NFL Runway 2021: The Chargers, the Rams, and the Rest
Vince: Two years ago, a pair of fuddy-duddy football writers began a bold project: to evaluate and judge the uniform sets of each of the 32 NFL teams. A lot has changed in the ensuing 24 months. A full quarter of the league has since changed their uniform schemes, and a few others have put together different combos of existing helmets, jerseys, and pants. With so much to discuss, it seemed like the proper time for Vinny and Dave to return to the NFL Runway.
I thought we would begin by looking at the New York Jets. These uniforms had been unveiled when we originally covered the AFC East, but only in photo shoots. We had not yet seen them in game action. Now, of course, we have:
— NFL (@NFL) September 13, 2020
Dave: My thoughts on this one remain the same: they should've kept the speedbird and failing to do so meant a huge missed opportunity for clever striping. Instead, they have both a very boring logo and very boring jersey and pants striping. They also have a black set, which is terrible. But they hit a home run with the helmet color. I love it. It's like the Freeman McNeil era of my childhood, only shinier. Their goal of having the helmets really pop in HD was definitely met.
Vince: On the whole, I like these more than you do, and I agree that the more vibrant shade of green is a vast improvement. I'm not sure what the point of "NEW YORK" across the chest is. I think "boring" is too strong a term for the design and striping, but I concede that there's nothing there to get terribly excited about either. I mean, they're fine.
Dave: Agree. I think mostly I'm just upset that "fine" was such a letdown compared to what I think could've been fabulous.
Vince: Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, the Jaguars have broken out an all-teal set:
James Robinson finds a lane for the 11-yard TD! #DUUUVAL
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2020
Dave: Nothing could possibly be worse than their last set, so this still counts as an upgrade.
Vince: Right. The two-tone helmet era set the bar so low that anything else looks better. But I will say that black borders around the numbers and some kind of pants striping would make them much better. There's already a black band at the edge of the sleeve, just use a tiny bit more of that. Elsewhere, the Seattle Seahawks broke up their much-maligned all-Action Green set by matching those jerseys with the College Navy pants, a change that was popular with pretty much everyone:
KJ Wright with the one-handed PICK 😱
— NFL (@NFL) October 12, 2020
Dave: (squinting) Still a literal eyesore… but better.
Vince: I live in Seattle, I follow a lot of Seahawks Twitter accounts, and when they have gone with the green jerseys before, my timeline was usually filled with uniform hate for most of the first half. This time, I heard nary a peep—nobody seemed to mind. "Nobody outright hates them" is not the strongest endorsement of all time, but in this case it's a clear improvement. I still think they'd work even better with the white pants though.
Dave: The Twitter silence is because there's still a certain built-in harmony from having the pants match the helmet, no matter how weird it might be (usually with a non-white jersey and darker pants). I might go so far as to say that neon socks would be warranted in that case, and that the navy pants would probably work a bit better than the white that you suggest. I guess I wouldn't mind seeing that.
As long as I'm dreaming, I also wouldn't mind seeing a silver helmet with the green and blue in the logo again, but with the new "texture" kept intact, worn whenever they go with the grey or light pants. Now that it's allowed, they're one of the teams that I think could easily pull off a dual helmet scheme without a change to the jersey set. Of course, I've thought that they should've kept the green in the logo the whole time, especially when wearing the neon green.
Vince: And now the real stuff: The teams that have undergone wholesale uniform redesigns. In alphabetical order…
(All graphics appear courtesy of GridironUniforms.com.)
Vince: Let's put the gradient jerseys aside for the moment and consider the more basic uniforms first. I really like these new helmets. They have a good logo that works when it's a little bit oversized, and the matte finish is a plus, though I'd prefer black facemasks. I'm not a big fan of the other details in the uniform—again, I don't understand the point of "ATL" across the chest, the red accents seem kind of random, and the numbers are in a big, goofy font—but all in all I don't see much to get worked up over.
But then there are the gradients. And yes, when I first saw them, I thought they were juvenile and over-the-top. But there is a reason I always say you must wait to judge uniforms until you see them in game action. The first time they wore those jerseys was in Week 7 against Detroit, the Todd Gurley accidental touchdown game:
— Honolulu Blues (@HonoluluBlues_) October 29, 2020
This was a big deal at the time, both for the comedic aspect and the strategic discussion. So I watched that play a lot that Sunday. And it was hours after the final gun that I realized, hey, Atlanta was wearing the gradient jerseys! Clearly, if it took me that long to even notice them, they were not as bad as I had feared. I still prefer the all-black set:
— NFL (@NFL) October 29, 2020
But I'm certainly not opposed to the gradients on special occasions.
