For everyone who has ever referred to the NFL as the “No Fun League,” 2018 promises to deliver, well, a bit more fun, at least in terms of uniforms.
Here’s the deal: The NFL has had a longstanding rule that limited teams to wearing a single non-primary uniform — either an alternate (like the Cardinals’ black uni) or a throwback (like the Bears’ Monsters of the Midway set) — up to two times per season. In 2015, the league effectively allowed some teams to have a second alternate uniform by launching the Color Rush program, which was basically a gimmick to help goose the ratings of “Thursday Night Football,” although teams that weren’t scheduled for TNF games didn’t get to wear those uniforms (which in most cases was probably for the best).
But this year, the league is making some changes, as follows:
• Color Rush uniforms are still permitted for Thursday games but are no longer required for Thursday games.
• Color Rush uniforms are no longer restricted to Thursdays. Teams can now treat them like alternate designs that are eligible to be worn for any game (or, if they prefer, not at all). A few teams had already started doing this last season, but now the league is explicitly allowing it.
• Instead of having one non-primary uni that can be worn a maximum of two times, teams can now have up to two non-primary designs (one of which can be Color Rush) that can be worn a combined total of three times. The Chargers, for example, will wear their powder blue alternates for two games this season, and will also wear their solid-blue Color Rush uniform for one game. All three of those games will be on Sundays. That would not have been possible under the old rules.
Are you following all of that?
You can decide for yourself whether allowing your favorite team more flexibility regarding alternate uniforms is a good thing or a bad thing. Either way, it shows the league is loosening up a bit (although the unpopular one-shell rule, which minimizes the use of alternate helmets and makes it impossible for some teams to wear their throwbacks, is still on the books).
OK, enough preliminaries. With the Eagles and Falcons set to kick off the regular season Thursday night, here’s our annual team-by-team rundown of what you can expect to see on the field this season.
• The Bills will retire Thurman Thomas’ No. 34 on Oct. 29, during halftime of their Monday night game against the Patriots.
• The Dolphins have made a few small changes that have a big visual impact. First, they’ve eliminated the blue trim from their uniforms. And second, they’ve switched to a more electric shade of orange. The collective effect of these two changes is that the orange trim has a lot more pop, which in turn creates a better sense of contrast with the team’s signature shade of aqua (additional info and photos here):
The Dolphins are also among the handful of teams that have released their 2018 jersey schedule (although only for home games in Miami’s case). Every team should do this. Why do so few of them take the trouble to follow through on it?
As you can see, the jersey schedule calls for the team’s popular aqua throwbacks to be worn for back-to-back games late in the season. Enjoy those while you can — word through the grapevine is that the team might be switching to white throwbacks in 2019.
• Nothing new this season for the Jets, but Gang Green is slated to get new uniforms in 2019. (And yes, we’ll have a Jets-centric Uni Watch design contest shortly — stay tuned for that.)
• Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been wearing the same old, outdated helmet model for what seems like eons. This season, though, he has switched to the Riddell SpeedFlex — a helmet that’s worn by dozens of other players but that somehow looks so weird on Brady (additional info here and here):
• The Bengals, who need a full uniform overhaul in the worst way, have instead made some small tweaks to their field design, which is sort of like fiddling while Rome burns.
Meanwhile, here is Cincy’s jersey schedule for 2018.
• New Browns coach Hue Jackson has taken an interesting approach this summer: He announced that players would have to “earn their stripes,” literally, by making the final 53-man roster before they’d be allowed to wear the center striping on their helmets. Or to put it another way, the Browns’ helmets were stripe-free during the preseason, but the striping will return now that the regular season is about to start.
If you think the Browns’ uniforms have bigger problems than the inclusion or exclusion of helmet stripes, you’ll be happy to learn that the team probably will get a uniform overhaul in 2020.
Meanwhile: The Browns’ solid-brown Color Rush uniforms, which have officially been part of their wardrobe since 2016 but have never been worn on the field, will reportedly be worn more than once this season. Dates and opponents have not yet been announced, but one of the games will almost certainly be the Sept. 20 Thursday night matchup with the Jets.
Finally, let’s hear it for the Browns’ 2018 season-ticket design, which looks really, really sharp:
• The Ravens have added a new video board to their stadium:
• If you’ve been wondering what had happened to the Steelers‘ front uni numbers, don’t worry. They never bother with the front numbers during the preseason, but you can be sure the numerals will reappear for the season opener in Cleveland on Sunday.
