I was excited when we started developing the idea for this issue’s main “What If . . . “ feature because there were two levels of creativity for me to explore. We knew from the early stages that we wanted to come up with mock covers of how Hail Varsity would have covered fictional historical events. So I started considering not only ways to illustrate the covers, but also how to date them with a Hail Varsity logo that would be appropriate to the era.
The first step was finding and editing a photo for each of the seven events, plus the actual cover, for a total of eight. While some of the images are subtly edited – I changed the colors on Frank Solich’s shirt and turned his hat into the style Mike Riley wears today, and I didn’t edit the 2009 Big 12 Championship photo at all – I knew that the historic images would have to be heavily worked to create the visual dissonance that would draw readers in. We wanted readers to, at a glance, see Tom Osborne wearing Colorado gear and think “what the . . .” before diving into the story.
After the photo research and editing, the next step was to come up with the typography and logos for the covers. I used covers of contemporary magazines (old issues of Sports Illustrated, Life, etc.) along with movie posters and elements of pop culture of the day to inspire the non-photo elements of the covers.
We’ve had this photo of Tom Osborne in our archives since the early days of Hail Varsity, and I’ve always loved it. While it’s a candid photo, Osborne stares determinedly at the camera. His face is contorted into an intimidating scowl, even if he’s really only squinting because of the sun. His clothes are also pitch perfect for the 1970s or maybe early 1980s, so this fit the era I needed. I knew that if I changed the color of his polo, it would be visually striking to all Nebraska fans.
The challenges: Changing the color of his shirt was pretty snappy, and so was replacing the one small Husker logo with a CU. The biggest difficulty was that the original photo includes, out of focus, the Sea of Red as the background. In the late 1970s, Colorado sported a powder blue-and-gold color scheme, so I had to make the fans match that, too.
Bob Devaney to Miami
This is another made-for-a-magazine-cover photo. Devaney is well lit and is looking off into the distance like a hero. The one downside to this image is he’s wearing a jacket, which he likely wouldn’t need in Miami. But the rest of the image is too perfect, so I rolled with it.
The challenges: Cloning the N on his jacket and swapping it with an “M” was pretty simple, and so was adding some desaturated palm trees in the background. The original photo though, is black and white. While it was tricky colorizing it for a cover, the artificial coloring helped give it a dated look, as if it were shot in the early days of the regular use of color film.
The Hail Varsity logo: Magazine flags of the 1960s were starkly simple. The typeface, Clarendon, was a popular one in periodicals at the time, so it seems a good fit.
Johnny Rodgers to USC
I loved this image because such a big part of Rodgers’ Husker story is bringing Nebraska its first Heisman Trophy, and he’s striking a pose reminiscent of the trophy.
The challenges: Like Devaney, the original photo is black and white, so colorizing it was tedious. It also helps age the look, though, so it was worth it. Nebraska’s uniforms of the day differed from USC’s quite a bit (especially in the shoulders), so reworking those areas was difficult, too.
The Hail Varsity logo: I was thinking of 1970s cop dramas on TV and movie posters, so I knew I wanted to go with a big, bold, extruded font. Then I signed onto Netflix to watch something and saw the poster image from the 2007 comedy "Superbad" and I knew exactly how the type should look.
Tom Osborne to Colorado
I had to illustrate this storyline for a second time since it was the issue’s cover as well. I gravitated toward this photo of Osborne because of the jacket he’s wearing. I thought it had some real potential in placing him in a colder climate. So, I changed it to blue, swapped out the logo and cooled off the red in the background. Then, to drive the Colorado message home, I added falling snow.
The challenges: Trying to get the perspective and focus of the snowflakes correct was challenging, as was changing the color tone of the fans in the background.
The Hail Varsity logo: For this one, I was thinking of ESPN’s original logo, meets "The Price is Right" logo, with just a little bit of "Grand Theft Auto."
Playing to Tie in the 1984 Orange Bowl
It’s difficult to turn an image of staggering disappointment into national-championship-style celebration.
The challenges: This photo is totally unedited. I figured our best bet was to show the star of the year, Turner Gill, and let the headline do the talking.
The Hail Varsity logo: By the 1980s, magazines covers were becoming more dynamic and brighter. So I went with reds and yellows for the headline. As for the Hail Varsity flag, I gravitated to the look of the golden era of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine with a little bit of "Days of Thunder."
Five-straight National Titles
The image of the Sears Trophy in the 1990s has always stood out in my mind, and Nebraska’s three look awfully nice in the case in the North Stadium. So I wanted to show off a glut of crystal.
The challenges: It’s pretty well impossible to get five giant trophies in the same photo studio of a shoot, so I took Nebraska’s 1994 one and replicated it five times.
The Hail Varsity logo: I wanted something along the lines of Sports Illustrated’s 1990s flag, but also wanted to show some evolution toward our current flag. For the background and headline type, I wanted to use the bold, super-saturated look of the day.
The 2009 Big 12 Conference Championship
Nebraska briefly thought it won the Big 12 Championship Game, moments before referees restored time on the clock to allow Texas to kick a game-winning field goal, so finding this photo was a snap.
The challenges: This photo is entirely unedited, so it was pretty snappy for me.
The Hail Varsity logo: I remember this era of giant, bold, somewhat novelty type about ten years ago. You could see type like this in logos for sodas and sports gear and alternative newspapers. So I went big and overdrawn.
Frank Solich Retires (from Nebraska)
I was interested in the “what if Solich finished his career at Nebraska” element of this storyline. I wanted to show him retiring from Nebraska after 20 years, and the consistency of having three coaches span more than half a century.
The challenges: It wasn’t easy to track down a photo of contemporary Solich in a cheerful setting, but the Ohio athletic department came through with one shot after a recent post-season win. From there, it was a matter of turning his polo into a Nebraska one and fixing up his hat.
The Hail Varsity logo: This one was easy enough. If Solich were to have had a 20-year head coaching career at Nebraska, this would be his final season. So our current flag worked perfect to set the date.
The September issue of Hail Varsity, featuring our "What If . . ." feature, ships to subsribers and newsstands this week. If that leaves you asking "what if i subscribed?" we can help you with that.
Quentin has spent the past 10+ years designing, illustrating and art directing magazines and sports sections of daily metro newspapers. He likes seeing vintage type in use, especially on sports ephemera. He’s been on board since the launch of Hail Varsity in the fall of 2012. His work has been recognized by the Society for News Design, the American Institute of Graphic Arts and his mother’s refrigerator door.