The best and worst uniform changes in NFL history
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The best and worst uniform changes in NFL history

The Jets have new uniforms, which were unveiled to mixed reviews. Their switch is one of many pivotal fashion changes NFL teams have orchestrated throughout the league's history. So which ones worked and which didn't? Here is a primer on the history of uniform changes. 

 
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Los Angeles Rams, 2017

Los Angeles Rams, 2017
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Including the Rams seems polarizing, but this is not an indictment on the franchise's 2017 decision to redeploy its throwbacks. Those are exquisite. But that took care of only half the Rams' schedule, and perhaps no team in NFL history featured a greater disparity between the quality of its home and away uniforms than the recent Rams. The team bizarrely ditched the gold ram helmet that matched these unis, replacing it with the way-old-school white ram design. This leaves the team a misshapen mess, aesthetically, away from L.A. 

 
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Detroit Lions, 2017

Detroit Lions, 2017
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Making a badly needed adjustment, the Lions finally ditched the unnecessary black that was central to their primary 21st-century color scheme. Detroit's ill-fated black-outlined uniforms, perhaps justly, overlapped with the worst stretch in franchise history. The Lions' logo-less helmet throwbacks are classics, and their Barry Sanders-era kits did not get their due. Detroit's current design resembles a modern version of that '90s look, accentuating the silver for which the franchise is known. This is one of the better looking 2019 uniforms. 

 
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Cleveland Browns, 2015

Cleveland Browns, 2015
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Not all of the Browns' bevy of current options are regrettable. Their brown-on-orange and white-on-orange combinations do well to mask this ill-fated update's flaws, but when the team uses its brown or white pants, this is a borderline fashion tragedy. The Browns tried too hard here. The 2015 redesign's numbers and the bizarre "BROWNS" pants placement interrupting a stripe reveals a shaky creative conclusion — one that apparently took three years to reach. Ownership seems to agree, with the Haslams already set to make these a short-lived look. 

 
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Seattle Seahawks, 2012

Seattle Seahawks, 2012
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Perhaps it's not a coincidence the best run in Seahawks history began the year they ditched one of the worst uniform designs in modern NFL annals. (Russell Wilson surely helped, but Seattle's uniform update should not be entirely discounted.) The vital 2012 adjustment reinstalled gray as a key component, as it was during the Seahawks' uniform heyday in the 20th century. Splicing in just enough neon green, the Seahawks blend their colors together as well as anyone. But in large part these are here because the football world no longer has to look at the team's aughts kits.

 
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Jacksonville Jaguars, 2012

Jacksonville Jaguars, 2012
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We come to the NFL's most design-embattled team — one that pairs a poor fashion sense with indecisiveness. Not only do the Jaguars keep changing their look, but it's also arguable they never had a decent one. Jacksonville's 1990s home teals, complete with a large jaguar on them, double as the team's most passable attire. While the daring (and already scrapped) two-toned helmet endured mockery, the team's pivot to black (and a worse design scheme) earlier this decade is the choice here. Not only does a Florida team wearing black at home suggest poor foresight, but the Jags did not fare well in these unis. 

 
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Buffalo Bills, 2011

Buffalo Bills, 2011
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Like the Seahawks, the Bills corrected a mistake in the early 2010s. Their move back to this vintage look could not have come at a better time. This has been an underappreciated decade for uniform adjustments, with the Seahawks, Lions, Titans and Vikings doing well to address issues. The Bills' current design may not be associated with much on-field success, but it is still one of the best in the game today. The blue jerseys pop, and even Buffalo's alternate reds (of the 2017 blizzard game) stand out as upper-echelon attire.

 
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San Francisco 49ers, 2009

San Francisco 49ers, 2009
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49ers Classic doubles as one of the NFL's iconic looks. In addition to being associated with a dynasty, it annually entrenched the 49ers as one of the NFL's best-dressed teams. They drifted away from that in the late 1990s but 10 years ago smartly reverted to what worked best. These are not identical to the Joe Montana-era uniforms, the "49ers" jersey logo an update, but it's arguable San Francisco's current pants are superior to the vintage design. This was one of the savviest uniform changes in many years, and success followed.

