The NFL has been through a lot of changes over the years. The old days had guys going at it in just mild helmets and small pads, nothing too major. As time has gone by, we’ve seen uniforms improve to protect guys better and flex with the times to take in the different shifts in culture and the media. As the game has become a multi-billion dollar business, appearances are vital and every team does its best to keep up with that, especially given how fans love to buy up jerseys by the score and so teams want to give them something worth paying for. Some, however, do it a lot better than others do.
Every now and then, NFL games will bring out a “throwback” uniform game which lets modern fans see just how terrible those old designs were. You can blame it a bit on the times and how they didn’t know HD TV was coming to showcase them but it’s still remarkable how ugly some of these jerseys could get. Then again, some modern ones aren’t exactly stellar either, especially when a team is first starting out and trying to make a splash. Some teams have to go through trial and error to get the right look while others go to a bad one after some pretty good ones and that it’s a challenge getting something for fans to truly enjoy. There have been a lot of nasty ones over the years but here are the best of the worst, every NFL team’s ugliest jersey and remarkable how designers can get the tastes of football fans so wrong.
Arizona Cardinals – All Red, 2002
From their start in Chicago to St. Louis to their current home, the Cardinals have undergone a lot of shifts and that includes their uniforms. However, they took it to a new level in 2002 when they went for nearly all-red jerseys and pants which gave the effect of guys wearing kid pajamas on the football field. It looked idiotic, especially with their white helmets and they would adjust them for a better team logo and a bit more white and proof that trying to live up to your team name can go too far.
Atlanta Falcons – 90s
Black uniforms may sound cool but they don’t always come off very well and the Falcons proved that with their outfits in the late 1990s. It was just too much black and clashing with the red-colored helmets with the old logo and even though the Falcons got to the Super Bowl in these, it wasn’t exactly a stellar showing for them as they came off just unattractive. They’ve shifted to some more red today which fits better and they use a better color to click.
Baltimore Ravens – Big B
Truth be told, their jerseys were the least of the Ravens worries when they started in 1996. It was the logo. A shield dominated by a large “B” with wings extending from it, it looked just horrible and slapping it over helmets and jerseys made it look worse. The artist actually sued the team over it and won, making them adjust it to the bird-head used today. But that logo combined with those purple jerseys was a picture that made the Ravens hard to root for when they started out and it’s no coincidence shifting that logo led to major success.
Buffalo Bills – 1984 Mesh Jerseys
The 1984 Bills uniforms looked like they were designed by a beekeeper, more holes than solid fabric and the white showing off far too much. It didn’t help that the helmets looked cheap as well, a hard look for the team and while this was at a rough period for the organization, presenting uniforms that looked worse than most high schools was not the best way to sell themselves and many a Bills fan will link it to their bad luck over the years. The worst was their ‘mesh’ jerseys which were meant to help them in warm weather games, but they sure looked bush league.
Carolina Panthers – Inaugural Design
Like any expansion team, the Panthers needed trial and error when they started out. Indeed, the prototype for the first uniform was an incredibly ugly affair with multiple colors mixing. However, the early ones weren’t that much better, the mix of green, blue and white looking messy, the Panther logo too much on the sleeves and shoulders and just looked messy on the field. It would become more streamlined over time for darker colors and a reminder how the designer process can be trial and error.
Chicago Bears – 1994 Throwbacks
In 1994, the Bears went for “throwback” jerseys to their early days…and reminding fans how bad they were. Mostly orange and blue stripes, there was no real pattern to them, nothing that screamed out either Chicago or Bears and the number stuck on their upper right shoulders was a bit off as well. No so much “Monsters of the Midway” but more like a Midway carnival barker to showcase a bad period. Thankfully these were only temporary.
Cincinnati Bengals – Browns Clones?
