NFL Runway with Vinny and Dave: NFC South
by Dave Bernreuther and Vincent Verhei
Dave: Welcome back to the most important football column series you'll read this off-season. In our last installment, we agreed on the Jaguars and Texans, while I was higher on the Colts and Titans than Vince, which surprised me, since I can pretty much find the negative in anything. We also got some great nuggets of information in the comments; a provocative Instagram post from Nuk Hopkins that exposed our complete failure to mention the glory of the old Houston Oilers uniform sets; and the announcement from Amy Adams Strunk that the Titans were enlarging the numbers on their light blue jerseys to enhance legibility. If you ask me, it's more the font itself than the size, but we'll see if there's any real difference this year. Chances are it will probably still look pretty bad.
And on the topic of bad, let's dive right in to:
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
(All graphics appear courtesy of GridironUniforms.com.)
Vince: That's right, we're starting with Tampa Bay, analytics (and alphabetical order) be damned. I can see Dave champing at the bit, so I'll just go get myself some coffee. Mr. Bernreuther, the floor is yours.
Dave: Oh my. Where should I begin?
In 2018, after their closest geographic neighbors wisely ditched the two-tone helmets, the Buccaneers assumed the title of Worst Uniform in all of Football. For my money, it's not even close. While I dislike the Nike-fication of Seattle and most college teams, which has gotten to the point that on Saturdays it's often difficult to even know who the hell is even playing when you first look, most of that is at least coherent and/or based on an idea or theme that makes sense.
The Bucs, on the other hand, took one of the most unique uniforms in sports, one that was almost universally well-regarded, and for no reason whatsoever replaced it with a ridiculous alarm clock motif that looks like they accidentally submitted a third grader's first computer graphics project. Their mandate to Nike may as well have been "hey, let's see just how much worse we can make this."
Vince: (Sips coffee.)
Dave: The Bucs don't have a rich history of actual football quality, but they always had great uniforms. The legendary Creamsicles, despite not making any sense (Orange AND red, two colors right near each other on the spectrum, with almost no contrast? Why not!) and not exactly screaming tough or scary, looked amazing. They were (and still would be, if not for the illusion of safety-inspired rule the NFL has about only using one helmet) among the most popular throwback uniforms in history, which says a lot, given that they represented an era of historically terrible football.
When the Bucs decided to change threads during the Dungy era, it made a ton of sense. They wanted to put their losing past behind them, they wanted to remain unique, and they wanted to look good. And they hit it out of the park.
They shifted the emphasis of their unusual color combination to a darker red, added in black, and on top of that they added pewter (a color most people probably didn't even know existed). In a way, they overdid it -- at least when you consider that for the most part, two primary colors and white tends to be the best way to construct a uniform -- but the finished product was fantastic. You didn't even have to like any of those actual colors to admit that it all just came together perfectly. It was weird, but it worked. The home and road sets each flowed together well. The logo made sense. The ensemble theme even extended to their stadium, as the following year they opened Raymond James Stadium, complete with an actual pirate ship. It was excellent branding.
Vince: (Continues to sip coffee.)
Dave: And then 2014 happened. Perhaps inspired by the decisions of their two in-state "rivals" a year earlier to seriously downgrade their uniforms, the Buccos decided to give the Jags a run for their money in the Worst Uniform Ever category. And boy did they come close. In fact, if not for the two-tone helmet, I think it might have been a dead heat.
The Bucs did EVERYTHING wrong with this set. The helmet logo is way too big. The chromed facemask is horrible (and adds yet ANOTHER color to the palette, if it counts as a color) and should probably not even be legal to wear if the sun is shining. It also covers up part of the logo, which is really strange. The colors got worse -- the red brighter, the orange more prominent, the pewter flatter/browner -- and the font is just flat-out stupid. The striping, if you can even call it that, is dumb. The ugly shoulder yoke is made even worse by the fact that they frequently choose the orange socks to go with it instead of the matching brown. And of course they also mix and match jerseys and pants and socks too often too, because why wouldn't they. This uniform set was everything bad I feared would happen when Nike got the uniform contract. They're an abomination. There isn't one single nice thing to be said about them. It makes me sad that I have to start cheering for them next year because I like Bruce Arians so much. This is the worst set in the league, a solid F all around, and an F-minus-minus just on account of having switched to them from such an excellent previous set.
Well, I can't match your passion, and I don't feel as strongly about your conclusion, but I can't argue with any of your specific points. The creamsicles were gorgeous and, just as important, totally unique -- you always knew when the Bucs were on TV. Extra points for sticking out in the uber-masculine world of the NFL by going with Bucco Bruce, described by no less a credible source than OutSports.com as "the gayest logo in [NFL] history."
