Super Bowl LI is fast upon us, which means it's time for Uni Watch's annual Super Bowl column, in which we look at all the uni-related nuances and subtleties regarding the big game.
Although the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, the home team designation rotates between the conferences each season. The NFC has home status this year, and the Falcons have chosen to wear their red jerseys. Because NFL regulations require one team to wear white (except on Thursday nights, which are their own alternate uni-verse), that's what the Patriots will be wearing. Here's how the Super Bowl LI patch looks on each team's jersey:
Here are 10 uni-related items -- some regarding the Pats, some regarding the Falcons and some just regarding the Super Bowl -- to keep in mind during the game. Mention these talking points during your Super Bowl party and your friends will be amazed (or maybe they'll just roll their eyes, but that's a good litmus test for whether it's time to get some new friends). Ready? Here we go.
1. Advantage: White. The last five Super Bowl winners, and 11 of the past 12, have worn white (and that includes last year's champions, the Broncos, who were the designated home team but opted to wear white due to their 0-4 Super Bowl record while wearing orange). So depending on how you look at it, the Falcons have either set themselves up for failure or are sitting pretty because the streak is ripe to be broken.
2. Numbers game. NFL quarterbacks are allowed to wear any uniform number from 1 to 19, and all but two of those numbers have been worn by at least one Super Bowl starting quarterback. Assuming Atlanta's Matt Ryan starts this Sunday's game, he'll become the first Super Bowl signal-caller to wear No. 2. That would mean the only remaining quarterback number never to have been worn in the big game will be No. 6.
Super Bowl Uni Fact: Matt Ryan poised to become 1st SB starting QB to wear No. 2. (Of Nos. 1-19, only remaining unworn QB # will be No. 6.) pic.twitter.com/WiKpN6h7Xm— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 30, 2017
Over in the New England huddle, Tom Brady is one of 11 Super Bowl starting quarterbacks to have worn No. 12, making it by far the most-worn QB number in Super Bowl history. For the record, teams led by a No. 12 have gone 15-12 (which includes the Pats going 4-2 with Brady at the helm).
3. Be true to your school(s). The Falcons' original helmet design, worn from 1966 through 1969, featured a red shell with gold, white and black striping. Those colors were designed to honor the state of Georgia's two major college football teams: red and black for the University of Georgia and gold and white for Georgia Tech. The gold stripes were removed in 1970, and the Falcons have never worn gold again, except when reviving the original helmet as a throwback.
The Falcons' original helmet, worn for the team's first four sesaons, featured red/black (for UGA) and gold/white (for Georgia Tech). pic.twitter.com/UWNPmeGgM1— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 30, 2017
4. Stands for "No Freakin' Logo": There was a minor kerfuffle last September when people started noticing that Brady had gone through summer minicamp and the entire preseason without having the NFL logo decal on his helmet. Many observers assumed this was Brady's silent protest over Deflategate, something he quickly denied. We'll never know for sure, although Brady could give us a big hint if he came out on Sunday with the logo "accidentally" missing from his helmet.
5. Follicle follies. You say there's no way Brady would take the field this Sunday without the NFL logo decal on his helmet? You're probably right. But stranger things have happened in Super Bowls -- including an incident with one of Brady's teammates. Five years ago, in Super Bowl XLVI, Pats offensive guard Logan Mankins had a horseshoe mustache drawn on his helmet logo -- the same kind of mustache that he happened to wear. It's one of the greatest uniform modifications in Super Bowl history -- or, really, in all of pro sports history. (And yes, it's properly called a horseshoe mustache, although some folks mistakenly refer to it as a Fu Manchu.)
Super Bowl Uni Fact: In SB XLVI (Giants/Pats, 2012), Pats G Logan Mankins had horseshoe mustache on helmet logo. He wore same thing himself. pic.twitter.com/LaqpgAVBR1— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 30, 2017
6. Proto-Elvis. The short version of the Patriots' team mascot history is that they had Pat Patriot from 1961 through 1992 and have had the more modernized Minuteman -- Flying Elvis, as he's become known -- from 1993 onward (and neither of them had mustaches except on Logan Mankins' helmet). But the Pats almost gave Pat Patriot his walking papers back in 1979, when they were prepared to introduce a new mascot that looked a lot like Flying Elvis. Team ownership eventually got cold feet, and Pat Patriot stuck around for another 14 years. Get the full story here.