The famous story is that when the Bengals formed in 1968, Paul Brown was still ticked over being fired by Art Modell as Cleveland coach and thus made sure the uniforms looked as much like the Browns as possible. So you had almost exactly alike all-white jerseys with orange helmets marked with “Bengals” in huge lettering to set them apart. Needless to say, the team spent their first few seasons constantly being confused with the Browns and hard to break apart before they finally shifted to more orange and the striped helmets. Goes to show what happens when you try to emulate your state rival too much.
Cleveland Browns – Orange Crush
It’s right there in the name. Brown. It’s the most obvious color for the team, perfectly set to mix in with some white as well, you can’t go wrong. Yet in 2004, Cleveland decided to go for jerseys that were not just orange but bright orange, totally not fitting the name. The fact they bore a striking resemblance to the Syracuse football team didn’t help and yet oddly fitting considering the history of the Browns. Just stick to who you are.
Dallas Cowboys – 1960
Every now and then, for throwback games, the Cowboys will break out the original uniforms they wore in 1960 and remind you how bad they were. Almost totally blue with long sleeves of white and stars on the shoulders, they looked rather messy and hard to see working today. It’s notable how the Cowboys were 0 and 11 in that first season and only the shift to the silver outfits would lead them to their standing as a dynasty as “America’s Team” had a rather ugly look at their start.
Denver Broncos – 1960 Throwbacks
The Denver Broncos wore these atrocities back in 1960 when they were just joining the AFL and these uniforms should have remained in 1960. However, when the league was celebrating the AFL’s 50th anniversaary, these brown and yellow M&M uniforms were brought back for a few games. There were so many nice uniforms throughout the Broncos history. Perhaps it was a vow the team made to make sure they never produce a uniform as ugly as these.
Detroit Lions – 1948 Reds
Through the good and bad (and Good Lord, have they had bad), the Lions at least boast one of the better looking uniforms in the NFL. The silver and dark blue with white alternates are all very good and the only really off bits are when they wear solid silver helmets instead of the Lion logo. But in 1948, the team attempted something different with red jerseys that were totally wrong for them, too colorful and not fitting the name at all. The Motor City goes for darker colors and thus those didn’t last long and as bad as the Lions can get, at least they don’t have to look red doing it.
Green Bay Packers – No Green
Another case where the color is so obvious in the name, green going great for the team with some yellow and white alternates. However, the Packers have had some bad looks from the “Acme Packers” logo to the yellow and blue of 1994. The worst were the throwback uniforms worn in 2010, totally blue with a yellow oval containing the player number and just a large “G” on the helmets. There’s nothing hinting who the team is so if you just tuned in, you’d be hard pressed picking them out. They may have a record number of NFL titles but this uniform sent fans packing away.
Houston Texans – Crimson Suits
We know Texas enjoys its history of the Wild West, the Alamo, etc. But that’s no excuse for the 2010 uniforms to be stained completely blood red. Even the Cardinals would think this an excessive amount of crimson, nothing that really screams out “Texas” and just looking damn ugly. They’ve thankfully adjusted them as there’s just something about so much red on the field at once that makes a game even uglier to watch then the Texans’ usual playing.
Indianapolis Colts – Dark Helmets
They’ve moved a lot between Baltimore and Indy and mostly kept their uniforms clear with blue and white mixes. But in 2010, the Colts decided to try something different by adding a bit of darkness to the uniforms which also meant dark blue helmets. Losing the iconic horseshoe logo made them look like a college team and clashed too much with the white jerseys. They would drop it but shows how sticking to the classics is a good thing for a team with such a long history.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Inaugural 1995 Uniforms
Today, the Jaguar uniforms look pretty spiffy with the black coloring. When they started off in 1995, however, fans had to endure the look of teal coloring that was meant to replicate the ocean setting of the Florida city but just looked nauseating. The early Jaguar logo wasn’t that impressive either and the team made a good move changing them to darker colors. They may not have had much playoff success but at least it’s better than how they started out.
