NFL Runway with Vinny and Dave: NFC North
by Dave Bernreuther and Vincent Verhei
Dave: For this installment of NFL Fashion Police, we remain in the north, where the Gridiron Uniform Database pages start to get really long. 2019 will be the 100th season in Bears franchise history, dating back to the 1920 Decatur Staleys, while the Packers fall just one year short of that, having started play in 1921. Both of these teams have a very long history of wearing the exact same thing, so their sections of this column will be as much a history lesson as anything else. We can save the griping for the Lions.
Vince: We can? Um … OK.
(All graphics appear courtesy of GridironUniforms.com.)
Dave: Earlier this month the Bears announced that they'll twice don throwbacks to commemorate their 100th season. Now, it could be argued that for such an anniversary, they should choose to recreate either the first season or their best season. Instead, they chose a getup they wore for only one season, 1936, a year in which they finished in second place. This doesn't make a ton of sense to me, and thus feels like mostly an attention grab and merchandising ploy.
Of course, all throwbacks and Nike-fied jerseys are ploys to sell more jerseys to the same people, so I guess that's not really a valid complaint. And, well, if you're not throwing back to 1985 (which of course means not really doing anything differently at all), it's hard to argue with finding the most interesting look the team ever sported, and this sure is it, with the pants from the previous season being a close second.
Nothing about it makes sense. The extra shoulder stripes are pointless and the helmet stripes are weird. And the socks, well...
I'm going to make up a word now, if you'll allow me: higlarious. The socks are higlarious.
That word is a combination of hideous, hilarious … and glorious. Because they're completely absurd, they make me laugh, and yet they're just absolutely amazing.
They need to keep them below the knee, unlike that model, but on the whole that 1936 ensemble is amazing and I can't wait to see them wear it. If I still lived in Chicago I'd consider buying the jersey and socks, customizing a goofy hat, and walking around like Payne Stewart on those days.
Vince: I think we need video to really do these justice.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) June 8, 2019
That's … man, there's a lot going on there. What gets me is how the top and bottom are busy as hell but the middle is so clean. The pants are just blue, the jersey has simple stripes, but then the helmet and especially socks look like something off the Vegas strip. Wait, no, that's not right. This is more what I think of when I see those socks:
Yes. "Sexy witch leggings." That's what I'm going to think about now when I see the Bears wear these this fall. And if that's not higlarious, I don't know what is.
I will say, though, that it's an upgrade over the throwbacks they've been wearing in recent years. Orange numbers on a navy jersey? No thank you.
Dave: Otherwise, the Bears are the Bears. They've looked almost exactly the same since 1960, or '62 if you want to start at the time of helmet logos. The only real change came when teams started coloring the facemasks, at which point they made it navy. There's a reason for this. It's a great look. They can do the all-white and it looks great because of the socks. They can do the navy pants too, though, and the sock striping also makes it OK. The Bears uniforms are classics, and if they continue as they did in 2018 by not trotting out a unitard or Color Rush set, everything will be perfect.
Vince: Totally agree. Well, almost -- the socks and sleeve striping on the Bears' uniforms are a little overdone for my taste. Beyond that, though, they check every box, including the platonic ideal pants striping we discussed in our NFC West piece. I prefer the blue jersey with the white pants and vice versa, but I'm good with the all-whites and I don't really mind the all-navys. Even the orange alternate jersey makes perfect sense and is a fun change-up once in a while. The only other change I'd suggest is to make the navy a shade lighter. This may sound ridiculous to our younger readers who have grown up in an HD universe, but watching on standard-def tube TVs, I actually thought the Bears' colors were black and orange for many, many years. But that probably doesn't matter anymore, honestly, and the last thing the NFL needs is another dark blue team.
Dave: It's fun to look back through their history at some of the pre-'60s looks, and I like knowing that the orange alternate of recent years (which also looks great because their look is so timeless and stripes so well executed) is not just an alternate for alternate's sake, because there's orange in every decade of their history before the 1960 changeover. Even back in the days before logos and stripes they looked great, with the exception of the all-orange they wore here and there. I imagine that back before everyone started wearing black and viewing that as imposing or intimidating, the Bears' home navies were the keepers of that standard.
1961 is where they really nailed it though, with the addition of white to the sock stripes. They've been near-perfect ever since. The Chicago Bears are on the short list for not only the best uniforms in the NFL, but in all of sports.
We will follow that with one of the current worst…
Vince: Ah, man, we're gonna fight about this, aren't we?
