Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NFL Stripe-O-Mania

By Bowen Hobbs

I've been watching the NFL for over 20 years, but until this year, I don't think I had ever seen anything like what the Redskins trotted out for the regular-season debut. What is that? Four different sets of stripes? Really?!? As you can see by my excess punctuation, I was surprised. How could this happen? How could a team have four different striping patterns on one uniform? With a little digging, I realized that mismatching stripes were more common than I had thought.

A little background on the 'Skins: The idea for the pants and socks from the opening week uniform are from the 70th Anniversary uniforms. (The pants are slightly different, as the 70th anniversary edition had an arrowhead patch on the hip, and the mustard gold is more yellow on the current installment.) A little digging found that the 70th Anniversary uniforms had three different striping patterns. The jerseys for that scheme had a three stripe pattern in which the middle stripe was a little thicker and the stripes all had space between them. The pants had three stripes with no spacing (once again, the middle stripe was thicker), and the socks had a five-stripe pattern similar to the old Green Bay Packers jerseys. This didn't really bother me at the time, and still doesn't because throwbacks are more about historical accuracy than overall design consistency. Changing the throwbacks would make them not throwbacks any more. But a team bringing back an element or two from an old scheme and incorporating it with its new scheme is different because modern football uniforms are designed to look consistent with the team's brand. And if pieces of the uniform don't match each other, what does that say about the brand?

Back to the current Redskins threads: the team has always had an inconsistency between its helmets and jerseys. The helmet has three separated stripes, while the jerseys have a two stripes that touch. But the pants had always matched the jerseys with a two-stripe pattern, while the socks always had the same two-stripe pattern or no stripes at all. (A team having two different striping patterns is actually quite common, but more on that later.) Then this season happened. When the 'Skins wear their gold pants at home (they haven't done it for every game this year), they insist on wearing the burgundy striped socks with them, creating the über-mismatched striping effect. The helmets have three separated stripes, the jerseys have two touching stripes, the pants have three touching stripes, and the socks have five separated stripes. What's the point of this? Is it to say "The Washington Redskins: We're Consistently Inconsistent!"? If the team has this little attention to detail when it comes to its uniforms, what else are they overlooking?

But the Redskins aren't the only team in the league, let alone their own division, with inconsistent striping. The Giants and Cowboys have it too. The Giants sport a single red stripe on a blue helmet, while their home jerseys have no stripes at all, and their home pants have a three-stripe pattern in which a single red stripe is flanked by two blue stripes. This look isn't too bad. It could be argued that the helmet and pant striping do match, as red is flanked by blue in both situations. But then again, the Giants play half their games on the road. Their away jerseys have three separated red stripes and their grey away pants use three separated stripes that go red-blue-red. The Giants have three different striping patterns when they play on the road. Is this necessary?

The Cowboys have been the model for uniform inconsistency for a while now. Their primary uniform (the one with white jerseys) has two striping patterns, the pattern for the helmet and pants (although the helmet has navy-white-navy and the pants have royal-white-royal, they are close) and the striping for the jerseys, which has two broad royal stripes outlined in black. But the alternate uniform (navy jersey) uses a totally different striping pattern on the jerseys (although the helmets actually match the pants on this uniform). In the NFL, the helmet and jersey are the two biggest on-field branding elements. Why shouldn't there be some sort of matching scheme between a team's two jerseys?

Like I had mentioned before, many teams have two striping patterns that are different. Teams like the Packers and 49ers use one pattern on the jerseys and the other on the pants and helmet. This usually works well because the helmet and pants match in color, so the striping is the exact same on the two items, and not similar with different color placement. The Browns use a similar style, but the helmet and pants aren't the same color, so the striping looks less consistent. Same with the Steelers. And wouldn't New Orleans look much better with a single helmet stripe, instead of the mismatched stripes they currently have?

The Rams' primary home scheme is remarkably consistent, and the all-navy look is a good match, but the white pants don't make any sense. Across the state, the Chiefs can't seem to find a consistent application of their striping for use on a red background. And don't get me started on Tennessee. They have two tapered stripes on the helmet, a broad single stripe across the shoulders, and a triple-stripe pattern on their pants. The Ravens also have the tapered stripes on their helmet, and likewise, have triple stripes on their white pants.