7. The forgotten uni period. Just as people tend to think of the Pats as having had two mascot eras, they also tend to divide the team's history into two uniform eras -- the original uniform set, with the red home jerseys, and the current set. But in between those two designs was a transitional period that many fans seem to have forgotten about, even though the Pats wore one uniform from that period all the way to Super Bowl XXXI (a loss to the Packers). Can't remember the specifics of that look? Get the full scoop here.
8. Birds of a feather. The Falcons' original logo, which was worn on their helmets from 1966 through 2002 and also served as a sleeve patch for much of that time, provided a constant visual motif for the team's early years, right? Well, sort of. If you look closely, it turns out that there were several different iterations of the logo, and the versions worn on the helmet and the sleeve often didn't match. Further info, and lots of photographs to scrutinize, here.
Falcons logo inconsistency #4: New colors, but feather lines on sleeve patch once again touch base of wing while helmet logo lines "float." pic.twitter.com/v1hGMlvhDE— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 31, 2017
9. Dreaming of a throwback Super Bowl. Many fans apparently think the Patriots looked a lot better during the Pat Patriot era (your friendly uniform columnist happens to agree) and also preferred the Falcons' look during the late 1960s (ditto). All of which has led many people to wonder if there's some way these two teams could treat us to a throwback Super Bowl.
What might have been: Imagine if Pats and Falcons wore throwbacks in the Super Bowl. pic.twitter.com/eqlgXzNTic— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 31, 2017
For better or worse, that's not happening. For starters, both of those throwback designs would require new helmets, which is impossible under the NFL's one-shell rule. Moreover, throwbacks and alternates are rare in the postseason, and throwbacks have only been worn once in a Super Bowl. That was at the conclusion of the 1994 season, when many teams had worn throwbacks for certain regular-season games to celebrate the NFL's 75th anniversary. The 49ers performed particularly well in their throwbacks during the regular season and received permission to keep wearing them in the playoffs. They rode the old-school design all the way to a Super Bowl XXIX victory -- the only time throwbacks have been worn in the big game.
Super Bowl Uni Fact: Only team ever to wear throwbacks in a SB were the 49ers (SB XXIX, vs. Chargers, 1995). pic.twitter.com/MnhpwOEBXo— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) January 31, 2017
10. Deep trivia. Each year around this time, longtime Uni Watch reader Jay Braiman comes up with an updated list of uni-related Super Bowl factoids. Here are some of the items on this year's list:
• The Falcons wore black in Super Bowl XXXIII. When they wear red on Sunday, that will make them the third team to wear two different primary jersey colors (other than white) in the Super Bowl. The previous two were the Patriots (red and blue) and Broncos (orange and blue). This does not count the Eagles, who wore different shades of green in their two Super Bowl appearances, or the Seahawks, who wore different shades of blue.
• This is the fourth year in a row -- a record -- that neither Super Bowl team's helmet logo includes a letter of the alphabet. (And no, the Falcons' logo does not count as an "F." It may evoke a letter, at least on one side of the helmet, but it isn't a letter.)
• This is also the fourth year in a row -- another record -- that the left and right sides of both Super Bowl teams' helmets are mirror images of each other.
• This is only the fourth time that neither team has had any striping or other graphic running down the center of the helmet. The other three instances were Super Bowls IV (Chiefs-Vikings), XXXVI (Patriots-Rams), and XXXIX (Patriots-Eagles).
• Assuming Ryan and Brady both start on Sunday, this will be the third time that the difference between the starting quarterbacks' numbers is exactly 10. The quarterback with the higher number won both of the previous times: Washington's Doug Williams (17) over Denver's John Elway (7) in Super Bowl XXII, and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (18) over Chicago's Rex Grossman (8) in Super Bowl XLI. Overall, starting quarterbacks wearing double-digit numbers are 14-11 against those with single-digit numbers.
And there we have it. Want to know more about how this year's Super Bowl combatants arrived at their current looks? The mighty Gridiron Uniform Database shows the year-by-year progression of the Falcons' and Patriots' respective uniform histories. Enjoy.
Paul Lukas grew up on Long Island, so he always does a double take when he sees the term "Super Bowl LI." If you like 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.