Dave: I am. They're hideous. I found myself agreeing very strongly with Robert Mays' comment here:
This is an amazingly accurate way to describe these. https://t.co/ofkfsRJJB5
— Dave Bernreuther (@bernreuther) April 8, 2020
The Jags' experiment with gradients was far, far worse, but this is still a gimmick, and it's a bad one. Hopefully we can interpret the fact that they only wore them the one time as a signal that they know this.
I'm with you on the logo, and I like that they kept the more modern version, which I found to be a good evolution on the previous one, which was and always will be a great one.
The rest of this set, though, feels like one of those ones that we're going to see replaced as soon as the five-year rule allows. If any team can pull off the all-black look, it's the Falcons, but it all just seems really uninspired. The font choice was, for lack of a better word, weird. The "ATL" on the chest really stands out more to me than any other team's chest mark, and having a side stripe spanning jersey to pants is always asking for misalignment issues. It's also strange to have that without any kind of sleeve striping. Or sock striping, for that matter.
I was actually higher on the previous set than most are, so I find this to be a big downgrade. They're not terrible, but they're not as good as the throwbacks, to which they could easily have just returned as the main set, added black pants, and called it a day.
I do wonder if we might see the return of the red helmet throwback in 2021, or a stripe-free red version to sit atop the gradient set—which could actually be very interesting—now that the helmet restriction has been removed. The Falcons are definitely a candidate for that.
Vince: Well, we can take that image and throw it right in the bin, because you'll never see them on the field again. The Bengals have unveiled new uniforms for the 2021 season:
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) April 19, 2021
Before we get into the uniforms themselves, I have to take this reveal apart, because the Bengals can't even show off new threads correctly. The most interesting element to these uniforms is the stripes on the pants, but you can barely see them in the video. Then they put up a full photo gallery on their website, but most of those photos are shot head-on and you can barely see the pants stripes there either. Why is this so hard?
Dave: I think all uniform reveal fashion show charades are kind of dumb, but I'm also the old man who yells at clouds, so I'm not going to take much of a stand there, but you're right: they executed poorly. (They are the Bengals, though, so…)
Vince: Anyway. The uniforms themselves are largely a vast improvement, a simpler, cleaner look without the random splotches on the sides. (Paul Lukas at Uni Watch did a great job pointing out the differences between these and last year's set, with a lot of before-and-after photos.) My only complaint is about the all-whites, which if anything are too clean—they've taken almost all the orange out of the uniform, somehow finding a way to make tiger stripes look bland and generic. In fact, it's clear to me that the white pants with orange stripes are better than white with black stripes no matter which jersey they're wearing. Otherwise? Home run. They're sharp, they're colorful, they're distinctive, and aside from helmet color they have almost nothing in common with the Browns uniforms, so it'll be easy to tell which team is which when they play each other twice every year.
Dave: It's definitely a step up from the last set, and it gets rid of almost all of the weird issues and mismatches that they had there. There was one thing that set did well, though, that is missing here: It featured a lot of orange. The helmet is, and always has been, awesome, and I liked that they tried—albeit pretty poorly—to tie the orange to that. This new set is simple and clean and free of major issues, but it loses a lot of orange in the primaries. For the all-whites (another set that we may see add an alternate helmet), that's fine, but otherwise, I think I'd rather have seen orange numbers or something on the white jersey, and certainly a more consistent pant stripe. The Esiason-era pants with their fat stripe would've worked really well, even without any other changes. I have always wanted to see an orange pant to match the helmet, at least to get an idea for how it'd look, but I'd wager that they've tried that at some point and it was just too much. Tiger-striped orange pants is probably one of those ideas that fits in that 13-year-old basket mentioned above.
