NFL prototype uniforms not a fit for the Bears

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Recently, Denver Broncos linebacker Nate Irving commented on Twitter about the uniforms that are rumored to be in development.  He called the design a prototype, and as Cover32’s own Will Petersen put it, “He didn’t, by any means, confirm these are in consideration; but calling something a ‘prototype’ doesn’t exactly mean it’s completely out of the running either.”

If adopted by the Broncos, these uniforms would effectively make them the Oregon of the NFL.  I wouldn’t count on the Broncos, or any team for that matter, to make the switch to this gaudy design.  The NFL has been more conservative when it comes to uniforms than their collegiate counterparts.

That’s not to say that NFL teams haven’t gone through some horrible uniforms over the years.  The Pittsburg Steelers remind us of this every year when they wear their jailbird bumblebee get-ups.  Some other notable mishaps over the years include: the Packers navy jerseys with the numbers in circles on the front, the ’93 Patriots blue jerseys with stripes and a cartoonish large patriot head on each shoulder, the Eagles’ perplexing color combo of powder blue and yellow jerseys, and of course, Tampa Bay’s old creamsicle jerseys.

Bad NFL uniforms were born mostly from poor color schemes, bad logos, and lack of imagination.  They have remained, for the most part, simple.  Team logos, if they appear somewhere other than the helmet, are usually found on the shoulders of jerseys, or small patches.

First, let’s consider helmets.  It seems now-a-days college teams are wearing a new helmet each week.  Oregon takes this trend to the extreme, but many other schools are following suit by trotting out multiple designs each year; reflective finish, flat finish, logo on one side, honeycomb background, camouflage background, stars and stripes, etc.  Of the 32 NFL teams, the Washington Redskins have had the most logos with nine, and most pro teams go a few decades between helmet changes.  Oregon wears more than nine different helmets per season.  As for the Bears, since they started putting a logo on their helmet, they’ve had four different designs, which is exactly the league average.

When it comes to jerseys, college teams today stick with one about as long as they stick with a coach.  Even schools that have stayed close to their roots, like Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska are starting to wear alternate jerseys, even going so far as to add logos to the front, like Notre Dame’s shamrock jerseys, or Nebraska’s block “N” alternates.  Only a few teams have stayed completely traditional, such as Alabama and Penn St.

As for the Bears, they’ve used three basic styles.  The original jerseys were long sleeved, navy with leather stripes on front, and numbers on the back.  The first change was replacing the leather stripes with numbers on the front in the 30’s.  After that the jerseys stayed mostly the same until they became short sleeved in the 60’s.  Since then there have been minor changes; last names were added to the back in 1970, and the “GSH” patch was added in ’83 after George Halas died.  The uniform pants have been the same since the 40’s when the stripes were added to the side.  This decade also saw the introduction of the three-stripe socks which are still used today.

It’s hard to imagine that these prototypes will be used, especially considering the fact that Nike just became the official outfitter of the league in 2012 and made uniform adjustments at that time.

Some may argue that these uniforms may be used to boost jersey sales.  That’s a fair argument, as merchandise sales are one of the five major revenue streams for the NFL, along with ticket sales, advertising, venue, and licensing, according to valuation company Pellegrino and Associates.  New uniforms in any sport produce more sales.

A February 15th article in the Las Vegas Journal-Review by Alan Snel highlights this.  Scott Becher, executive vice president and managing director for sports and entertainment at Z Group Advertising Inc., says, “A key to quick licensing sales success is change-new team, no logo, even new colors.”

The NFL currently has a rule in place that states a team is only allowed to change its logo every five years.  The Bears haven’t changed theirs since 1973, so they would be allowed to make a change in order to entice fans into buying updated jerseys.  Why would they though?

Espn.com writer Paul Lukas graded every NFL team uniform in 2012, immediately following the release of the new Nike uniforms.  Granted, some teams made minor changes to their uniforms before the 2013 season, but Lukas had Chicago at the top of the league, citing the classic jersey sleeve and sock stripes that have remained a staple for the Bears over the years.  He also ranked the Bears second overall between the four major sporting leagues, with only the Montreal Canadians finishing ahead of them.

An article from nflcommunications.com in October 2013 detailed team merchandise sales from nfl.com between April 1st and September 30th.  The Bears came in sixth, topping the NFC north, and every other team in the Midwest.

The Bears jersey, and uniform as a whole, is an NFL classic.  It’s been the same for roughly 50 years.  It sets a standard of excellence as far as aesthetics go.  It’s simple, tasteful, and understated.  It may not have the “wow factor” that a neon green Oregon uniform has, but if I had to bet on which of the two uniforms will be around in 50 more years, I’ll take the Bears every time.

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