Also: The Steelers have retired their bumblebee throwbacks and replaced them with a set of 1970s throwbacks, which look a lot like the team’s current uniforms but with block numbers. They’ll wear this look for their Oct. 28 game against the Browns.
• The Colts are marking their 35th season in Indianapolis with a jersey patch:
• The good news for the Jaguars is that their two-tone helmet — the worst helmet design in NFL history — is gone, replaced by a standard black shell that’s a huge improvement.
The bad news is that the new helmet is part of a new uniform set that isn’t as good as it could have been. The biggest problem is that they’ve eliminated all the gold accents, which leaves the new set looking too plain and no-frills (there’s a full Uni Watch assessment here):
Also: In an odd uni-numerical quirk, at one point during training camp the Jags had 10 different wide receivers wearing Nos. 10-19. Not all of them made the final roster cut, of course, but it still seems worth mentioning.
Also-also: The Jags’ stadium has a new corporate advertised name.
• No team-wide changes for the Texans, but there are two players with uni adjustments worth discussing. First, the NFL decided last season that active players who were past winners of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award would wear a Payton jersey patch. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt won the award last year, so the patch has now been added to his jersey:
Also, Texans wide receiver Sammie Coates Jr. has become the latest NFL player to add a generational suffix to his nameplate. He had previously just worn “Coates,” but now he’s wearing “Coates Jr.”
Meanwhile: As usual, the Texans will wear solid white for their home opener, which is on Sept. 23 against the Giants. In addition, they’ll wear their red alternates on Oct. 14 against the Bills and their solid navy Color Rush design on Oct. 25 against the Dolphins (a Thursday night game) and again on Dec. 9 against the Colts. Further info on all of that is available here.
• The Titans have undergone a serious makeover featuring a navy helmet, among other new design details (a full Uni Watch assessment is available here):
In addition, 2018 marks the 20th season since the franchise changed its name from Oilers to Titans, and the team is marking the occasion with a helmet decal:
• The Broncos‘ solid orange Color Rush uniforms, which have been fairly popular with fans, will reportedly be worn on Nov. 25 against the Steelers, and their navy alternate jerseys will appear twice this season as well (additional info here):
Also: In the wake of the bankruptcy of Sports Authority, which had held the naming rights to the Broncos’ stadium, the stadium is now known as Broncos Stadium at Mile High. New signs have been erected, although some of the old Sports Authority signage is still visible from aerial views.
• The Chargers have released their jersey schedule (additional info here):
• There was some buzz during the offseason when Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif completed medical school and wanted to add “M.D.” to his nameplate. Unfortunately, the NFL put the kibosh on that idea.
• As usual, no changes for the Raiders, although it’s worth noting that linebacker Tahir Whitehead has been wearing an unusual looking face mask:
• The Cowboys‘ blue jerseys, once viewed as a jinx or a curse, will be worn three times this season — and in one instance will be paired with white pants:
• As has been standard for most recent Super Bowl winners, the Eagles will wear a championship jersey patch for their season opener, which will be on Sept. 6 against the Falcons (additional info here):
Two other small Eagles items: First, several players have changed their uni numbers. And second, defensive lineman Aziz Shittu has added “Jr.” to his nameplate:
• The Giants have announced their full uniform schedule for the season — jerseys, pants, socks, the works.
Washington: No announced changes or news.
• In recent years, the Bears have been wearing their Monsters of the Midway throwbacks twice per season. But this year they’re going back to the orange throwbacks they wore from 2005 through 2011. The orange design will be worn on Oct. 14 for a road game against the Dolphins and for a Nov. 18 home game against the Vikings:
In the past, NFL teams could wear only one throwback or alternate per season, so adding the orange throwbacks would necessitate mothballing the Monsters of the Midway throwbacks. But thanks to the NFL’s new rules, the Bears will be wearing both throwbacks this season. Here’s their jersey schedule for this season:
• Lions head coach Matt Patricia has suggested that the team probably will wear throwbacks at least once in 2018. It’s not yet clear when that might happen, although the annual Thanksgiving game — this year that’s on Nov. 22, against the Bears — is a strong candidate.
