The Pittsburgh Steelers wore their 1934 "bumblebee" throwbacks this past Sunday. They've been wearing this throwback design for one or two games a year since 2012, and it's one of three throwback uniforms that have been worn in Steelers history:
The Steelers' bumblebee throwbacks, worn this past weekend, are one of three throwback designs in team history. pic.twitter.com/9utB7w5igH— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 2, 2015
NFL rules restrict teams from changing their uniform sets more than once every five years, so the Steelers won't be able to switch to another throwback until 2017. If they choose to swap out the bumblebees for another uniform design from their past, here's a suggestion: Bring back the Batman uni.
If you have no idea what the Batman uni is, don't worry, you're not alone. The Steelers have worn the same look for so long now that many fans can't recall or even conceive of the team wearing anything other than its standard black jerseys at home and white ones on the road. (Yes, the number font was changed in 1997, but the basic design is essentially unchanged since the late 1960s.)
But for two seasons -- 1966 and '67 -- the Steelers wore one of the more underrated jersey sets in NFL history. The home and road designs both featured a diamond-shaped gold shoulder yoke that, when viewed from certain angles, made it look like the players were wearing capes -- hence the Batman nickname.
Gone but not forgotten: The Steelers' 1966-67 "Batman" uniforms. pic.twitter.com/k6fUyIr08v— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 2, 2015
The superhero sobriquet notwithstanding, the Batman uniform wasn't meant to evoke any caped crusaders. It was actually meant as an expression of Pittsburgh municipal pride. According to an article posted several years ago on the Steelers' website (the article has been taken down, but key passages from it have been preserved here), "[In 1966] the City of Pittsburgh was trying to remake its image, trying to get away from the perception of a dirty, smoky city. One of the downtown areas being refurbished was called the Golden Triangle, because that was the shape of the land created by the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers flowing into the Ohio River. [Team owner] Dan Rooney decided to incorporate this unique bit of the city's geography into the Steelers' new uniforms, and that's how the triangle design came to be a part of the jersey."
The Golden Triangle connection makes sense when you look at Steelers football cards from the era, which tended to feature photos taken at an angle that made the triangle look, well, very triangular:
Steelers "Batman" uni was meant to evoke Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle" neighborhood, hence th gold triangular yoke. pic.twitter.com/84sGXwIVdm— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 3, 2015
So how did the Batman nickname come about? Players reportedly didn't like the uniform and thought it made them look like Batman (even though it was actually Robin who had the gold cape), and somehow the name stuck, at least among uniform aficionados.
But the vast majority of fans don't seem to realize that this uniform even existed. And when you think about it, that's not so surprising. The design was used for only two years at the dawn of the Super Bowl era, which is ancient history for many NFL fans. And the Steelers didn't exactly cover themselves in glory during those two years -- they went 5-8-1 in 1966 and 4-9-1 in '67. Toss in a few logistical issues (the black and gold tones reportedly bled into each other in the laundry), and it's easy to see why this design has faded from collective memory.
Nearly five decades later, it's time to do something about that. When the Steelers are able to replace the bumblebees with a new throwback design in 2017, they should go with the Batman uniform. It looks sharp, it has a good story behind it, and it would give new life to a design that didn't get enough exposure the first time around. There probably would be some tailoring issues (the seams on today's jerseys aren't in the same place as they were in the 1960s, so the gold yoke panels might be a challenge), but if Nike can come up with crazy jerseys like the ones worn by, say, the Jaguars, then they should be able to re-create the Batman look. Here's hoping they do.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas is not a Steelers fan per se, but he really likes their uniforms (yes, even the bumblebees). If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, 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.