Kansas City Chiefs – All Red
A team mostly good in their uniform choices, the Chiefs have stuck to either red or white with a cool helmet design. In 2014, however, the team tried out all red uniforms and like other teams on this list, discovered there’s a reason that just doesn’t work. Just too much crimson in one big go, the players hard to tell apart and was a very bad look. Thankfully, they realized that and dropped it fast but amazing how the Chiefs could try out such a hard look.
Los Angeles Rams
With the Rams moving back to L.A., there’s talk of a possible uniform change to go with it. Fans were never quite pleased when the team moved to the mostly white outfits over their long-running yellow and blue looks but that’s still a hell of a lot better than 1965-72. In that time, the Rams decided to emulate other teams with a white and blue look, including helmet logo and it just looked awful for them, too similar to the Colts and Vikings to break on their own and not fitting them well at all. No matter what they change to in the future, the Rams will be a lot better than those years.
Miami Dolphins – Orange alternates
Many Dolphin fans will complain about the change of the team logo from the classic dolphin to something that looks like a Sea World souvenir. For the most part, the team has been good with their green and white uniforms but in 2004 they tried out an orange jersey that didn’t fit them at all. It looked more like a Denver or Tampa Bay uniform than Miami, the Dolphin logo totally clashing and it’s no surprise it was dropped fast. They used to play in the Orange Bowl but they didn’t have to dress that way.
Minnesota Vikings – 1962
The Vikings have been lucky in that not really any cases of truly horrific jerseys like so many other teams. Really, the worst were their 1962 white uniforms with just some streaks of purple around the arms, not quite screaming out impressive and when they got muddy, just a mess of brown. They would add some yellow and more purple and always keeping the cool helmet logo so in comparison to other teams, the Vikings are among the least transgressors in fashion crimes.
New England Patriots – 1994 Blue and Bright Red
Today, the Patriots are riding high as multiple Super Bowl champions with their cool dark blue and white uniforms. For most of their history, they had to wear some nasty red tops with the logo of a Minuteman hiking the football, not too shabby. In 1994, they went truly horrible with solid blue tops and bright red numbers on the front, white numbers on the shoulders and hardly looking patriotic. They changed them almost immediately and today, they wear the uniforms of champions but always have to endure some of the worst looks in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints – 1969
The Saints throwback days aren’t exactly something fans like to see as they bring back some of the ugliest uniforms imaginable. The 1969 jerseys shown off were too dark to mix with the gold numbers and clashed with the gold pants. At least the classic logo is the same but this look hardly makes the Saints look heavenly and often worse than most of their opponents. No wonder the Saints were a mockery for so long.
New York Giants – 1975 NY
Oh, so many options here. The dark red of 2004 is a high pick but the classic stuff offers more than their fair share of the worst uniforms ever worn. The blue and grey of the start in 1929, the mostly blue of 1954 and other looks in the various decades since. The worst has to be 1975, however. These were dark days for the franchise, even acting as a tenant to the Jets in Shea Stadium. What really hurts are the helmets, as the Giants abandoned their storied lower-case ‘ny’ on the helmet and adapted upper case letters in an attempt to be modern. It just didn’t look right for them.
New York Jets – New York Titans
The first is the worst in this case. When the Jets started in 1960, their outfits were an incredibly drab mostly blue top with huge yellow numbers, yellow pants and solid blue helmets. Known as the Titans at the time, they didn’t look at all imposing and in 1965, they shifted to the green and white uniforms we know today. They’ve done better but still amazing how the Jets were grounded in some bad looks in the beginning.
Oakland Raiders – No Silver and Black
You think the Raiders (no matter if Oakland or L.A.), you think the silver and black, an imposing mixture that led to fantastic Super Bowl success in the ‘70s and still looking pretty bad-ass today. In 1963, they tried something else, completely white jerseys with just yellow numbering. They were just so…plain that they didn’t connect at all, making the team forgettable. They went to the now iconic look quickly but when they bring these outfits out for throwback games, it reminds you how the Raiders got crushed a lot early on.
