports other than football. Adidas, UT’s corporate apparel partner, usually uses another manufacturer to produce football jerseys.
Saraceni said his company could have printed names on the jerseys but they were not ordered. Other extras, such as trim or stripes, would have been tough to add in such a tight time frame, he said. Manufacturing pants that were black would have been impossible.
He said the jerseys were picked up around lunchtime Friday.
“We knew that we would get it done by game time if we had to work 24 hours a day,” Saraceni said. “My folks here are very dedicated, and they just absolutely love the University of Tennessee. It was a labor of love, believe me.”
Hamilton said after Saturday’s game that the use of black jerseys was likely a one-time event.
He said he will discuss using black jerseys at the appropriate time with UT basketball coach Bruce Pearl, who has expressed interest in having his players don black.
Fans voting in a poll on the News Sentinel’s GoVolsXtra.com Web site overwhelmingly supported the black jerseys, with 83 percent of more that 15,500 respondents giving them a thumbs up as of Monday evening.
The jerseys also sparked a Facebook page: “Black Tennessee Football Uniforms.”
Still, it didn’t play well with some hard-line traditionalists:
“I hate the BLACK JERSEYS!!” wrote Carson Barger in a News Sentinel letter to the editor. “I would like to see the person responsible for this idiocy tared (sic) and feathered. I know it was Halloween and all that but Our colors are ORANGE AND WHITE. … I will never attend another game if this moronic activity is allowed to continue.”