• The Packers are celebrating their 100th season with a commemorative logo, which is appearing as a jersey patch and also on the turf and Lambeau Field:
The Packers have also created a video showing the progression of the team’s uniforms over the past century:
Also, it’s worth noting that tickets for Green Bay’s Sept. 30 game against the Bills include the notation Third Jersey Game. It’s not yet clear whether that means the Pack will be wearing a throwback, or an as-yet-unreleased alternate, or what. Stay tuned.
Finally: For many years now, Packers quarterbacks have been in the habit of wearing old-school two-point chin straps. But several of the Pack’s young QBs appear to be bucking that trend.
• The Vikings have added a “TS” memorial decal for former offensive line coach Tony Sparano, who died in July:
Also worth noting: The Vikes’ longtime seamstress, Penny Bryce, who’d been sewing names and numbers onto Minnesota uniforms for nearly half a century, has retired. Here’s hoping she enjoys her golden years.
• Buccaneers: No announced changes or news.
• Falcons: No announced changes or news.
• The Panthers are always good about releasing their jersey schedule before the regular season, and this year is no exception (additional info here):
It’s also worth noting that the Panthers paired their blue alternate jersey with black pants — a uni combo that had never been used before in team history — for one of their preseason games. Reaction was mostly positive, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this look resurface during the regular season (here’s some additional info and a photo gallery):
And in another preseason game, the Panthers tried another previously unseen uni combo: white jerseys with black pants. Interestingly, that look had shown up on a Starting Lineup action figure 20 years ago but had never made it onto the field until now:
Meanwhile: For years the Panthers have used the NFL shield as their midfield logo, but this year they’re reportedly changing it to the team’s primary logo. They stuck with the NFL mark during the preseason, but the switcheroo will supposedly be happening in time for the team’s home opener Sunday.
• Unusual move by the Saints, who are wearing a memorial jersey patch and a helmet decal for owner Tom Benson, who died in March:
In addition, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is going with a new helmet and face mask combo this season. Here’s a clip of him talking about it:
Also: The Saints will wear white for their Nov. 18 home game against the Eagles, who’ll wear green on the road. The unusual pairing is due to Saints coach Sean Payton losing a golf bet to Eagles coach Doug Pederson in March.
Cardinals: No announced changes or news.
• The 49ers have added a new white throwback option. It’s based on the uniform they wore in 1994, which was itself a throwback, so there’s a certain meta aspect here. The throwbacks, which were brought back in part at the urging of head coach Kyle Shanahan, will be worn for a Sunday night game against the Rams on Oct. 21 (additional photos and info here).
In addition, the Niners have added a memorial decal for former wide receiver Dwight Clark, whose game-winning grab in the 1982 NFC Championship Game will forever be known as “The Catch”:
Finally, the best Niners news of all: The black uniforms have been retired. And not a moment too soon.
• Last year the Rams had the most messed-up uniform program in the league. They had removed the gold elements from their helmets and pants but had left the gold accents on their jerseys, which made everything feel mismatched and out of balance. Fans definitely noticed:
They’ve solved that problem this year, or at least mitigated it, by scrapping their navy jersey and replacing it with their royal blue throwback uniform. So this season they’ll wear their white jerseys (which still have gold trim, but not as much as the now-mothballed navy jerseys) for nine games, the royal throwbacks for five games, and their solid-yellow Color Rush design for two games. You can find the breakdown (additional info here):
Expect the Rams to stick with this same program next year, and then they’ll have new uniforms to coincide with the opening of their new stadium in 2020.
Seahawks: No announced changes or news.
• Although there has been no official announcement so far, you can expect the league to continue its Crucial Catch anti-cancer program in October. The initiative, which for many years was directed at breast cancer awareness, was expanded last season to include a wide range of cancers, with pink accessories replaced by rainbow-colored accessories.
• Again, there has been no official announcement so far, but expect to see the league’s other well-established monthlong uniform promotion — camouflage trim to salute the military in November — rolled out once again.
• Another uni-related promotion that probably will return for another go-round: the My Cause, My Cleats program, which allows players to wear custom-designed footwear to promote charitable causes for one week in December.
Did we miss anything? If so, you know what to do. Thanks.
Paul Lukas will have his NHL, NBA, and college hoops previews later this fall. If you like this column, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for his mailing list so you’ll always know when a new column has been posted. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.