Commentary

What makes a great NFL uniform?

Originally Published: August 23, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

John ElwayAlbert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty ImagesJohn Elway and the Broncos rallied countless times in the 1980s and '90s wearing burnt orange.

I'm a traditionalist. I like the classics. The San Diego Chargers should wear powder blue. The Philadelphia Eagles should wear Kelly green. Always. They are classic colors, representative of their cities, their fans and their beloved sports franchises.

There is nothing wrong with modern touches to uniforms worn in the National Football League. There is nothing wrong with making tweaks and updates. Things evolve. Time moves on. But powder blue and Kelly green should always remain.

[+] EnlargeWilbert Montgomery
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWilbert Montgomery had nearly 9,000 yards from scrimmage during Philly's Kelly green era -- and he looked good doing it.

What if Dallas took the star off its helmets? What if Oakland pivoted from the silver and black? What if Green Bay got rid of the G? What if Pittsburgh lightened its yellow hue? What if Cleveland ditched its orange and brown? There would be outrage. Fans would go berserk. The identities of franchises and cities and their fans are wrapped up in the color schemes and designs of their uniforms, more so than the uniforms of any other professional sport.

Classic. Historical. Iconic.

That should be the trend, the norm, not what the Seattle Seahawks will be donning this season, a total shift to a futuristic, neon look that seems borrowed, at least in part, from the Oregon Ducks. Like the team. Hate the uniforms.

The Denver Broncos this season acquiesced to their fans and for the first time since the 1996 season will not wear dark blue when playing at home. They will wear burnt orange, just as John Elway did for the vast majority of his Broncos career. Why the change? The fans asked for it. They wanted the team to go back to its roots. They identified with the orange. It mattered to them. And the Broncos, to their credit, listened and acted.

You see Denver in burnt orange, and think of Elway. You see Pittsburgh in black and gold, and think Steel Curtain. You see Chicago in navy blue and orange ,and think Sweetness. You see Green Bay in dark green and gold, and think Lambeau and the Frozen Tundra and Lombardi and Favre. You see the Colts in blue and white, and think Unitas and Manning, who will forever be associated with those crisp uniforms and the blue horseshoe on the helmet, no matter how long he wears Broncos orange.

The iconic franchises in the league don't change their uniforms, because they don't have to.

[+] EnlargeJohn Hadl
James Flores/Getty ImagesWhat's better than the Chargers' legendary powder blues? Powder blues with a single-bar facemask. Just ask quarterback John Hadl.

There is a psychological attachment to NFL uniforms that simply isn't as powerful as with other professional sports. Joe Horrigan has seen it. For 36 years, he has been the vice president of communications and exhibits at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He said three things come to mind when he thinks of uniforms: history, legacy and heritage.

"I think in sports that there's a certain amount of fundamental history that we all associate with our teams, whether it's a winning tradition, longevity or an identity with a community," Horrigan said. "That's something we hold near and dear and tend to get protectionist with when it comes to change, whether we're superstitious, being a traditionalist in the strictest sense or what. There's a sense of keeping a team connected to its past that's important to many fans. …

"When great rivalries developed in pro football, the colors and the uniforms became symbolic, more so than the team names and records. The uniform is a cultural connection between teams and the fans."

It's why so many men, and more recently women, wear their team's jersey to games. It is a part of them. It is their identity. It gives them ownership, passed down from one generation to the next.

That's why, to me, San Diego will always be powder blue. Philadelphia will always be Kelly green. That is the tradition. That is how it should be.

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist for ESPN.com

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