The Throwback Helmet Evolution

When the NFL celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1994, many of the teams wore throwback uniforms.  A few weeks back here at the Gridiron Uniform Database, we discussed how the Jets and Bills throwback helmets (right) weren't even the correct color.  Today our resident historian Tim Brulia takes a league-wide look at all the throwback helmets that NFL teams wore that in the throwback games that year:

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The throwback: an attempt to honor past teams by wearing previous years' uniforms that had since been retired.  A rather common thing in all sports in North America today, but a rather novel idea in 1993 and 1994. Let's go back, actually to 1969, when the National Football League celebrated it's 50th season of existence.

Throwbacks in 1969 weren't even a thought in the minds of the NFL. The only outward signs of celebration was a commemorative patch on the shoulders and sleeves of players and officials and a lavish coffee table book, "The First 50 Years.". The commemorative patch was simply the NFL shield with the stars and football in the blue field of the shield replaced by a wide white "50."

In 1984, the original eight teams of the AFL celebrated their 25th season of operation. They too, simply utilized a commemorative patch worn on the left collarbone area of the jersey, as on Dan Fouts' jersey in this picture to the left. Well, the Raiders were the usual contrarians, (right) wearing their patch on the left hip of their pants. Other teams were also starting to commemorate their histories by wearing patches for milestone seasons or anniversaries.

The idea of wearing a throwback uniform to commemorate a special anniversary or event apparently started with baseball's Chicago White Sox in 1990 when they broke out a 1917 vintage uniform for a game against Milwaukee, which was to celebrate their final season at old Comiskey Park. It was very popular, but I digress.
11/21/93 Bengals at Jets
1968 Jets helmet
On November 21, 1993, the Jets celebrated the 25th season anniversary of their landmark victory in Super Bowl III by wearing a uniform that hearkened back to that historical win against the Baltimore Colts. The jersey was similar to, but not exactly, the Super Bowl III jersey, while the pants and socks were close to the exact duplicate. The helmet?? Well, that's a different story altogether. As you can see, the 1968 helmet was white with two green stripes and a football shaped logo on the sides. The throwback helmet only resembled the logo. The helmet was green, like the 1993 helmet and was stripeless. The Jets simply took the current helmet and peeled of the logos and put on the '68 vintage logos and added a white outline to show the shape of the logo. This was the first intended usage of a throwback uniform in NFL history.

The following year, in 1994, the NFL celebrated not just their 75th season with a commemorative patch and this time a lavish coffee table book with accompanying video ("75 Seasons"), but they also decided to cash in on the party by having as many teams as possible wear throwback uniforms. In fact, Week 3 would see all, or almost all, of the teams wear throwbacks. While some teams really got into the spirit of the program with their jerseys and pants and even socks, some barely made any notable changes to their unis. But I will focus on the toughest uniform article to accurately throwback, the helmet. Here listed is each team and how accurately they "threw back" the helmet:

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Cardinals: Fair. Simply removed their decals to create a plain white helmet.
Falcons: Pass. Changed their helmet color from black to red with proper stripes and logo.
Bills: Fail. Changed only the logo from the charging blue buffalo to a standing WHITE buffalo. Meant to show the 1962-73 logo.
Bears: Fair. Simply removed the C's to create a plain navy helmet.
Bengals: Pass. Took off the tiger stripes and put on the generic "Bengals" in use from 1968-80.
Browns: Zero. No changes. To anything
Cowboys: Zero. No changes. 
Broncos: Pass. Changed their helmet color from blue to orange with proper logo and stripes.
Lions: Fair. Simply removed all logos and stripes to create a plain silver helmet.
Packers: Fair. Simply removed all G's and stripes to create a plain yellow helmet.
Oilers: Pass. Changed their helmet color from white to columbia blue with proper logo and stripe.
Colts: Zero. No changes.
Chiefs: Exempt. No changes, but really, nothing to change to for KC era.
Raiders: Fail. Though change was made from the current logo to the 1963 logo, they inaccurately made the shield white as opposed to silver.
Rams: Zero/Fair. No changes, but era duplicated wore same style helmet.
Dolphins: Pass. Changed to Dolphin "half out of sunburst" logo.
Vikings: Exempt. No real change to helmet design since inception.
Patriots: Pass. Changed their helmet color from silver to white with proper logo and stripes.
Saints: Zero/Fail. No changes.
Giants: Pass. Took off GIANTS logo, replaced with "ny" logo AND added accurate front/back rounded helmet numbers.
1994: Eagles vs. Packers
Jets: Fail. Took off current logo, added two white stripes and 1965-77 era logo with a white outline. Except for logo, an inverse design.
Eagles: Pass. Removed wings from helmet and made helmet to resemble 1942-1950, 1952 silver shell/green sided design.
Steelers: Fair. Simply removed decals, numbers and stripe to create a plain black helmet.
Chargers: Pass. Changed their helmet color from navy to white with proper logo and numbers.
49ers: Zero. No changes.
Seahawks: Exempt. No change to helmet design since inception.
Buccaneers: Exempt: No real change to helmet design since inception.
Redskins: Fair. Simply removed the logos and stripes to create a plain burgundy helmet.