As is often the case, there are too many combinations, and a few of them really stand out as awful, especially when compared with the good ones. For instance, they'd be better off never wearing the orange jerseys with black pants, but that same orange jersey looks really sharp with the white pants. I think that's the finest combo of the bunch. There is still enough orange left on the all-black that it flows really well, but when you add the white pants, the stripes sort of clash, since instead of orange inside black (like the prior set), the white pants have a bordered orange stripe over white, while the jersey still just has one single color. This might be the first time in all of history where I'd vote for an all-black set over the alternative. Rounding out the critique, I could say the same of the all-white; flows together nicely, but when the black pants are added it sort of starts to clash.
I think this is a set that might look a lot better on the field than in the photos, though. A lot of the issues my eyes are having have to do with the two different sets of white pants, which we see side-by-side in a lot of the photos. In reality they may end up looking a lot better on the field, especially if, as I suspect, we see a lot of the orange-over-white pants. A rotation between all-white, orange-over-white, and all-black or black-over-white would be a big win.
Dave: The Browns did what the entire world wanted them to do: quietly undid their mistake and went back to the classics. They were immediately and properly rewarded with a road playoff victory, in what seems to have been a theme for teams that reverted to the pre-change set in 2020.
The previous set wasn't really even that bad, and I thought it was well-intentioned. Nothing wrong with trying to make the orange pop a bit more when your main color and team name is BROWN. But all it did was make us appreciate the classics even more, and their return was incredibly welcome.
Vince: As I wrote in our original NFL Runway series two years ago, if the Browns just went back to what Bernie Kosar wore, I don't think anyone would complain. Well, that's pretty close to what they did, and I don't think anyone complained. Except for the Color Rush uniforms, of course. Orange numbers on brown jerseys aren't just inherently ugly, they're also very difficult to read.
— The Hottest Take Sports Podcast (@Hottest_TakePod) November 11, 2020
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Vince: The Chargers wore these uniforms for the first time in 2020, and my goodness they are beautiful. I'm pretty sure that if I picked out my top five specific uniform combos in the league right now, the Chargers would take up at least three or four spots.
Dave: I'll actually go a bit contrarian here: I really liked the way the previous uniform set combined their two hues of blue. It gave them the option to swap between powder and navy without changing anything, and it all flowed very well together. I was really sad to see them go.
That's not to say that the new set is a bad thing, though; these are still incredible. I don't even really like the yellow pants, and the royal blue Color Rush set can go straight in the garbage, but the worst possible combination of parts in this uniform set is better than the best possible combination in the new Falcons set, and that's also probably true of 10 or so other teams in the league whose uniforms aren't even that bad.
The one thing I'd hope for here, which is true of other teams as well, is that they recognize that they've got a good thing and just LEAVE IT ALONE. They're not quite the Jags, but this franchise is notorious for tinkering; there's no need here. Just set it and forget it.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
Vince: The Rams wore these uniforms for the first time in 2020, and my goodness they are awful.
Dave: As far as I'm concerned, we can leave it at that and move on to the next team.
Vince: I actually do have some positive things to say about the home kit (and even that puts me in the minority). Royal blue and yellow remains a terrific color combination, and it's a shame nobody in the NFL was really using it for a couple of decades. I think the metallic helmet finish is prettier than the glossy look they had when they last played in L.A. They still have the cool, distinctive horns on the shoulders. The weird interior striping/piping in the helmet/jersey horns and the reflective uniform numbers are goofy, but whatever. And when they wear the all-blues, I like the way the numbers fade from yellow at the top to white at the bottom, and then the pants striping fades the other way, from white to yellow. As The Dude might say, it really ties the look together.
But you know what color the NFL was not missing? Bone. And that's what it is. Do not call it grey. Certainly don't call it silver.
Dave: One of Paul Lukas' readers called it "dishwater" and that seems to fit.
Vince: Per the NFL's own online shop, you can only call that color BONE. (Although even on that page, while the jersey is described as bone, when you go to select a color, your options are "Royal" and "Cream" because even they know Bone is a stupid name for a color.)
Actually, there are lots of other things you can call them—drab, dreary, flat, lifeless, and most of all, ugly. And to make it as ugly as possible, they took away the ram horn on the shoulder and put in … I'm not even sure what they put in. There's the goofy white patch with "LOS ANGELES RAMS" in tiny letters that can only be read if you're within arm's reach. There are yellow and white … shapes? Is that the right word? … on the back of the shoulders, and those colors only serve to point out how the bone looks dingy and unwashed.