Philadelphia Eagles – 1954 Throwbacks
It’s amazing how so many teams had early uniforms nothing like the ones we know today. The Eagles are a prime case as you think of them with the green and white and cool winged logo, important for their city and fans. When they started in 1954, however, the outfits were a dark yellow with blue trimming going from the shoulders, down the sleeves and to the cuffs. The helmets made it worse with the same yellow and blue wings, a horrendous mix at a time when teams preferred darker stuff. Philly sticks to the usual today as this jersey brought them down to Earth majorly.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Bumblebee Throwbacks
Every time the Steelers bring out their throwback uniforms, fans ask “what the hell?” True, they’ve had a lot of bad looks (including a green ensemble in 1945) but this tops them all. Black and yellow stripes with numbers looking like blocks, it’s literally a jailhouse uniform put onto a football field with drab brown helmets. Painting their team as crooks isn’t exactly a memory Steelers fans want to remember for the biggest Super Bowl winners in NFL history.
San Diego Chargers – 1966
The Chargers have had issues over the years finding the right mix of colors for their jerseys, throwing various combos of white, and blue with yellow bolts and the darker uniforms of recent years so-so. Their 1966 outfits just come off very ugly, however, the blue color the wrong shade to clash with the bolts and the yellow pants not helping the mix. Plus, the mostly white helmets with yellow bolts clashed with them more and thus came off ugly to look at it. They still haven’t found the perfect look and thus for the Chargers, hard for lightning to strike in fashion.
San Francisco 49ers – 1965
For the most part, the 49ers have had a pretty good look going, realizing early on the red and white with gold pants was a great mix and using it for their fine success over the years and a logo that’s remained the same for decades. The worst of the choices is probably 1965 where they picked an almost completely white uniform, only a few streaks of red on the jerseys and nowhere near as colorful as they would be down the road. It didn’t last long, thankfully as the 49ers struck gold early on with the right look and smart not to mess it up too often.
Seattle Seahawks – Lazer Tag
We enjoy Seattle as a laid-back town with its own unique style but that style was lacking in these 2009 uniforms. The lime-green color was just totally ill-fitting for the football field, a color better suited for track running or lazer tag and looked ridiculous against better uniforms. You felt like you needed sunglasses just to look at it, even on a cloudy day and made the Seahawks look foolish. They would drop them just as the Legion of Boom formed and thus spare us the sight of them wearing these in the Super Bowl as the Hawks failed to fly high with this style.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Creamsicles
Depending on who you ask, some may feel this is the best look the Bucs ever had. Orange and white have been the dominant colors for the team since their formation but in the early 1990s they went for a top that basically looked like a creamsicle. The logo of the pirate with a sword in his mouth wasn’t pretty either, looking like something out of a romance novel rather than striking fear in opponents. No wonder the Bucs in that era stunk so badly as less pirates than a bungling crew.
Tennessee Titans – Alternate Jersey
Originally the Houston Oilers, the Titans relocated and renamed in 1997 and thus don’t have quite the same lengthy history of bad outfits as other teams on the list. They mostly stick to the same colors of blue and white but you can make a case their ugliest jerseys are actually their current alternate baby blues. There’s something about that mix of blue and white layers that comes off unappealing, not living up to their namesake in the least and often drab in some fights. They have a lot of issues but one wonders if a shift in jerseys could help the Titans rise up a bit more.
Washington Redskins – Inaugurals
It’s no secret there’s massive controversy regarding the Redskins’ name with many demanding it be changed. Well, just imagine if they kept wearing their original 1955 uniforms today. It’s mostly the same colors fans well know of burgundy and gold but with a massive Native head. It’s not just insulting but also very distracting and even with some poor looks over the years (the time in the ‘70s when their helmets just had a big “R” on the side), it’s the worst for the team. Until Washington changes the name, this ranks as a reason why they still get so much hassle for it and how “legacy” can look bad in today’s world.
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