by Dave Bernreuther and Vincent Verhei
Vince: All right! After an extended absence to put the finishing touches on Football Outsiders Almanac 2019 — which is available right now in both PDF and hard copy form, and you really should buy over and over again — we return to the important stuff: the fashions worn by young people, as critiqued by a couple of grumpy, middle-aged men.
Dave: Ugh, do we really count as middle-aged? That’s depressing.
Although not nearly as depressing as being a fan of the…
(All graphics appear courtesy of GridironUniforms.com.)
Vince: The Bills are one of those teams where, to really grade the uniforms they’re wearing now, you have to go back over the uniforms they’ve worn in their history.
Debuting in 1960 in the AFL’s inaugural season with a bland blue/silver scheme, the Bills soon settled on a blue/white combo that also used enough red trim to set them apart from the rest of the NFL’s blue teams. In my mind, they peaked in the Thurman Thomas era — their four straight Super Bowl appearances weren’t always competitive, but at least they were easy on the eyes. Clean, distinctive, dynamic, unique — truly of the league’s all-time best uniforms.
Then came 2002 and the trade for Drew Bledsoe, and the accompanying redesign and … oh holy God.
I mean, COME ON. Was this a deliberate attempt to commit as many fashion crimes as possible? I don’t know where to begin. We have at least four colors here, including a navy blue and a royal blue, but maybe more than that because it’s hard to tell exactly which shade of blue goes where. On that note, the blue in the numbers doesn’t match the blue in the shoulder yoke, and both of them clashed with the red stripe running down the side. Oh, did I mention that the jersey had a shoulder yoke AND a stripe running down the side? Oh, did I mention the stripe running down the side led into the stripe down the side of the pants — only it DIDN’T, because the pants had pinstripes and the jersey didn’t? The home jerseys were hardly any better, with more mismatched blue and the same problems with the stripes down the side. A strong contender with Jacksonville’s two-tone helmets for the ugliest uniforms in league history.
Dave: You’re starting to sound like me, and for the record, I approve. And agree completely.
Vince: So when they went retro-ish in 2011, it was a welcome change, because almost anything would have been a welcome change. They’re not perfect. I miss the red helmet, and the stripes on the shoulders and socks are busier than they need to be. But damn that’s a good-looking color combo, and there’s still just enough red trim that when they flash on TV, I immediately think “Hey, it’s the Bills!” And then I usually ask myself if they’re losing yet, but that’s another subject.
Dave: I actually think they are pretty close to perfect. I was thrilled when they brought these back.
Growing up, the Bills were technically my hometown team. Of course, even juvenile Dave was an ornery contrarian prick, so I rooted against them, laughed my way through all four of their Super Bowl losses, and mocked the legions of dejected Bills Starter jacket-wearing classmates all the way. (I’m sorry, everyone.) When I later learned that those were Bill Polian’s teams, I found myself with a new appreciation for that era, but still never considered myself a fan. Especially when they were wearing those hideous monstrosities of the 2000s.
Luckily, back then the league allowed throwbacks to include a different helmet, so the Bills occasionally broke out the O.J. Simpson-era white helmet starting mid-decade. The all-white was a bit boring, so at first they wisely went with the blue jerseys, and it was brilliant. As soon as I saw them, I started rooting for them to switch back to that, but with the newer logo. (Little did I know at the time that they did in fact play for ten full years with that exact helmet. So much for my idea being original.) In 2011 my prayers were answered, and the Bills still sucked at football, but man did they look nice while doing so.
The Jim Kelly era wasn’t bad, but something just always felt off to me about the way they used the colors. The red socks with the red helmet made sense, but the blue numbers and blue jersey really threw me off. It’s a lot like baseball’s Texas Rangers. You can take that color scheme in either direction — and the Rangers do just that, wearing both their original blue and their’90s-era red hats — but in recent years they have been indecisive and often mismatched the primary color. Red hats with blue-lettered jerseys just clashes. To borrow from the much deeper analysis of this history provided here :
Starting in 2000, Texas has bounced back and forth between red and royal before
You’d think this is pretty much the same thing the Cardinals do, and thus it should be
Meanwhile, they looked great when they matched hat to lettering, regardless of color choice:
Blue with blue, red with red. Easy. To me, the glory years of the Bills couldn’t quite get that right. It looked like they had their own socks, pants, and helmets, but were forced to borrow the Giants’ blue jerseys at home due to a laundry mishap.
The new look, though? It’s certainly more blue-dominant, but the contrast, the striping, the not-royal-but-not-powder shade of blue? It’s all perfect. The numbers have a border. The arm stripes don’t work as well on the newer jerseys but I still love them. The sock stripes are exquisite. The colored unitard look can still go straight in the trash, but circling back to that Rangers discussion, I’d be 100 percent on board with them wearing red alternate jerseys, so long as they reversed the color of the logo as well. I actually think that’d be pretty interesting. And the added variety would serve the dual purpose of distracting Bills fans from the fact that they have hitched the playoff hopes of an otherwise solid roster to a miscalibrated Jugs machine with no pocket presence.