Dave: That white patch—made worse by how visible the stitching all is too—is 100% a test run for adding advertisements to the jerseys in a coming season, if you ask me. I'll stop shy of a diatribe on how annoying it is that billionaires feel a need to wring every last dollar out of something that's already absurdly lucrative and instead only comment on the fact that it's visually terrible. Bad contrast, looks like an afterthought, and serves no purpose whatsoever.
Vince: I hate to do this to our readers, but I feel the need to point out just how freakin' awful these are, no matter how L.A. tried to mix-and-match the surrounding elements. They were terrible when they debuted the Bone-on-Bone look in Week 1:
Can you imagine Aaron Donald coming to get you? If the Dallas #Cowboys OL can't stop him, what can? Incredible athlete#Rams #LaRams #LosAngeles #NFL #NFLTwitterA @RamsNFL @MWSNsports @AaronDonald97 pic.twitter.com/MLKfYQYv4q
— Gabriel Schray (@schrayguy) September 14, 2020
And that look was even worse when they added BONE SOCKS in Week 11:
When you intercept Tom Brady for your first career INT 👏
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 24, 2020
Later in the year, they tried to liven things up by pairing the bone jerseys with the yellow pants, which somehow made the jerseys even uglier:
THE WINLESS JETS ARE UP 20-3 ON THE RAMS.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 20, 2020
And the same can be said for the playoffs, when they tried bone jerseys with blue pants:
A Wild Card win.
Sounds of the Game: Inside the win over the Seattle Seahawks! pic.twitter.com/jxIrijBsz1
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 15, 2021
At least there the pants matched the helmets, so they were not as splotchy as the blue/bone/yellow look from the Jets game. But any way you slice it, the Rams plainly have the worst road uniforms in the NFL. (And for the record, the royal jerseys with bone pants are also terrible.) In fact, I'd go so far as to say they have the worst overall uniforms in the league, even including the home look, which I liked! I never thought we'd see a uniform element as terrible as Jacksonville's old helmet, but here we are.
Dave: Excluding those that are exclusively Color Rushes and gradients, I think I agree with you. The Bucs and Jags and Bengals all improved, so I can't think of any other team that is as bad overall as these. In fact, I can't even really think of another one that's even close.
Which is a shame, because I thought there was a ton of potential there. Everything I had previously said on the record about the Jets' uniforms being OK but missing out on more potential applies exponentially more so here. I *loved* the idea of making the ram horn 3D somehow, but without overdoing it, and they did that. Glossy, almost liquid, blue is great on its own too … but the rest. Woof. The number font, the color, the gradient (gonna disagree with you on that one), the stitching, the combinations, and the just plain missed opportunity to blend Eric Dickerson- and Deacon Jones-era sets with a touch of modern and the new stadium make this one a solid F- for me.
I also had this brilliant vision in my head of keeping it mostly blue and white, but using a nice bright, almost chrome, silver to add the third dimension and create a really sharp set in a color scheme that was totally unique, but that's just kind of selfish and neither here nor there … except that it does make me also remember how amusing it was that the owners of the stadium in L.A. not only introduced a hideous uniform set, but they did it in the same year and the SAME COLORS as the universally lauded uniform set of their tenants. They definitely deserve a bit of ridicule for that part too.
But mostly, though, they deserve ridicule for "Bone."
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Vince: This isn't really a major change—the Patriots just took their Color Rush uniforms and made it their regular set. If ever you're going to make a switch, the season when your franchise's greatest player ever walks out the door is as good a time as any.
Dave: Absolutely. They closed the door on an era, and honestly if they'd decided to change the team name too, I'm not really sure anyone would've found reason to complain. Timing-wise, this was perfect. I'm pretty sure that the only thing about the post-Tom Brady Pats uniforms that anyone cares about is when they'll re-introduce the Pat Patriot throwbacks.
Vince: Honestly, I'm still getting used to these new ones. They somehow strike me as more nautical than patriotic, but then the Patriots play home games in a stadium with a lighthouse, in a major port city (well, near a major port city), so that's hardly inappropriate. From a strictly aesthetic standpoint, I think they're cleaner than the Brady-era uniforms, and thus probably an upgrade.
Dave: They are cleaner than the Brady-era ones, and yet at the same time… something's not quite right. I think it's mostly because it has such a bold shoulder stripe paired with a stripe-free helmet. That bothers me a lot more than it should.