And yet, when they rebranded in the late '90s, it made sense -- the creamsicles had been around forever at that point, with few positive memories, and the franchise needed a reset. And the new uniforms were great, especially since they took the theme and ran with it. The Jolly Roger-style logo was extra pirate-y. The pewter-and-red color scheme felt like something Jack Sparrow would wear, if Jack Sparrow had been around during the Clinton administration. The hints of orange were subtle, but still a fine nod to history. Just a bang-up job all around.
You've covered the 2014 redesign in great detail, so I won't repeat anything here, but there's nothing positive about any of the changes they've made. I'm particularly annoyed by the red numbers on the pewter shoulder yoke, which are difficult to read (as are the pewter numbers on the red Color Rush jerseys, which … yuck). I don't know if they're the worst uniforms in the NFL, but for sure they're the worst uniforms in the NFC South.
Vince: My relationship with the Atlanta Falcons is long and complicated. I'll try to keep this brief and on topic. I was a huge fan of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1990s, when they went to the black helmets and jerseys. At a time when the hometown Seahawks were shedding the legends of the 1980s and entering one of the most boring and pointless decades in league history, the Falcons had a coach who left tickets for Elvis, a wide receiver who imitated Spider-Man and dated a rapper, and most of all a cornerback who also played offense and special teams (not to mention baseball) and liked to high-step across the goal line and step-dance in the end zone. In a very dark time in my adolescence, Deion Sanders and the Falcons showed me that the point of life is to be happy and have fun. And I was hooked -- the Falcons were my team. Even after Sanders left for San Francisco/Dallas/etc., there was always something exciting in Atlanta, from the run 'n' shoot to the Dirty Bird to Michael Vick. It wasn't until 2007, when Vick was on his way to prison and Bobby Petrino's Falcons were getting embarrassed every week, that I realized I didn't care about the team anymore.
I bring this up to explain why I have a very, very strong affection for the Jerry Glanville-era Falcons uniforms, the dominant and imposing look that had just enough traces of blood red to distinguish them from the Raiders. I am always excited when the Falcons wear throwbacks, but it seems like every time they do, they go with either the red helmets of the 1980s or the white pants of the 1970s. Give me the black-on-blacks, dammit, with the silver pants and the red trim. Please.
Dave: I'll never share your affinity for Deion Sanders, who I probably despise more than any non-criminal athlete of my lifetime, but I do completely get where you're coming from here.
I don't think anyone liked the red helmet set that preceded the Glanville years. It wasn't offensive in any way, and in fact, looking back on it, it's actually pretty solid. But my memory of that entire decade is "meh," although I always did enjoy drawing that logo.
When they switched it up in 1990, I remember it being a pretty big deal. My memory could be off here, but that switch pre-dated the trend of adding black for black's sake, so it was still unique and definitely very edgy. The comparison to the Raiders is a great one. Especially the white jerseys with the black numbers. The red numbers were a mistake, one they removed after one season but curiously brought back in 1997. But for most of that decade, they looked great.
That said, over time, it did start to feel a bit bland, just as the previous red set did. The refresh in 2003 was well-timed.
Vince: I liked the current uniforms when they first came out in 2003. The striping was more modern, with bold red flashes that stood out on both the home and away jerseys, and they had cool black pants they could wear in Atlanta or on the road. But soon the red jersey, which I was fine with as an alternate, became the full-time look -- they haven't worn the black version of the modern jersey since 2008, and they haven't worn it with white pants since that inaugural season in 2003. Bring back the black jerseys and my opinion of the Falcons' threads would be much higher.
So whether they're wearing the modern uniforms or their throwbacks, I have the same reaction the Falcons uniforms: they're not bad at all, but they could be and should be so much better.
Dave: Whereas ESPN and Uni Watch's Paul Lukas didn't like the switch, owing mostly to its overly modern/different/unnecessary sleeve and armpit striping, I actually thought the Falcons executed it really well. The Gridiron Uniform DB shows something I had forgotten, which was that those stripes were different at first, but I honestly have no complaints with the shoulder coloring and striping as it is now. It's a good example of adapting to the more modern fit where sleeves no longer exist (for the counterexample, see Cincinnati), and I liked that it added a bit more red to the palette without undoing the dominant black that we had all come to enjoy.
I feel bad admitting this, but I didn't realize until just now that 2003 was the only year in which they wore the current design with white pants and the black jersey. Since then they went full-black, which I don't like, and then eliminated the black jersey entirely. I could've sworn that was a more recent development.
Anyway, there are two things that I really appreciate about this current set. The first is the logo, which I think is a great three-dimensional update on the old Falcon without being overdone. I love it. The second is that even though the black pants/black helmet look worked just fine with the white jerseys, they haven't worn black pants in a full decade now. Say what you will about weird armpit and side panel striping, but the Falcons and their bird brethren in Arizona each did a great job using that to tie white jerseys to white pants. While last week we agreed that all-white is at best boring for some of those teams, the Falcons still pull it off really well. Somehow their road whites have never seemed boring or plain.