 
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San Diego Chargers, 2007

San Diego Chargers, 2007
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This is merely a partial criticism but not an unwarranted one. There was nothing wrong with the Chargers' Junior Seau/LaDainian Tomlinson-era uniforms; these less symmetrical kits are a downgrade (although, the Bolts' all-white road attire does look better with the current helmets). For two games each season, however, the Bolts feature what may be the NFL's best uniform -- the powder blue look Chris Berman swoons over. But they insist on keeping this unspectacular navy blue as the primary. Hopefully the franchise takes a long look at its wardrobe before venturing to its new stadium.

 
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Minnesota Vikings, 2006

Minnesota Vikings, 2006
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While the Brett Favre year produced the most success any Vikings team has enjoyed this century, the Hall of Fame quarterback spent his time in Minnesota wearing the worst uniforms in franchise history. This goofy, unnecessarily complicated scheme — featuring an out-of-control, multicolored stirrup — was rightfully ditched fairly soon after it debuted. One of many franchises that realized its strange 21st-century deviation from a tried-and-true look missed the mark. 

 
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Arizona Cardinals, 2005

Arizona Cardinals, 2005
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In almost identical territory, we have the modern Cardinals. With the Aeneas Williams-era Cardinals kits not producing much of note, other than a 1998 playoff berth and Rod Tidwell's run as a marquee mid-1990s receiver, the organization certainly had cause to make a change. But these unis are both unnecessarily complex (Nike's late-'90s stirrup bomb still impacts the world today) and forgettable all at once. Arizona's '05 switch did not involve upgrading its bland white helmets either. The Cards should follow the Vikings' lead here and admit a mistake — or go full overhaul around Kyler Murray in 2020.

 
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Atlanta Falcons, 2003

Atlanta Falcons, 2003
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The NFL (literally) looked worse in the 2000s. Many teams made regrettable fashion decisions. Some are still subjecting the masses to them. Prior to an aughts update, the Falcons featured two of the league's better uniforms. They still wear the Deion Sanders-years throwbacks twice a season; those games become instantly more appealing. The black-red fusion does not work as well as when the franchise picked one of those colors as its clear base. Atlanta's home unis outflank its road attire — which, for as much as goes on with the numbers and the arm logo, is quite uninspiring.

 
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Seattle Seahawks, 2002

Seattle Seahawks, 2002
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The aforementioned Seahawks misstep. If they had matched this unfortunate shade of blue with some of the gray that worked so well on their underappreciated 20th-century classics, these may not have been the fashion gaffe they were. The Seahawks' welcome-to-the-NFC reboot represented a bizarre pivot in the moment and lasted 10 years. All's fine on the Seattle uniform front now, but in between the Cortez Kennedy and Legion of Boom periods, we had a crisis on our hands. 

 
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Buffalo Bills, 2002

Buffalo Bills, 2002
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Of all the unfortunate NFL fashion shifts to occur during this period, Buffalo's choice may have been the worst. The Bills did not allow Drew Bledsoe to wear what Jim Kelly did, debuting a convoluted look that doubled as the aesthetic low point in franchise history. They kept their Super Bowl-era helmets, making for three shades of blue on one uniform. Those helmets presided over a real mess. Buffalo's hideous primary blue during most of the 2000s represented a shocking downgrade from what came before. It doesn't help that these are the jerseys most associated with the Bills' 17-year playoff drought.

 
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New England Patriots, 2000

New England Patriots, 2000
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Controversy. The Patriots have won six Super Bowls, nine AFC titles and 16 division championships in these. They are associated with dominance. They also have worse uniforms than the franchise utilized during most of its previous four decades. While the unis Tom Brady has worn are not aughts Bills — or aughts Seahawks-level — bad, they are less fun than the ones Drew Bledsoe primarily donned and those featuring the once-proud Pat the Patriot. Rings and all, the Patriots are not living their optimal uniform life. 

 
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Tennessee Titans, 1999

Tennessee Titans, 1999
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While this was a relocation-based rebrand, the Titans' initial uniform still brought a steep decline from what they featured as the Houston/Tennessee Oilers. The franchise's third year in Tennessee ushered in unis in step with what turned out to be a bad era for NFL fashion. They stuck with this primary look, with some shades-of-blue indecision, for 18 years. When considering what they stepped away from, Titans 1.0 certainly belongs on this list.