Dave: Finally we come to the third Florida team that deliberately made their uniforms worse in the last decade for no reason.
There’s really nothing *wrong* with the current Dolphins’ set, especially since the last tweak to add a bit more orange. And the modern dolphin is kind of cool.
But they need to go back to the Marino era set, and I’m not sure there’s even one single fan out there that disagrees. Which is quite telling.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Vince: I didn’t realize those Marino uniforms go all the way back to their inaugural season in 1966 — so they’re not the Marino set, they’re the Dick Wood set. (George Wilson actually started more games for Miami that year, but if you think I’m passing up a chance to type “Dick Wood,” you’re overestimating my maturity level.) And honestly, they’ve hardly changed since then. They’ve always been teal-and-white, with a fish on the helmet. The variances since then have been subtle. You had those weird drop shadows that were added in the late ’90s, and an orange alternate here and there, and that’s it. The 2013 redesign was hardly radical — show that to Larry Csonka or Jim Kiick in the 1970s and they’d say, yup, that’s the Dolphins. I actually prefer the simplicity of the modern look to the stripes of the Wood-era set. And the new logo is a vast, VAST improvement over the classic — I have to believe that the football helmet on a dolphin was just a bad joke that got out of hand.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Vince: Well, there’s no need to go into detail here, because I’m sure everyone reading this has seen the Patriots play more than a couple of times, right? The Patriots have been so successful in their current uniforms that we all kind of overlook the fact that these uniforms aren’t really very good. The home uniforms are inoffensive, but drab. Just navy and silver, with just enough red to be distracting without really adding anything to the look. (Seriously, until I sat down to write this, I forgot all about those goofy red pinstripes running down the side — I guess there was need to go into detail after all.) The road uniforms are significantly worse — color scheme aside, there’s not much that pulls the helmet, jersey, and pants together, and they seem to be pulled from three different uniforms. The pants have that annoying navy-on-navy stripe-that’s-not-a-stripe running down the leg, which again doesn’t match with stripe on the side of the jersey. Really, they’re kind of a mess, and definitely on the low end of good-looking NFL uniforms, but nobody seems to notice what with all those Super Bowl rings and whatnot.
Dave: Not a ton to add. Somehow the whole is greater than the sum of the parts here. Taken individually, every element except the logo and the number striping bothers me. By my rules, they ought to be wearing silver pants with the white jerseys, I don’t like the shoulder stripes, the red face mask bugs me with the whites, the side paneling is dumb, and the striped socks are a missed opportunity.
But somehow it all comes together to look good anyway. Sort of like the team … they assemble a coherent and dominant unit with mismatched parts. Every year. For two decades.
We’d all love to see Pat Patriot and the red throwbacks make a return, and now that the Jets have gone back to green, that’d avoid the whitewashed division I mentioned a few articles back, but after this 20-year run? Forget it. Besides the pinstripes and the shamrock green jerseys their region-mates wear, these are probably the most successful uniforms in sports history.
Vince: Actually, I’m glad you brought that up. The classic Patriots’ color scheme was a sure winner if only because it was so distinctive — pro sports are loaded with teams that wear blue with red trim, but red with blue trim is much more rare. The logo, though? This is going to confuse and anger a lot of people (including you, apparently), so let me make myself perfectly clear when I say this:
Pat. Patriot. Sucks.
Seriously. It sucks. It’s awful. Just look at this geek:
This oversized LARPer got too drunk to make it to the Tea Party reenactment and ended up playing street football instead, and that’s supposed to intimidate me? Please. Nathaniel here would be lucky just to get home with his spats clean, or else suffer a serious tongue-lashing from Mumsy.
Dave: To be fair, I’d take Pat Patriot in a fight over Captain Fear ten times out of ten.
I don’t disagree, though. We all like the history, but what I really like about those old uniforms is the way they sprinkle the blue in with the red on the home jersey and how good that white-red-white-red look all came together. Pat himself? Meh. There’s no question the Flying Elvis is a much better logo. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a *great* logo.
Vince: These are all subjective opinions of this design; anyone reading is welcome to disagree. What’s not debatable, though, is that this is insanely detailed for a football helmet logo. You can count the buttons on his spats, for god’s sake. (I mentioned he’s wearing spats, right?) That’s fine, I suppose, if you’re looking at a blown-up image on your computer screen, but that’s not how NFL logos work. They’re meant to be seen 11 at a time as teams prepare for battle. And when you get more than one or two Pat Patriots on the screen at one time, you can’t tell what the hell that logo is supposed to be. Take this shot from Super Bowl XX against the Bears:
That could be anything. A colorful pirate doing some gardening.
Dave: A Hamilton cast member swinging a kettlebell.
Vince: The Quaker Oats guy working on his Eurostep.
Dave: A tie-dyed capital letter “M.”
Vince: Optimus Prime in the middle of transforming.
Dave: A Firecracker Popsicle that is melting away.
Vince: A Union Jack that has been badly folded.
Dave: A child’s rendition of Jack Sparrow, done in crayon at the Cheesecake Factory.
Vince: The Buffalo Bills in Tecmo Super Bowl.
