D.A.: Nike's NFL Uniform Concepts Are Historic Misses

Nike continues to flunk art class, D.A. says, and someone needs to take the crayons away

Damon Amendolara
April 10, 2020 - 3:28 pm
Buccaneers Uniform

USA Today Images

Perhaps a disproportionate amount of attention was given this week to the new uniform unveilings of the Buccaneers and Falcons. With a nation under sports lockdown and no games being played, events like jersey redesigns qualify as big news. If we had just crowned a national champion after March Madness, started the MLB season, and were in the final days before the NBA Playoffs, maybe a pair of fashion displays would have barely registered. 

Today, however, is a different type of sports news cycle. And what happened to the Bucs and Falcons uniform drop was notable for two different (yet connected) reasons. One was a correction of a previous Nike mistake, the other a realization in realtime of a future one. For Tampa Bay, it was the first chance for us to see what Tom Brady would look like in his new duds. Since ’14, the Bucs have been a punchline for their garish jerseys and signature "alarm clock" numbers. Thankfully the organization had a rebrand in the works for the last two years, well before Brady signed his free agent deal. 

The Bucs needed a redesign due to widespread criticism of their uniforms, especially from their fan base. In ’12, Nike had landed the NFL's apparel contract and aimed to revolutionize the league's look. The company would introduce the Color Rush and remake as many of the uniform combinations they could get their hands on. The results were disastrous. Color Rush was immediately panned by the public, primetime matchups looking more like a group of teens after a paintball outing than a professional football game. The Jaguars, Browns and Bucs would all get new uniforms derided by the public. The league mandates an organization cannot change uniforms more often than every five years. Those teams would wait their time and immediately look for a correction. 

In ’14, Nike claimed the Bucs numerals "featured beveled edges inspired by historical Buccaneer blade carvings, echoing the modern industrial design inspiration." The public didn't see swashbuckling blade carvings; they saw the digits under their snooze button. Nike's rationale behind the new logos, numbers and color combinations were just ridiculous marketing-speak. The "secondary logo, a powerful wooden ship fueled by wind-filled sails, is similarly refined to convey the Bucs’ relentless energy." Or the new larger helmet logo "accentuates the revolutionized, confident spirit of the franchise." Yes, because relentless energy and confident spirit is what you think of after 45 years of largely miserable Bucs football. 

The kickback to their 2000s uniforms this week was an admittance of failure by Nike. The team claimed they did two years of research to gather what their fans wanted. Apparently they wanted to forget entirely the Nike redesign and just go back to the old ones. Two years ago, the Jaguars dumped their rebranded costumes, ones that again the marketing folk at Nike reimagined. The brilliant thinkers in Oregon had decided to dress up the Jaguars like it was Halloween, even making the helmet a two-tone fade from black to gold. After five years (sense of a theme) of getting torched by the public, the Jaguars wanted to reverse the Nike look. The "new uniforms are no-nonsense, all business and unmistakably Jaguars,” owner Shad Khan said.  “Tradition has returned to Jacksonville.” This year, the Browns will follow suit. Five years ago Cleveland allowed Nike to rethink their uniforms, some of the most iconic in all of sports. The results were again mystifying. The tint of the orange changed, drop shadows were added to the numbers, and a hideous "Browns" wordmark printed on their pants. No one was impressed. 

On the same day the Bucs unveiled their uniforms, pictures leaked of the Falcons rebrand. The team moved up its release, and once again the public wasn't thrilled. Of the multiple ensembles, the most popular version was the "Dirty Bird" throwbacks to the '90s. Yes, nostalgia plays a part in this. There's even a love now of the obnoxious Raptors and Grizzlies uniforms of 20 years ago. But it's never a good sign when 15 years of iterations pale in comparison to the old look. Nike is a shooter that keeps taking shots and can't hit the broadside of a barn (think John Starks in the '94 Finals). Nike's ice-cold touch continues with the Falcons "gradient uniforms," where black pants slowly fade into red jerseys. This concept will assuredly wear well on 350-pound offensive linemen. There has never been a more absurd rationale for a jersey concept. The team website claims, "the gradient pattern rising from black to red offers a fresh representation of a city constantly on the rise through a visual pattern made from the eye in the Falcon logo." 

So, just to recap, since Nike took over the NFL contract eight years ago, they have developed three of the most embarrassing misses in the league's aesthetic history and the most ruthlessly criticized uniform promotion ever. The Browns pants (which will certainly be eliminated in the redesign), the Jaguars two-tone helmet, and the Bucs snooze-button numbers will all live in infamy. Color Rush was discontinued in '18. The early returns are the Falcons gradient pattern uniform will enter the same rarified air. Someone take the crayons away from the kids at Nike, they continue to flunk art class. Every uniform unveiling these days seems to be a correction of something they decided to break. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 6:00AM-10:00AM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.