 
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Denver Broncos, 1997

Denver Broncos, 1997
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The NFL still feels the effect of this seismic uniform switch. The Broncos were coming off a historic divisional-round upset loss and were 0-4 in Super Bowls in their otherwise sublime previous scheme, leaving the door open for this radical metamorphosis. Denver responded by sending a stirrup tornado at the football world, with NFL, college and high school teams adding them en masse. The Broncos have since ditched the blues as their primaries, but the dull and orange-less whites remain. Super Bowl titles do not suddenly justify this kind of uniform regression.

 
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1997

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1997
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The first of what became many landmark uniform alterations over the next several years, the Bucs steered their ship as far away from Bucco Bruce as possible. Tampa Bay eradicated orange from its color scheme, and the red-pewter combination obviously produced the franchise's pinnacle moment. Struggles in the creamsicle kits aside, the Bucs boasted a stupendous (and original) uniform. They have since shifted to another shaky design and have used their oranges as throwbacks this decade. Futility in those unis for most of their history brought about an unfortunate casualty.

 
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San Francisco 49ers, 1996

San Francisco 49ers, 1996
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A sneaky-all-time downgrade. The 49ers decided to jazz up their look in the mid-1990s. The team had drifted from 49ers Classic, wearing throwbacks for most of its 1994 Super Bowl title season, and was coming off a home playoff loss. But Steve Young was forced to wear these to close out his career. Jerry Rice had to suit up in these and the 2000s Seahawks' jerseys. With the 49ers having since moved back to their premier setup, it's fair to say the uniform Terrell Owens wore during his San Francisco days was a bust. 

 
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Philadelphia Eagles, 1985

Philadelphia Eagles, 1985
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Just in time for one of the more interesting quarterbacks to come through the NFL, the Eagles restyled their scheme. The team scrapped the massive sleeve stripes of the Ron Jaworski years and brought Kelly green into the mix. Randall Cunningham's Eagles career ran from 1985-95, the same duration of these green-on-gray uniforms. The Eagles' current home jerseys are not that steep of a downgrade from these, but away from Philadelphia the team's white-on-white does not have the same flair that its 1980s-90s white-on-grays delivered. 

 
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Cincinnati Bengals, 1981

Cincinnati Bengals, 1981
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One of the wilder changes in NFL uniform history was when the Bengals zoomed ahead of the curve with their 1981 switch. It was no secret their pre-'81 unis fairly closely resembled the Browns', with Paul Brown bringing Cincinnati into the NFL fold after his revolutionary Cleveland tenure ended bitterly. (Bengals-Browns games did feature some similarities for a while.) The Bengals' tiger-striped helmets — far flashier than their previous headgear — brought a strikingly new-age presentation at the time, drawing scrutiny. The Bengals have been the NFL's helmet kingpins for nearly 40 years.

 
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Los Angeles Rams, 1974

Los Angeles Rams, 1974
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It's a look so good the current Rams resurrected it. The NFC's Los Angeles franchise made the seminal switch in the mid-'70s, a light-years leap from their practice-jersey-esque Fearsome Foursome style. The blue-and-gold combination stuck until 2000 — when the Rams introduced their sleek post-Super Bowl attire, which at this point is probably a bit underrated. But those kits did not shine like the Rams' Eric Dickerson-years threads did. The helmet and jersey stripes were unlike anything in the NFL at that point, and they remain a plus look today. 

 
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San Diego Chargers, 1974

San Diego Chargers, 1974
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This is not a full-on knock on how the Air Coryell Chargers dressed; it just set the franchise on a course from which it has not recovered. In 1974 the Bolts ditched powder blue — a staple of their previous uniforms — and they did not reintroduce their still-signature jersey as a full-time alternate until the 2000s. Their decision 45 years ago changed the course of Charger uniform history, and although the darker blue look did produce a better design in the 1990s and early 2000s, the mid-'70s marked a rather significant moment in franchise history.

