Uni Watch praises the Bills' new look
Ladies and gentlemen, our long national nightmare is finally over.
Yes, it's true. The Buffalo Bills have scrapped their
scuba suits Halloween costumes Arena League outfits whatever the hell they were -- easily the NFL's worst look for the past decade or so -- and have replaced them with an honest-to-Pete Rozelle football uniform. Imagine that.
The new look, which was unveiled last Friday evening (very odd scheduling -- that's usually the time slot reserved for bad news that someone's trying to sneak under the radar), harks back to the Joe Ferguson era, with some key differences. Let's take a look, component by component:
• The helmet: Uni Watch never liked red as a Bills helmet color (although there's a very interesting story behind it -- for details, see the "Return of the White Buffalo" sidebar on this page), so the move back to white is a welcome one. Gray face masks are a hot-button issue with some fans, but Uni Watch is fine with them, so no problem there. The most interesting detail is that the helmet striping gets wider as it moves from front to back, supposedly to mimic the widening of the red stripe on the charging buffalo logo (although that seems like a stretch -- the width of red logo stripe doesn't change nearly as much as the helmet stripe). Feels gimmicky but mostly harmless. So let's apply the standard Uni Watch litmus test: Is it good or is it stupid? It may not be perfect, but it's definitely good.
RETURN OF THE WHITE BUFFALO
The Bills' new uniform set marks a return to the franchise's white helmet for the first time since 1983. Why did they ever switch from white to red anyway? The answer has to do with former Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson, although the details are somewhat in dispute.
Here's the deal: Back in the early 1980s, the Bills and three of their divisional rivals -- the Dolphins, Pats and Colts -- all wore white helmets. Ferguson routinely ranked among the league leaders in tossing interceptions, and the coaching staff thought he (or any Bills QB) would have an easier time picking out his own receivers if they wore darker-colored headgear. That's how the red helmets came about in 1984.
Over the years, several variations of this story have floated around, some of which suggested that Ferguson had problems with his vision. In a story that went up on the Bills' website just last week, longtime Bills equipment manager Dave Hojnowski said the helmet color change was made because Ferguson was colorblind.
"That's totally untrue," says Ferguson, now 61 and living in Fayetteville, Ark. "Coach [Kay] Stevenson thought we might be able to see our targets better if we had a different color helmet, but I'm not colorblind by any means. It was simply an opportunity to help the football team." (After four days, the article on the Bills' site was adjusted without any of the colorblindness references and with some new quotes from Ferguson that hadn't appeared in the first version.)
Ferguson says the color change "didn't make that much difference," but his interception numbers did improve a bit in 1984. He tossed 17 picks that year, which tied him for the seventh-most in the league (down from 25 and third-most, respectively, in '83). But while the Bills may have won that battle, they lost the larger war, going 2-14 in 1984. Ferguson left the Bills after that year, so he only played one season in the red helmets, even though they became his legacy for nearly 20 years after his departure.
• The jerseys: Good to see the team going back to royal blue. The navy outlining on the uni numbers seems unnecessary but, again, mostly harmless, especially on the home jersey, where it's barely even visible. Of somewhat greater concern: the striping, which is sort of a hybrid of shoulder stripes and sleeve stripes (can't have it both ways, guys -- pick shoulders or sleeves and stick to it), and the logo above the nameplate (the Vikings and Cardinals are the only other teams that pull this stunt -- is that really the visual company you want to be in?). Still, when you consider how the Bills looked last year, this qualifies as a quantum leap forward. Good enough.
• The pants: The team's Ferguson-era wardrobe included blue pants for the road uni, but now the Bills are sticking with white for all their games -- too bad. The design is straightforward enough, but did they really need to put still more charging buffaloes on the hips? C'mon, gang, you don't need to brand everything, especially since you don't sell football pants in the team store. Textbook case of overkill. Stupid.
• The socks: What's better than a set of striped socks? Two sets of striped socks! Are those sweet or what? OK, so the equipment staff will probably get lazy and start using one set for all the games, but that's OK. Whichever way they go, it's a win-win. Very, very good.
Overall, a major upgrade. For further details on Buffalo's new uniforms, look here.