The Bears have inconsistent striping as well. One for the home jerseys, one for the away jerseys, and one for the pants (with different versions for white and navy pants). Why not make the stripes consistent? But the inconsistent striping that really irks me (aside from the 'Skins) is the Indianapolis Colts. For the most part, they have beautiful uniforms. The jerseys have two stripes on each shoulder and the pants have two stripes running down each leg. But wait, what's that? The helmet has a single stripe. Why? This is a case of a team thinking that because it's old, it's good. A double stripe would look much, much better, as it would unify the entire scheme.

Not all is lost though. A few teams actually get it. The Lions tweaked their uniforms for the Matthew Stafford era, and consistent striping was a priority. Just look at the last uniforms in comparison to their current duds. The Jets get it too. The double-stripe scheme is consistent throughout their uniforms, although it does blend into the sleeves on the jerseys. The Seahawks are the other team that understands, as their striping is always navy-lime-navy. It's too bad that these teams are the exception, and not the rule.

In Other News… Jose Theodore didn't get his new Wild mask in time, so he improvised… The Washington Nationals will unveil new uniforms on November 10th… I was watching the University of Missouri play Oklahoma on Saturday, and I noticed two things: 1. The Tigers use two different shades of gold, and 2. The Tigers have a major Badge of Cowardice problem… The Dolphins sported their "Storm Trooper" look at home Sunday against the Steelers… As if Wisconsin and Nebraska didn't already look enough alike, now it seems both teams jersey stripes are distorting in an arched fashion…The New York Giants wore their blue jerseys in Dallas on Monday, but with their road pants… The Saints wore white at home again Sunday versus the Browns… The Panthers wore their light blue alternate jerseys against the 49ers… The Rams went with their white pants while the Buccaneers wore white at home… Oregon stomped UCLA in this combination

Designer's Corner
Today's designs dovetail into the article above. First up, we have the New York Giants. While the issues with the Giants' striping are documented above, there is one other thing I would like to point out about the team's current away uniforms: The is no blue on the jerseys. The team is nicknamed "Big Blue", but you wouldn't know that if you only watched them on the road (not counting in Dallas). My design makes the striping consistent between the helmet, jerseys, and pants. All the striping is a single stripe, except for the grey pants, where the red stripe is flanked by blue. The away jerseys feature blue numbers, allowing the team's road uniforms to match its nickname. I added a red alternate jersey, similar to the one they wore a few years ago, as well as blue pants, which feature a single red stripe. I placed the GIANTS wordmark just below the front collar, while a patch of the NY in a circle is placed on the hip of the pants.

Next up are the Chicago Bears. The Bears current inconsistency is not their only problem. Their sleeve stripes don't even fit on the jerseys of most of their players. My concept not only makes the striping consistent, it also reduces the size of the jersey stripes so they actually fit on the sleeves. The consistent application of the three-stripe pattern gives the team a cohesive look that is timeless yet fresh. I have also added the wordmark below the front of the collar.

Last, we have the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have consistent striping, but the sleeve stripes are positioned as awkwardly as possible. Furthermore, the team kept the update of its logo that was made in the 90s, and placed the more modern interpretation of the logo on an old-school helmet with a grey facemask. My concept is a more modern take on the Niners. I got rid of the black and grey in favor of chocolate brown. The brown adds a modern yet old-school touch to the scheme, and complements the red and gold better than either black or grey. I also developed two alternate marks for the team, including a version of the SF logo sans oval, and a matching 49 mark. The striping on the helmets and gold pants is a separated three stripe pattern that goes brown-red-brown, while the striping on red, white, and brown backgrounds is a one-color three-stripe pattern. The numbers are new as well, utilizing a typeface that matches the look and feel of the logo set, instead of defaulting to a standard block typeface. The alternate SF logo appears on the left chest, while the 49 mark appears on the hips of the pants.

Feel free to comment on the use of inconsistent striping on football uniforms, the designs above, or anything sports branding related.

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