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In 2010 the Colts wore this helmet;
in 1994 they just wore their usual one
Why the haphazardness with the helmets? It's obvious some teams made shortcuts on logos to save money. Helmets are far and away the most expensive piece of equipment on a football uniform. In addition, to lessen head injuries, more attempt is made to custom fit helmets to the head as much as possible, which probably results in more of a "breaking in" phase than other equipment. So, even with all of the money coming in from various sources, some teams simply wanted to cut costs as much as possible. Other teams, like the Falcons, Chargers, Patriots, Oilers were not as averse to dropping loot for another full set of helmets to break in.
As this was the aegis of throwback uniforms, some teams went all out for the throwbacks, getting everything as close to accurate as possible, others made a half-a--ed effort, getting some of the specifics, but paying no attention to detail. The Bills were notable offenders here. Some, while having the ability to make a few changes, chose not to (Colts and Browns), while others made jersey and pants changes that were accurate, but bailed on changing the helmet (49ers, Saints). And then other, because there were minimal changes to the unis up to that time, really made no changes at all (Buccaneers).
All in all, 1994 signaled the move to throwbacks as an alternate or third uniform for good. Teams that wear throwbacks today are much more accurate, accounting for cuts and materials changes from the specific period to how unis are worn today. Proof of this was the accuracy of the 2009 AFL Legacy unis to era they attempted to duplicate. As with anything, you learn from your mistakes and strive to improve. Take a look at the Bills as an example. What was a lame effort in 1994 where they didn't even get the helmet color correct, has evolved into the fabled throwbacks that they have worn in recent years.

Who said "you can never look back?" (Ed. note: I think it was Don Henley.)

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Thanks, Tim.  I'm sure this will not be the last time we look at the 1994 throwbacks.  Readers, what do you think of this topic?  Should the teams have taken more care in 1994 to have more accurate helmets, or do they get a pass since no one cared about throwbacks back then like they do today?

We'll be back tomorrow with another group of uniforms to vote on in the Best NFL Uniform of All-Time Tournament and later in the week Bill Schaefer will have some more tweaks to complement the Dolphins that everyone like so much.  In the mean time, take part in our forums and join the discussion, and also check out the latest database changes


  1. I would have given the Bucs a fail, because Bucco Bruce on the helmet was larger in 1992, and assuming they weren't throwing back to just two years earlier, the 1994 throwback should have had the smaller logo. Actually considering they wore white pants, they had to be throwing back to a year out of: 1977-84, 86-91.

  2. Actually, the Cowboys' throwback is inaccurate in the sense that it's navy blue instead of royal blue.

  3. Yeah, they should probably be a fail too, since an accurate throwback helmet for the Cowboys would have been white with the blue star.

  4. The past few times the Browns have worn an alternate throwback, they've done the 1957-60 version, with the number on the helmet. Why didn't they do this in 1994? Well, Modell had a reputation for being cheap, and I guess this is just another manifestation.

    When the Broncos wore their god-awful brown jerseys in 2009, I was somewhat annoyed for this reason: they were wearing the infamous vertically-striped socks. Back in '94, they gave this reason for not wearing said socks: there were no machines capable of making them.

  5. imho, the 1994 jets and bills "throwback helmets" (probably more accurately described as "alternate" helmets) looked better than the helmets they were wearing at the time...

    that got me to thinking...if they wore them now, they would accurately be considered "throwbacks"...

    i personally would like to see both teams bring those helmets back as part of a throwback uni...

  6. For some reason I remember the Cowboys had white helmets for 1994 tb uniform but Troy Aikman didn’t like the feel and wanted to wear his sliver helmet for the game, Monday night vs the Lions.

  7. Not sure about the helmet situation, but Aikman did express some reservations about looking downfield for Michael Irvin: "I'll have to train my mind to throw to a different colored jersey. That causes a little concern."

  8. The 49ers used their regular helmets with their 50s uniforms. the 50s helmet was red



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