Vince: OK, I know it's my turn to go first here, but I'm so intrigued that anyone could have anything bad to say about Detroit's current uniforms that I'm going to yield for the moment. Mr. Bernreuther, the floor is yours.
Dave: The Lions need to just go back to the Barry Sanders era jerseys and be done with it. End of conversation.
The 2003 addition of black was completely pointless, but at least not overdone (at first, anyway). They still looked good, even if the Reebok shade of blue (adopted a few years earlier with the older style, actually, which I did not know until now) wasn't as good as the original. So it wasn't hugely upsetting until they started wearing black alternates, which thankfully weren't that common, and were dropped just in time for the 0-16 season in 2008.
When they announced that they were going back to the original shade and ditching black, we all rejoiced … until they gave us this:
Which they also wore against the Panthers, giving us two low-contrast games that may as well have been in black-and-white, and this mismatched quagmire:
Honolulu Blue, grey, and white ought to be easy enough to pull off, but those pants with the light helmet is just BAD. As is the logo, the number font, the striping, and especially the all-greys.
At least in 2018 they wised up and added the grey pants back to the white jerseys for all but that one Bears game. That was a huge improvement. A huger improvement would be to just go back to how they looked when Barry Sanders was on the team, a.k.a. the last time they were any good.
Wouldn't hurt to see if Barry could still play, while they're at it.
Vince: OK, having listened to that, I kind of see where you're coming from. I would counter by making two points. First, you're being far too kind to the black uniform elements of the Jon Kitna era. This was the ultimate example of uniforms using black for black's sake. There was zero reason to throw in black trim, and it made everything significantly worse. So moving on from that was a huge plus.
Second, I think you're being somewhat unfair to the current combo by judging them on their worst kits, which they rarely use. Yes, the all-silvers are terrible, and made worse by the fact that they were only worn against other silver teams such as Dallas and Carolina. (I actually think there's a way to make all-silvers work, but this ain't it -- you would need to have massive contrast stripes like Arizona or something.) And I concur that the home uniforms are drab with nothing but blue and silver. Just a little bit more white would make those a lot better. Something like this:
Here we see my brutally bad GIMP skills showing what the Detroit Lions uniforms would look like with a little white trim. pic.twitter.com/1OQwW2vejy
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) June 26, 2019
We are going to disagree, however, on the white jerseys-blue pants combo, because those are FANTASTIC. I find it hard to describe them with concrete terms, because their beauty is more abstract than that. They look like the sky. They look like speed. They look … well, like a fancy muscle car rolling off the assembly line, which makes them perfect for Detroit. I actually hadn't realized they only wore that combo once last year. That makes me sad. I still like the silver pants with the white jerseys, but it's a more generic look. Those Honolulu blue pants are special, man.
Dave: If the helmet was blue too, I'd agree with you. The overall color combination is great. (Speaking of which, I agree with you that they top the list of black for black's sake.) But there's just something off about these pants; when they wear them with a white jersey and silver helmet I feel like they end up being the focal point of the whole uniform. I'm not sure why; it could (should) be argued that the Patriots are a much greater example of this, but somehow their white ensemble still ties together a bit better, possibly due to their shoulder striping...
I wonder if grey socks (or grey stripes in them, maybe) or some white in the pant striping would tie it together better. Or blue facemasks. The numbers and the sleeve and helmet stripes are all heavily blue, so they join together well in that regard … but something still seems off. When I see the silver pants, it looks harmonious and correct. When I see the blue pants, it's just off. It's not nails-on-chalkboard disturbing, but it's not right, either.
I'll freely admit to at least the possibility of pro-Barry Sanders era bias making me negative about any change at all here. I'm curious about our readers' opinions of the silver vs. blue pants with the white jerseys here though.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Dave: The Packers are also on the short list for best uniforms ever. They meet every one of my rules, and haven't changed a thing since the '60s. They have enjoyed historic success in them, and they will forever be a part of NFL lore. They look so good that the color combination (which falls somewhere between odd and hideous, depending on your tastes or geographical location) doesn't even matter. Never change, Green Bay. And ditch the all-whites. There's actually nothing wrong with them but they're still not as good as the standard look, which is perfect.
Vince: Much like we did for Chicago, we mostly agree here. As usual, I'd prefer the numbers have borders, and I'd like to see a simpler collar (just make it yellow!), but those are nitpicks -- the Packers' uniforms are tremendous. My only wish is that the NFL would make a rule banning the Packers from ever playing in Atlanta. I like the Falcons' uniforms. I like the Packers' uniforms. But whenever Green Bay plays Atlanta, the results are hideous. Yellow, green, red, black, white -- there's just too much going on.