 
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Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972

Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972
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Gold pants have been a staple of Steeler uniforms for 47 years now. Few NFL teams can say they have boasted a better look than the Steelers' once they ditched the white pants for good. Pittsburgh had experimented with gold in the late 1960s but did not fully commit until 1972. The Steelers, who have been the league's most consistently successful franchise since the '72 Immaculate Reception season, have not looked back. While they stubbornly resist a double-logo helmet, the Steelers boast a classic look — albeit with italics infiltrating the design in the past two decades — that is tough to beat.

 
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Washington Redskins, 1970

Washington Redskins, 1970
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Did the Redskins miss an opportunity? This is certainly the minority opinion, but is it impossible, in an alternate universe, to have seen these becoming a flagship NFL uniform? These may look a bit too collegy, but the Redskins wearing them for only two years — cutting bait before their 1972 NFC title season — seems like a rash decision. These helmets are a hidden gem in NFL history. They have not been included in Washington throwback games, which is a shame. The modern public should at least have a look at what could have been.

 
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Denver Broncos, 1968

Denver Broncos, 1968
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One of the biggest uniform jumps in pro football history occurred in 1962 when the Broncos moved on from their one-of-a-kind brown/yellow look (one you may remember from the 2009 season involving AFL throwbacks) to orange. But that mid-'60s design, which featured a much wilder horse on the helmet, did not last. It gave way to the team's premier uniform — arguably the preeminent use of orange in American professional sports. The Broncos used this Orange Crush scheme for nearly 30 years and have turned back to it on recent Color Rush occasions, albeit with a bit of Clemson influence.

 
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New York Jets, 1965

New York Jets, 1965
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Say what you will about the Jets' new uniforms; the franchise has fared well in fashion. Their 1980s-90s threads are not as celebrated, but they held their own in a strong period for NFL aesthetics. But they obviously cannot be viewed as the most important Jets design. The Jets introduced their classics in 1965, Joe Namath's rookie year, and kept them for 13 years. They may have become stale by the late '70s, but this was a perfect '60s uniform. It did not pop quite as much when Bill Parcells resurrected it in 1998, but altogether the Jets used this look for 34 years.

 
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Dallas Cowboys, 1964

Dallas Cowboys, 1964
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The 1994 Cowboys made the team's original look, the four-star concept, somewhat fashionable. But come on. One of sports' most significant uniform changes took place prior to Tom Landry's fourth season in Dallas. The simpler blue/silver design became one of American sports' signature appearances and has remained such from Don Meredith to Dak Prescott. Although the Cowboys have tampered with their royal blue look — which is not as bad as the sparse usage depicts — the fact they rarely don those illustrates how revered their classic uniform became.

 
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Oakland Raiders, 1963

Oakland Raiders, 1963
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The Raiders have done well to hide this, but their first three years did not feature silver and black. Gold was originally included in the Raiders' color scheme. Sounds impossible, and no color photographic evidence is readily available, but it happened. Oakland's 1963 concoction proved vital. The NFL would be a less fun place without the Raiders' signature silver and black. Even their silver numbers on most of their 1960s away uniforms, which were revived during throwback weeks, would be a top-tier look if Jon Gruden decided to bring it back. 

 
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Chicago Bears, 1962

Chicago Bears, 1962
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Credit the Bears for resisting the urge to make a major change. While both the Lions and Vikings succumbed, the Bears have kept their classics for more than 50 years. The Chicago "C" appeared on Bears helmets for the first time in 1962, and a year later the franchise won an NFL title. This timeless look is nearly perfect, with the Bears getting in their own way whenever they deploy one of their lesser-refined throwbacks each season. The team improved on its standard further when it incorporated the blue pants with white jerseys in 1984 — the start of the Bears' modern-era zenith.

 
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Green Bay Packers, 1961

Green Bay Packers, 1961
Focus On Sport-Getty Images

The Packers formed their quintessential uniform combination in 1961 then promptly won five NFL titles in seven seasons. While minor tinkering occurred between Vince Lombardi's third year and present day, the Green Bay uniform has gone mostly unchanged over the past 58 years. Good thing, because this franchise has some aesthetically unpleasant throwback options (so much beige). Like the Cowboys' white jerseys, the Packers' greens — although, their away-from-Green Bay white-on-gold look is not far off — double as one of the primary images associated with the NFL.

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

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