49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

June 25, 2011
Bravo, Buffalo. NFL uniforms from first to worst

When I was small -- say five or six years old -- my parents got me a poster with every NFL helmet neatly displayed in eight six divisional rows. I hung that poster with Scotch tape near my bed and stared at it every night for the next decade.


It formed my NFL aesthetic.

To me, the true Cincinnati helmet has "Bengals" in plain black letters, not the bad combover it has today. Bucco Bruce, Pat Patriot and the Houston oil derrick reign supreme in my mind. Their replacements? Imposters.

Which is why I give a tip of the helmet to the Buffalo Bills, who recently overhauled their uniforms. Gone are the red and blue duds that looked like my nephew's winter jammies. In is a simpler, more throwback-y look that includes the white helmet and charging buffalo of my formative years.

The re-do also has forced me to tailor my NFL uniform rankings list that I did three years ago. To wit:


1. Raiders. No NFL jersey has been featured in more police mug shots. Ah, but there's a reason why street toughs from Bangkok to Belgrade prefer Raiders gear. It's both dazzling and intimidating - just like football should be. (And, yes, I realize this is a 49ers blog. I don't care.)

2. Colts. The horseshoe is as simple and enduring as the blue and white color scheme. Note to teams considering a redesign: Come up with half a dozen cool design elements and then drop five.

3. Bears. The "C" on the helmet stands for "classic." The Minute Maid-inspired alternative jerseys, however, have to go.

4. Giants. Usually three or more colors are a disaster. The Giants, however, make it work. The red jerseys are particularly smashing.


5. 49ers. The cleaner, simpler, early 1980s look is a vast improvement. Slight critique: The white, road unis are better than the home attire in which the red jerseys compete with the sparkly gold pants. Just ask Michael Crabtree.

6. Cowboys. The only thing more presumptuous than a star on your helmet would be loaves and fishes. Still, the Cowboys own the logo. As much as it pains me to say it, the Cowboys' duds will be still be fresh in 2061 when Jerry Jones' grandkids tear down that quaint little building in Arlington and build a new football stadium/speedway/running man arena.

7. Browns. Imagine the owner of an expansion franchise holding a press conference today and announcing that his new team's primary color will be brown and that the team will be know as the Browns? Bold, brown ... and beautiful.

8. Steelers. NFL 101: Black + one other color makes for an excellent combination so long as that one other color isn't purple. (See: Ravens, Baltimore).

9. Saints. The team's emblem, the Fleur-de-lis, translates roughly to "lily flower." It comes from "France," which translates roughly to "lily flower." Stick a sock in it, Sarkozy.

10. Chargers. The powder blue and yellow combo is a little light in the loafers, but it works for sunny San Diego. The "Bolt" logo is solid and the move to a white helmet really makes it pop.

11. Jets. Good choice, Jets - always go with the uniform in which your franchise had its proudest moment. (And burn anything associated with Rick Kotite).

12. Seahawks. An exception to the rule that 1979 was the apotheosis of NFL uniforms. Seattle's new unis perfectly capture the city, from the Northwest tribal art-inspired logo to the "I think it might rain" color scheme. Ok, the cat-licked-antifreeze-off-the-garage-floor-and-puked green has to go.

13. Packers. Imagine the owner of an expansion franchise holding a press conference and announcing that his new team's main color will be yellow and that the team will be known as the Packers?

14. Bills. Little-know fact: Thurman Thomas didn't misplace his helmet during Super Bowl XXVI. He hid it because it was so damn ugly. The updated version is much better. The good people of Toronto Los Angeles London Buffalo will be pleased.


15. RedskinsTM. About those yellow pants you seem to be so fond of, Mr. Snyder. You know who wears yellow pants, Mr. Snyder? Firemen and clowns, Mr. Snyder. Firemen and clowns. And one more thing: You might want to do something about the patently offensive mascot. It's 2011.

16. Lions. The Rorschach lion resembles a coat of arms and thus connotes history and nobility. But how is it that the most blue collar of Midwestern cities has "Honolulu blue" as its dominant color? My suggestion: A more manly shade that you call "Ndamukong blue."

17. Dolphins. The tropical version of Seattle's uniforms.

18. Eagles. Eagles recently changed to a more menacing green. Yeah, that's what Philadelphians need - to be more aggressive.

19. Chiefs. In 1963, a proud franchise chose red and yellow as its color scheme. That franchise? McDonald's.


20. Texans. A longhorn? Really? Houston's history with cattle ranching is as deep and storied as Omaha's history with whaling. An Enron "E" would be more appropriate. Don't think we've forgotten those rolling blackouts, Houston. Watch your back.

21. Jaguars. Maybe you should highlight your numbers with a fourth color. We can't quite see them from Sarasota. Teal is for ducks.

22. Falcons. You had it right in 1990 when you went to the black-and-white theme. The red striped epaulettes look like something hanging in Elton John's closet.


23. Broncos. I'll admit the helmet and color scheme are superior to the Craig Morton-era duds. But the swatch of color up and down the side of the uniform - the armpit orange - is a fad that has expired. Time for an upgrade, Denver.

24. Titans. I like the blue on blue concept, but the logo looks like some 7th grader's dreamy doodle in sixth-period pre-Algebra. See me after class.

25. Rams. Perhaps the coolest helmet design of all. But you lost me when went from old-school yellow and blue to glittery gold. Who did the re-design, Liza Minelli? If the Rams move back to L.A. - fingers crossed -- the team should return to the cream and blue of the early 1970s.

26. Cardinals. Why? You had one of the cleanest and simplest unis in the league and an ornithologically correct cardinal to boot. Then you went all angry birds on me. P.S. Cardinals aren't native to Arizona. Maybe you should consider a road runner.

27. Vikings. The Vikes fell into same trap as the Cardinals and Rams by "modernizing" what was a timeless uniform. It's like rewriting "Moby Dick" and having Ahab re-release the whale back into the wild.

28. Panthers. Carolina boo. Too much tinsel on that Christmas tree.

29. Buccaneers. Unhappy with their original unis, the Bucs went with a red and goldish color scheme and with a pirate-inspired crossed-saber logo. The 49ers and Raiders should get together and sue. (Al has the forms). Call me crazy, but I like the creamsicles better.

30. Patriots. Like Yankee Doodle threw up all over these uniforms. Hey, Boston - the USFL called. They want their uniforms back.

31. Ravens. You know what else is purple and black? Bruises. From the raven to the Maryland state flag to the "B" to the "winged B" - there's too much going on. It's the Lady Gaga of NFL uniforms. Baltimore was shooting for Poe but should have gone with Thoreau: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

palmer threads.jpg

32. Bengals. Egad. No wonder Carson Palmer wants to leave.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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