Who knows? This is why the best logos are simple — a capital letter, or an animal head, or just a big-ass star. This is not the place for expressive pointillism.
Tommy from Quincy: HEY HOW DARE YOU. Pat Patriot is a warrior and a hero, and if Tom Brady wore it it MUST be the Greatest Of All Time.
Vince: … please address all hate mail to Dave Bernreuther.
Anyway, you know what was a good Patriots uniform? The one from the other Super Bowl club, the 1996 team with Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells.
The brighter shades of blue and silver, the cool diagonal numbers, the giant shoulder logo … yeah, that’s a good look.
Dave: Eep. While I agree that those numbers sort of work, those 96 Super Bowl uniforms are awful to me. They seem very period correct for that era of Zubaz pants and Starter jackets, but just like the omnipresent teased hair in the yearbooks of that era, they have aged poorly. Those numbers… Yuck.
Vince: Finally, before we climb out of this rabbit hole, I want to draw attention to the jerseys that New England wore in Bledsoe’s rookie year in 1993, because they were one of the very few examples of a team using colored numbers on a colored jersey and making it work.
New York Jets
Dave: When the Jets went retro back in 1998, I was a fan of the move. It’s hard to beat a nice nod to your history, and there’s a simple elegance to the look.
Over time, though, the blandness of the set really started to wear me out. Like the Colts, their color palette is limited. Unlike the Colts, their primary color looked like it was left out in the sun too long and faded. The only word to describe the Jets’ former green was “blah,” and this was made especially apparent after they started wearing Color Rush uniforms that were identical except with a brighter green. And that green looked excellent.
I was always a fan of the 7-Up color, and when they added the black in the ’90s, I loved it, even though it served no purpose at all and was just black for black’s sake. I thought the helmets looked amazing with the black facemask, and the green really popped. And black or not, that JETS logo with the wing on top (the “speedbird,” apparently) was a brilliant wordmark.
So when I heard the Jets were going to redesign their uniforms, I was thrilled. They had a great opportunity. Make the green pop; bring back the speedbird; combine the logos of both eras and create something that looked great now.
These are the Jets we’re talking about, though. They had a shot at greatness, promoted the crap out of it/themselves, talked a big game, threw resources at it … and screwed it up anyway. Typical Jets.
It’s not that it’s *bad*, really. It’s just a huge missed opportunity. The green is great. That shiny green helmet and black facemask pleases me to no end and will look great on HDTVs, which was a goal of theirs. But beyond that … it’s like the current Miami set. A great big shrug. If you’re going to go back to the green helmets and just the word JETS, why on earth would you remove the wing above it? Why not combine that with the football they kept, which perfectly merges both of their past logos? Why not have something that’s actually reminiscent of an actual jet in your logo? It’s actually harder to read without the “J” being taller. It looks like they accidentally clipped off the top of the “J.”
Last time through, you mentioned the Vikings’ sleeve striping being a nod to the sail of a ship. I had never noticed that, but now that I know that, I like the uniforms a lot more. The Jets could have done the exact same thing with the wing. And just think of the possibilities for the pants striping using that!
(credit: Alex Ridore, from the UniWatch redesign contest)
I mean, even the biggest Giants or Pats fan alive would admit that as stripes go, that’s just perfection.
Instead, we get skinny number fonts, a simple but still weird-looking slashy stripe across the shoulders and chest, and surely far too many games in which they’ll wear black from neck to toe.
I’ll admit that I actually kind of like the collegiate wordmark above the number on the chest. And like I said, the green they chose looks great. I’m thrilled that it’s back. But man was this a giant whiff compared to what it could’ve been.
At least the green will pop nicely on TV during all those 1 p.m. time slots they’ll occupy in perpetuity.
Vince: What amuses me about the new uniforms is their complete lack of originality. Sam Darnold is the face of the franchise and the design crew was tasked with making him look good, so they just took the uniforms he wore at USC and Photoshopped them to green-and-white.
They tweaked the angle of the shoulder slashes and changed the pants from a double stripe to a spike and threw a gratuitous “NEW YORK” across the chest (were they worried they’d be confused with the Eagles?), but let’s be real: they’re the New York Trojans now.
Dave: They were probably more worried they’d be confused with the Roughriders or the Thundering Herd.
Vince: That said, I think I’m going to like them — though a year ago I thought the same thing about the Titans, and those uniforms sucked once I saw them in actual games. I do think an all-white combo would look sharp here, though I don’t think they showed that look at the unveiling. Hopefully we get it at some point this year.
I just want to add that I agree with your thoughts on the old uniforms. It was a cool design (as I’ve noted, I’m a sucker for uniforms where the sleeves/shoulders are in a contrasting color), but the shade of green they used was awful, and looked brownish in some light.
I’ll take glimmering emerald green over stagnant brackish green, thank you very much.
Dave: Indeed. And you can really see it here:
Side-by-side comparison of old and new Jets logos. Old version on left, new on right. pic.twitter.com/YjfvgSS6zM
— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 5, 2019
But ugh. Come on. Leave the “J” the way it was and throw the speedbird on it.
Now, who else wants 7 Up?