One other noteworthy thing about Buffalo's new threads: Since the NFL lockout is still in effect, the Bills couldn't use their own players as models for the uni unveiling. So instead they used United States military personnel, including one soldier who was an inspired choice. That's Army Specialist Nick Stone in the center of that photo. Nice move by the Bills to include him in the unveiling.
New looks in the NHL
Turning our attention to a league that's actually open for business, lots of uni-related news was circulating at last weekend's NHL draft. One thing at a time:
• The Islanders have added a 40th-season patch. Interesting that they've chosen to position it on the shoulder, which is the style usually used by the Rangers.
• We already knew the Kings were flip-flopping the designations of their two black jerseys for next season, so the black/silver alternate design will now be the primary home jersey. Here's the new road jersey that will be paired with it. Nothing to complain about from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, and Uni Watch is always happy to buy the first round of drinks for any team that de-emphasizes purple. Still, it's a shame to see them soft-pedaling the crown logo. And don't tell anyone Uni Watch said this, but purple is almost -- almost -- appropriate for a team called the Kings. Here's hoping they don't phase it out completely (although Uni Watch will deny ever having said that).
• The Oilers have finally given in to the inevitable and gone full circle, back to their original look. And let's face it, it's a big improvement.
• For the first time in five years, the Panthers once again have a red jersey. Uni Watch isn't thrilled with the half-stripes on the sleeves (either go with traditional striping or don't bother), and it's too bad there's no striping or color-blocking down around the hemline, but it's still good to see this team getting back to its chromatic roots.
Two weeks ago, we let you vote on five reader-submitted concepts, plus one from Page 2 cartoonist Kurt Snibbe, for redesigning the Thrashers. Here are the results:>
36.3% Winnipeg Jets, by Chris Giorgio
21.9% Manitoba Falcons, by Tim E. O'Brien
16.8% Winnipeg Jets, by Kurt Snibbe
12.6% Winnipeg Threshers, by David Versel
8.3% Manitoba Polar Bears, by Martin Hick
4.1% Manitoba Jets, by Justin Morrison
That sound you hear in the background is Snibbe demanding a recount. Seriously, Chris Giorgio's design was Uni Watch's favorite, so it's good to see that the readers agreed. The NHL will have a hard time matching what he came up with. Big congrats to him, and to everyone who participated.
• Before the draft, the Predators unveiled some alterations to their primary logo and wordmark, along with a new guitar pick-shaped alternate logo. Uni Watch liked all of these (for detailed analysis, look here) but is a bit disappointed in the resulting jersey design -- can't stand those collarbone horns and apron strings. And while the guitar pick shoulder patch is a nice touch, the guitar strings on the numbers and keyboard on the inner collar are too much (OK, Nashville is Music City, we get it). And what's this -- "Nashville" printed on the back collar? Please tell Uni Watch that's just a joke.
• The Senators have added an All-Star Game patch.
The weirdest spectacle at the draft involved the Winnipeg franchise, formerly known as the Thrashers. They announced that they'll now be called the Jets (not the most creative approach, but the local fans seem to be happy about it, so good for them), but they didn't have a logo or uniforms designed yet, so the team's draft picks were forced to don generic NHL jerseys. Ironically, those were the only jerseys at the entire draft that didn't have the NHL logo at the base of the collar, presumably because someone realized it would have been redundant to have a little NHL logo just a few inches above a big NHL logo -- a rare case of sensible restraint on the league's part.
Whatever the Jets' design turns out to be, it probably won't be as good as the reader-submitted entries from our recent "Redesign the Thrashers" project. As you may recall, last time around we picked five finalists, plus Page 2 cartoonist Kurt Snibbe's design, and let you folks vote. To see how the voting turned out, check out the "Redesign Results" sidebar on this page.
NBA gets in on the act, too
As long as we're talking about the other major sports leagues, several readers have noticed that the Knicks logo on the team's online store home page has ditched the black trim. This matches up with some of the chatter that's been filtering through the Uni Watch grapevine, namely that the team will be scrapping the black trim on its uniforms this fall. That isn't confirmed yet, but the logo revision seems like a strong bellwether. Something to keep an eye on.
Paul Lukas has a hunch the Bills will roll out some blue pants at some point this fall, as a "surprise" move. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.