But I'm with Vince. I won't often argue for more variety, as so many teams have overdone it. But if they brought back the black jerseys from 2003, nobody would complain. And if they replaced the historically inaccurate 1966 throwback but with 1990s-era black helmets with just a 1998 Super Bowl team black jersey set, they'd be far better off.
Dave: The Panthers are the opposite of the Texans to me, in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In theory I dislike the helmet stripes, the pant stripes, and the shoulder stripes. But on the field they always look good. I prefer the teal jerseys to the black, but this is a good use of a three-jersey rotation. I'd like to see them wear silver pants with the white jerseys sometimes, as they tried in 1998, and of course I'd get rid of the all-black pajama look … but otherwise, I have almost nothing to say. They're not spectacular, but I love that they've stayed consistent throughout their entire history and the color scheme, logo, helmet, and fonts are all good.
I can't believe I just covered a team's entire uniform history in a single paragraph.
Vince: Huge fan of Carolina's uniforms. Love the colors. Love the design. Love the logo. Love all three jerseys and both pairs of pants. The only combo I don't like is the teal jersey and the grey pants -- there's nothing inherently wrong with it, it just makes them look like Detroit South. But last year they tried the teal jersey with both black pants and white, and I thought both looks were winners. I even like the black jerseys with the black pants -- to my eye, there's just enough teal piping on both the pants and jerseys to break up the monotone look (as opposed the Saints' all-blacks, for example), and the heavy black makes the teal pop more. I'm struggling to find anything negative to say about these. I guess you could argue they're a little dated, with the teal a clear remnant of the 1990s of the Panthers' birth, but there's a reason the uniforms have barely changed in the ensuing two decades: they're already spectacular.
Dave: I think you might have ruined the teal jerseys for me by using the phrase Detroit South. Now that's all I'll ever think about.
I'll strongly disagree with the teal jersey and black pants look. Thankfully they only ran that one out in the preseason. That was Arena League bad. Black pants on either the black or white jerseys is also bad to me, but not nearly as awful as that hopefully one-off appearance with the teal.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Vince: The Saints should never wear black pants, at least not the black pants they currently wear. No piping, no stripes, no panels, just a black abyss of legwear with NFL, Nike, and Saints logos floating about. They're particularly ugly with the black jerseys, but not great with the whites either. Give me the gold pants with the bold black stripe instead, please.
Otherwise, I'm not sure what there is to say about New Orleans' uniforms. They have a cool fleur-de-lis logo, and strong contrast with the black-and-gold color scheme, but the resulting package is plain and underwhelming. Personally, I'd love to see a gold alternate jersey with white pants, something like what Georgia Tech used to wear. I probably won't get that, but maybe I can get them to wear the Color Rush uniforms full time. The white jerseys and pants with the black-and-gold trim complement the classic gold helmet well, and the whole outfit jumps off the screen.
Dave: Ha. I was going to say the exact same thing about Georgia Tech. Purdue has also tried the same thing. Maybe it would work for New Orleans, maybe it wouldn't, but I'm curious about it, and it would certainly be better than the all-white throwbacks they have been wearing lately with the ugly striping and darker goldish-brown color thrown in. Oh, wait, that's the Color Rush one you were talking about? Hm. Yuck. On this, my friend, we disagree.
I do agree with everything you said about the black pants, but oddly they still never really bother me that much when they're on my TV screen. I don't know why, because they seem to break every rule I have. The prominence of the black collar and black numbers do just enough, I suppose, to still make it feel coherent from head to toe. Maybe I also subconsciously like it because the gold pants with white jerseys still bring back flashbacks to Hank Baskett kicking off a completely miserable second half in February 2010.
It's worth noting that this franchise has made it over fifty years now without any wholesale changes to their look, and I appreciate that. They have always seemed willing to make small tweaks along the way in search of perfection, experimenting with different shades of gold, different socks, minor stripe pattern changes, etc. But they really started dialing it in in the early '90s, at which point the tweaks were as simple as switching the color of the numbers in 1996 and then again on the whites in 1999. 2001 was a bad year, with no gold pants at all, but they weren't above admitting a mistake and bringing them back.
Now if they'd just get rid of the black pants altogether, it really would seem that they have found the ideal combination. Because it's pretty tough to come up with a better top-to-bottom look than the gold helmet/gold pants/black jersey/black socks look that they're known for. Very well put together and iconic. I suppose I'm curious why the pant stripe is one fat black one rather than the same stripe that bisects the helmet, but maybe that didn't look as good in person as it sounds on paper. At this point, though, it's part of their history dating back to 1986, so it's best to leave it alone.
I'll never be a Saints fan, but I am a Saints uniform fan. To me, they win the NFC South.