After the excitement of the NFL’s Championship Week, we’ve now reached what used to be that awkward week in-between the title games and the big kahuna itself, the Super Bowl. For better or worse, the NFL recently decided to fill that awkward week with the NFL’s All-Star Game: The Pro Bowl. Despite the fact that this is basically half-speed football that everybody claims they don’t want to see, the Pro Bowl still garners a decent of attention because the NFL has America’s soul in a vicegrip.
Recently, the uniforms have become a big deal, as the league has gone with neon colors the past two seasons before giving the uniforms the “All Gold Everything” treatment in 2015-16, in honor of Super Bowl 50. But before we take one final look at this season’s Pro Bowl uniforms, it’s time to go back through the uniform history of the Pro Bowl, which means that we’re going to see a whole lot of red, white, blue, and stars.
I’m not going to call it a Color Rush, but the first NFL Pro Bowl in 1951 was actually a color-on-color affair. In a weird twist when compared to what eventually became the standard, the National Conference wore red and the American Conference wore blue.
The color-on-color matchups lasted for two seasons before going to the standard of one team wearing white and the other team wearing colors. The American Conference wore white with blue helmets and blue trim for the 1953 Pro Bowl, and this stayed the same for the 1954 Pro Bowl, which is when the American Conference became known as the Western Conference and the National Conference took on the name of the Eastern Conference. Whenever the East wore white, their uniform template was the same as the West’s, just in different colors: Red helmets and white jerseys with red trim.
For the 1958 Pro Bowl, the teams experimented with wearing numbers on the helmets. This was an extremely short-lived experiment, as it lasted for only one season.
The 1959 Pro Bowl was the beginning of what would be a long stretch of the two Pro Bowl teams wearing the same uniform. This was when the East added a broad, white shoulder stripe to their once-plain red uniforms. Both the East and West would stick with the same jersey and pants for the next decade.
As I mentioned above, the jerseys and pants didn’t see too much change. However, one thing that did change was the helmets. Both teams wore gold helmets with a white stripe going down the middle of the helmet — the East had a red outline on this stripe, while the West had a blue outline.
For the NFL’s 50th Season, the league celebrated by having every team wear a patch on their uniform to commemorate the occasion. The Pro Bowl was no different, and it even extended to the helmets as well.
Following the landmark AFL/NFL merger for the 1970 season, the Pro Bowl marked the change by going with new uniforms for both teams. The NFC became the designated blue team, while the AFC adopted red. Color-wise, this would be the standard for both teams until the 2014 Pro Bowl.
Another standard that came into effect during the ’70s was the practice of players wearing their team’s helmet for the Pro Bowl. As usual, this made for a pretty good look when complimented with a helmet that was already red-white-and-blue, but it was always an awkward clash whenever you saw a helmet that didn’t exactly match up.
The NFL stuck with the look that was adopted in the 1979 Pro Bowl for the next 10 Pro Bowls. For the 1988 Pro Bowl, the uniforms received a bit of a facelift. The letter and number font changed, the sleeve stripes moved to the bottom of the sleeves, stars were added to the pants stripes, and the teams wore the Pro Bowl logo’s patch on the shoulder.
The Pro Bowl stuck with the previous look until the 1995 Pro Bowl, which is when things got crazy. As we all know, uniform trends got a little wild in the 1990s, and the Pro Bowl was not immune to this. Seriously, look at these things!
Things went back to normal a bit for the 1998 Pro Bowl, as the two conferences went back to traditional-looking uniforms. However, you could tell that we were still in the ’90s here because the numbers had black drop-shadow outlines for some strange reason.
As we entered the new millenium, the crazy uniforms made a return. Stars! Stripes! Gradients!
The 2000s also saw the start of a mini-tradition that didn’t end until the move to neon — that being the tradition of keeping a set of Pro Bowl uniforms for two seasons. Didn’t like a particular Pro Bowl uniform? Just wait until the season after next, and you’d get a change. That was pretty good news when you consider what was on display during this decade. Yikes.
The current decade saw Reebok hand the reigns to Nike, but not before it seemed like Pro Bowl uniforms had finally come to their senses. Reebok’s final design for Pro Bowl uniforms was actually pretty sharp-looking. There was one caveat, though: Extra-long pants. This was a pretty weird innovation, and like the Cooperalls in the NHL, it didn’t catch on at all.
Nike took over for the 2013 Pro Bowl, and they kept things pretty low key. It was a bit of a shock for everybody who was expecting Nike to go crazy when it came to the uniforms.
However, those expectations became a reality when Nike decided to Neon-up the Pro Bowl’s uniforms. Red-white-and-blue were replaced with volt-orange-and-gray. This coincided with the Pro Bowl becoming the world’s biggest fantasy football draft.
This season’s Pro Bowl sees gold return to the Pro Bowl uniform for the first time since the 1960s. The occasion was for the league-wide and season-long celebration of Super Bowl 50, so the neon trend came to an abrupt end in favor of black-white-and-gold.
So, there you have it: A relatively quick walkthrough of the history of Pro Bowl uniforms. It really could be argued that the past couple of seasons have seen more innovation than some decades at times, and depending on your tastes, that’s for better or worse. Personally, I think that they had it right with the uniforms they had once the AFL/NFL Merger happened, and they came close to getting things absolutely right during Reebok’s last days as manufacturer. However, Nike will still have plenty of chances to get things on the right track — assuming that they leave neon in the dust.
What do you think, though? What was your favorite Pro Bowl look over the years?
All credit for mockups goes to gridiron-uniforms.com