Uni Watch's Friday Flashback: Humble Super Bowl patches have fascinating history

Friday Flashback: Super Bowl patches (3:17)

Paul Lukas of Uni Watch explains the origin and evolution of Super Bowl patches. (3:17)

When the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers take the field Sunday, their jerseys will feature something we now take for granted: a Super Bowl logo patch. As has been the case for the past few seasons, this year's version is being produced by FiberLok, a Colorado company (so you know who they're rooting for) that uses a technology called Chromaflex. The result is a patch that looks much more modern than traditional embroidered cloth patches:

We're used to seeing the Super Bowl having its own logo patch, but it wasn't always that way. The game's first logo patch didn't appear until Super Bowl XXV, and logo patches didn't become a standard part of the game until seven years after that. In fact, of the 100 teams to have participated in the first 50 Super Bowls, 53 of them -- mostly in the Super Bowl's early days, but also as recently as 1997 -- have worn no patches of any kind. Looking at photos or highlights from these games, there was no visual cue to indicate that it was anything other than a regular-season game.

With that in mind, here's a timeline of patches worn in the Super Bowl's first half-century -- team-related, league-related, Super Bowl-related and otherwise -- that should make you the most knowledgeable (or maybe just most annoying) person at your Super Bowl party:

Super Bowl IV, 1970

The last Super Bowl before the NFL-AFL merger is also the first one to feature jersey patches, as the Vikings and Chiefs wear patches marking their respective leagues' anniversaries -- 50th for the NFL (all NFL teams had worn this patch throughout the 1969 season) and 10th for the AFL (the Chiefs added this patch specifically for the Super Bowl).

Super Bowl X, 1976

With the Super Bowl serving as the first major sporting event of America's bicentennial year, the Cowboys and Steelers wear patches commemorating the occasion -- on the sleeve for Dallas and on the upper chest for Pittsburgh:

Super Bowl XXI, 1987

After 10 patch-free years, jersey patches return to the Super Bowl thanks to the Giants' memorial patch for former defensive back Spider Lockhart. It is the first memorial patch in Super Bowl history, and one of only three such patches to appear in the game's first half-century:

Super Bowl XXV, 1991

The game featuring the most famous missed field goal attempt in Super Bowl history also marks the debut of something we now assume as a given: a Super Bowl logo patch. What took them so long, right? The patch is to commemorate the game's 25th anniversary (sound familiar?) and is just a one-year thing, as the Super Bowl returns to patchless status the following season. It will be seven more years before teams once again wear the game's logo on their jerseys.

Super Bowl XXIX, 1995

In the 1994 season, all teams wear the NFL's 75th anniversary patch, with the 49ers and Chargers wearing it all the way to the Super Bowl. (Footnote: Many teams marked the league's anniversary by wearing throwback uniforms for several games -- the first throwbacks in NFL history, incidentally -- and the 49ers requested and received permission to keep wearing their throwbacks throughout the postseason. They remain the only team to have worn a throwback or alternate uniform in a Super Bowl.)

Super Bowl XXXII, 1998

The Super Bowl logo patch returns, this time for good. From here on, the game's logo is worn as a patch, almost always on the upper-left chest, every year.

Super Bowl XL, 2006

The Steelers present a Super Bowl patch problem, because they already wear a team logo patch in the traditional upper-left chest slot. So they wear the Super Bowl patch on the other side, becoming the first team to do so, and the Seahawks keep their patch in the usual spot. (The Steelers will continue to wear the patch on the "wrong" side in Super Bowls XLIII and XLV.)

Super Bowl XLII, 2008

After the NFL institutes an optional system of captaincy patches for the 2007 season, the Giants become the first team whose Super Bowl patch has to share space with a captain's patch. The Patriots opt not to participate in the captaincy patch program:

Super Bowl XLV, 2011

The era of distinct Super Bowl logos comes to a close, as the NFL introduces a standardized logo template featuring the Lombardi Trophy, which will be used for all subsequent Super Bowls. In addition, the league moves away from embroidered cloth patches, switching to a plastic, heat-sealed product. The Packers and Steelers become the first teams to wear the new design and the new patch format:

Super Bowl XLVI, 2012

The second memorial patch in Super Bowl history appears, as the Patriots wear one honoring the late Myra Kraft, wife of team owner Robert Kraft. It's worn on the upper-left chest, forcing the Pats to move their Super Bowl logo patch to the opposite side:

Super Bowl XLVII, 2013

Another memorial patch appears, this time for former Ravens owner Art Model, once again pushing the Super Bowl logo patch to the right side of the jersey:

That brings us up to date, but here are a few footnotes: In Super Bowl XXXI, one season before Super Bowl logo patches became a standard thing, the Packers wore the game's logo on their neck bumpers. ... In that same game, the Packers and Pats both wore memorial helmet decals for former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had died about a month and a half before the game. ... Speaking of memorial helmet decals, the Dolphins wore "20" on their helmets during the 1984 season for former running back David Overstreet and continued wearing it in Super Bowl XIX.

Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.

Paul Lukas likes to ponder the patch pileup that would have happened if the 2014 Jaguars had made it to the Super Bowl. 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.