I also think that both the home and away would work very well with silver pants, and I'm not sure why that wasn't at least made available as an alternate. Heck, they didn't even wear white pants, even though they had a (one-game) history with those too. This may also sound weird, but part of me is surprised that Bill Belichick was ever OK with the all-navy set, let alone happy enough with it to make it the full-time home uniform. Still, much like the last set, and the team itself in many ways, the ensemble comes together better than expected on the field.
Vince: Something tells me that in the nearly seven decades of his life, Bill Belichick has never given a single thought to the way he or his team dresses.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Dave: My ranting about the previous alarm clock set went a little viral a few years back, it seems, and suddenly I understand why networks pay blowhards like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith to say dumb things loudly: outrage gets more eyes than politeness, and I wasn't exactly polite.
The same is no longer true of this set. While generic single-color practice gear would've been an upgrade over that crap, instead the Bucs did exactly what I would have: They left the larger logo in place to retain a bit of continuity, and otherwise went back to the classic look they should never have ditched in the first place. It's an easy A+ and with all due respect to the Chargers, the best change of this entire group.
I hate Color Rush and the unitard look on principle, but the new all-pewter version isn't bad. It's much more muted than most other options, and worlds better than the orangey-red they have shown us in the past (or an uncreative all-black). The all-white looks great, even though I still prefer the pewter pants with white jerseys. We got an all-time classic uniform matchup in the Super Bowl too, which was great. The only bad thing I can say about this change is that these glorious threads are now in danger of being overexposed because of their quarterback, who I will never fail to point out received entirely too much credit for their 2020 success.
Vince: Yup. Much as we saw in Cleveland, the throwback look was the right way to go. I wouldn't hate it if they put the white pants with the red jerseys like we saw back in the day, or even with the pewter tops. And speaking of throwbacks, now that the league has decided to allow alternate helmets (starting in 2022), I'd love to see a once-a-year cameo by the Creamsicle uniforms. But they won a Super Bowl in these, these are the Bucs uniforms now, and we will probably never see the Jameis Winston jerseys again. And that's a good thing.
Dave: The fact that the NFL is being such a stickler about stupid rules when violations harm nobody (i.e.: teams can add new helmets now, but due to the timing of various uniform regulations, some won't be able to consider it until 2023) annoys me. With all due respect to the coming creativity (and over-creativity) that we're sure to see in future years from other teams and mostly Nike, 90% of the reason people were happy about this rule was the return of Bucco Bruce and Pat Patriot, and what on earth is the point of bringing them back now if the matching uniforms can't re-debut as well? It's not like it won't lead to more merchandise sales; just make an exception. The world deserves to see Tom Brady in the creamsicles.
(I suppose, since he'll play until he's 183, we'll still have our chance. But I'm impatient.)
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
Vince: When we first covered the NFC East, I said that I wanted the Washington NFL franchise to change its name. Well, they did, but they didn't bother coming up with a new one. At least, not yet—they have said they will pick a final name in 2022, but the Football Team name did make the list of candidates sent out to season ticket holders.
And you know what? I might be fine if the name stuck around. Like pretty much everyone else, I hated it when it was announced, and I couldn't believe that a franchise whose nickname had been so controversial for so many decades was caught completely off guard when corporate money forced them to finally change. But it started to grow on me as the season went on. It's truly unique in the NFL, and I like that—I'm good with a league that has 31 wild animals or occupations or mythical creatures and one FOOTBALL TEAM. And relevant to this conversation, they still have a fantastic color scheme and a clean, elegant uniforms. I see no reason to change anything here.
Dave: Not to end on a boring note, but I agree on all counts. If and when they change the name, I'm actually going to be disappointed. And even though they didn't change anything but remove the logo and add numbers, something about the way the yellow-on-maroon came together made the—let's be honest here—ugly color scheme work a lot better together.
When they brought back the 1970s-era yellow pants over the past decade, I was a bit disappointed. While I never realized that I preferred the 1980s/Art Monk era pant scheme, the mismatch with the yellow pants and maroon helmet bothered me. There was one exception, though, and I wonder if it might make a return in 2021: In 2007 they went with a 1971 throwback yellow helmet. I'd love it if they brought that one back into the mix now that it's allowed.