Dave: Oh man, I've noticed that before too, such as in their playoff matchup three years ago. It's hard to imagine a non-neon Seattle game that clashes more than when those two teams meet.
Also, I'd love a simple yellow border on those numbers. I wonder if some teams originally forsake number borders just because of the technology available at the time, like that you could only iron on one layer … but I guess the Chiefs disprove that theory.
In our first column in this series, user dank067 surprised me with a story that I had never seen: a history of the uniform change that wasn't, in which we learn that Ron Wolf came very, VERY close to changing that iconic look in favor of a more Notre Dame-like dark green and gold scheme. Which is, objectively, a much more harmonious combination than green and yellow, but still would have been just a horrible mistake, even if it had been well executed.
Dave: The Vikings have a legendary three-dimensional helmet logo that is unchanged since the franchise's inception and have worn only two uniforms in the least two seasons. That is a team trying to get on my good side.
It's still incomplete, though. The font is terrible and the stripes are strange. I actually preferred the previous iteration, from 2012, even though it had side panels on the jersey and an odd stripe scheme altogether. The panels were tied to the pants stripes (which I really liked) nicely and it was ostensibly horn-like. The first pass at that look, from 2006, was pretty terrible, but I still tolerated it because it was a good distribution of color, used a brighter purple, and mostly avoided unitards. I know that plenty of people are not fans of purple, but I think it's fine if used properly and/or sparingly. The Vikings have been that color since 1961, though, so there is/should be no getting rid of it, and if you throw out that 2006-era set, they have used it mostly judiciously.
Vince: I disagree, rather strongly, or at least as strongly as one can disagree about a uniform whose base elements have been unchanged for almost 60 years now. The 2006-2012 uniforms were just so gaudy. It was distracting. The current set is much cleaner, yet still distinctive, and I really like the way the sleeve stripes evoke the image of a Viking sail. I also love the Vikings' current helmet -- the matte finish, the details in the horns, even the black facemask, which just looks like a darker shade of purple. It's a great look.
Dave: Well it's not that strong a disagreement, given that I also think the first attempt at it was terrible. By the end though, I think they made it make as much sense as say, the Cardinals or the Falcons and their unconventional striping.
I don't think I ever noticed that their facemask was black. I'm going to disagree with that one on principle, since that's not really part of their color palette, although it's not a full-on nonsense addition of black, at least. If it's so subtle that I didn't even notice it till now, it can't possibly be a bad thing.
One exception that I want to point out, just for fun, was their 2013 game in Baltimore, a snow game so ridiculous that we quickly forgot how bad a combination those two uniform sets were:
Baltimore is partly to blame there, too, of course.
Vince: Oh man. THAT game. Yes, that is five, count 'em, FIVE go-ahead touchdowns in the final 2:05 of the fourth quarter.
Dave: Man, what a fourth quarter that was. I can't believe that was five years ago.
The two teams looked much better four years later in the rematch (and yes, I have now gone searching for the combinations worn every time these two teams have met.)
Anyway, the Vikings need to go back the 2005 look. I have no idea why they made their white jersey stripes vertical in 1971, but I always found it neat that they differed from the purples. The last iteration of that look, with the brighter purple but classic numerals and stripes, was optimal. Throw some stripes in the socks and I'd allow for purple pants too (with white jerseys only, of course). But of the teams I'd like to see changed, the Vikings are still pretty low in priority; the current set is fine enough, and were it not for the Lions, this would easily be the strongest division, top to bottom. Which is something we could probably also say about the teams themselves this year too.
Vince: It never occurred to me that the 1980s Vikings only used vertical shoulder stripes on the white jerseys, but now that you've pointed it out, I think they really should have used them with the purple jerseys too. Would have really made them stand out.
Dave: It may be that they preferred not to be too similar to this.
Vince: What drove me absolutely nuts about those uniforms, though, is that in some lighting, the helmet and jersey looked to be two totally different shades of purple. Here is the best demonstration of this I can find online:
Unfortunately this is the white jersey, but this picture still shows what I'm talking about. The purple in Chris Doleman's jersey numbers, and especially in his sleeves, is rich, deep, and vibrant. The purple in his helmet, though, is more muted, and almost brownish. I noticed this all the time back in the day, and I'm glad they finally figured out how to make the two colors match.
Dave: I remember their 2006 re-do announcement specifically addressing that. There were also angles where it was so dark it was almost black, similar to your pre-HD Bears issue. Getting the color palette to a more HDTV-friendly combination was definitely a good move.