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All hail the NFL's coolest jersey: Chargers embrace powder blues

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Anthony Lynn says Chargers have to learn how to finish games (0:43)

Coach Anthony Lynn says the Chargers have to learn how to finish games. Video by Eric Williams. (0:43)

LOS ANGELES -- Powder blue -- or baby blue, or light blue, or basically anything that resides on that side of the palette -- is Casey Hayward's favorite color.

Through his first three seasons with the Chargers, the Pro Bowl cornerback spoke out often about his desire to wear the organization's old powder blue uniforms more frequently. When the Los Angeles Chargers announced that they would make those throwbacks their primaries for the 2019 season, Hayward was among the most elated.

Speaking with noticeable passion this summer, he said: "Maybe because it's so soft. That blue, it's so soft. So it's not too heavy on the eye. And it's light. You can look up -- it's sky blue right now -- and it just reminds you of it."

That soft blue, with the white pants adorned with yellow lightning bolts, will debut at the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and will be worn six times overall. That includes four times at home, making 2019 the first time the powder blues have been the primary home uniform since the 1970s. Chargers fans, previously in San Diego and more recently in Los Angeles, have spent years clamoring for them. But the uniforms have long been revered, enough so that the NFL Network named them the best uniform of all time in 2012.

When the announcement was made in April, Chargers president of football operations John Spanos expected minimal traction. He wound up hearing from East Coast friends he hadn't spoken to in decades. A hype video developed by the Chargers' social media department went viral.

Other teams, namely the former Houston Oilers and current Tennessee Titans, have made use of a lighter shade of blue. But Paul Lukas, a noted uniform expert who writes for Sports Illustrated, believes "there really is no other team that owns that color the way the Chargers have always owned it."

"It just resonates with people," he said. "It just feels timeless and perfect."

Keenan Allen, the Chargers' 27-year-old wide receiver, is something of a throwback collector. He estimates he owns roughly 100 old jerseys, split between the NBA and the NFL. Allen is among an entire generation of young adults who helped spark a throwback craze that has dominated the culture in recent years, a love that prompted the Chargers -- and, last year, the Rams -- to revert to the past in hopes of ingratiating themselves with the L.A. market.

"There was a simplicity to them that a lot of people find appealing and endearing," Lukas said. "And also, time has a way of smoothing out some of the rough edges."

'Electric' look embodies Chargers' history

The Chargers began wearing the powder blue uniforms during the franchise's inaugural season in Los Angeles in 1960, and continued to wear them in San Diego when they began playing games at Balboa Park.

They represent some of the most successful teams in franchise history. Led by Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth, the Chargers went to the AFL title game five times during the 1960s, winning it all in 1963 before joining the NFL with the 1970 merger.

"They're historic," longtime San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa, a native San Diegan who started covering the Chargers in 1982, said of the powder blues. "That's what the AFL team wore. That was their look. They were unique."

Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts was on the final Chargers team to wear the powder blues as its primary uniform during his first season in the pros in 1973 before the franchise switched to royal blue. He has a decidedly old-school opinion about the powder blues.

"As players we wear what they throw in our locker," Fouts said. "We're more concerned about those other jerseys on the other side of the ball."

However, Fouts also understands what the popular jersey means to the history of the franchise as it continues to try to gain a foothold in its new L.A. home.

"It's nice to see them back," Fouts said. "Fans have always voted them as one of the best uniforms, if not the best, but winning really brings you the recognition that you need."

The Chargers went away from the powder blues for the 1974 season but brought them back as an alternate jersey in 1994, during the NFL's 75th anniversary season. Since then, the Chargers are 20-16 when wearing the retro jerseys, including 4-0 under current coach Anthony Lynn.

"It was really about having understood the history and tradition of when they wore powder blues," Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "So every time you put those things on, you knew it was special, you wanted to play your best and it was just a little something extra."

Bobby Rubio is a Pixar story artist and San Diego native who's been a fan of the team since the 1970s. Rubio posts a drawing each week of his beloved team crushing its opponent via Twitter.

"I was pretty excited because they are the best-looking uniforms in the NFL," Rubio said about the powder blues. "I personally like the navy blues because I think they look more menacing and they remind of the LT (LaDainian Tomlinson) years. I can see why people like the powder blues. They're beautiful uniforms. If I had to pick, my choice would be the navy blues.

"But if the L.A. Chargers are trying to invoke an L.A. feeling, they are similar colors to UCLA."

Former Chargers center Nick Hardwick said the iconic jerseys provided an extra boost.

"We always felt like we looked really -- and it's funny to use this word -- electric," Hardwick said. "We felt like we looked better than anybody else in the NFL. And the change that they made with the yellow face mask to go with the powder blue, oh my goodness. That is so fire.

"You want to look sweet on the field, to put your jersey on and go, 'Yes, this is right.' It's like a businessman going to a really important meeting, he wants to feel like nobody looks better than me in this room, and those guys are going to have that feeling. They're going to have the sweetest jerseys in the league."

Could these powder blues help the Chargers in L.A.?

Eight other NFL teams list a darker shade of blue among their primary colors. The Chargers were among them. If nothing else, switching to throwbacks will help them stand out during a time when it has become so easy for them to fade into the background.

"Having a nationally recognized jersey just helps your brand -- period," Chargers president of business operations A.G. Spanos said. "Any time you play in something that's so recognizable, so distinguishable, it helps you."

The question is how the uniform might help the Chargers gain traction within the Los Angeles market. Next season, their fourth back in L.A, the Chargers will move into an opulent new stadium they will share with a Rams team that is more popular.

The Chargers' gains have thus far been minimal, despite that 12-win season in 2018. They're still the team this market didn't want, the one that plays in a tiny stadium often overrun by opposing fans.

The powder blues dominated the bleachers during camp. With four open practices left earlier this summer, the Chargers had already "well surpassed" last year's merchandise sales for all of training camp, according to a team official.

Hayward said "fans will definitely be excited" about the throwbacks because, among other things, they'll offer a connection point to the players many grew up rooting for.

But can it help the Chargers get noticed?

"Nah, I don't think the jerseys will do that," sixth-year defensive back Adrian Phillips said. "The main way to get fans is to win -- but jerseys will definitely be a nice accent. They see those jerseys, they see that powder blue on the field -- they won't help us get more fans, but the fans will love them."

San Diegans bitter about uniform change

Brady Phelps, a San Diego sports commentator who hosts the "Zero Chance" podcast, summed up how many former Chargers fans in his city felt when the powder blue announcement came earlier this year.

"Going to the powder blues felt like adding salt to the wound," Phelps said. "It just felt like that extra punch in the gut when you already took the team, and now the thing we wanted for all of these years -- we would get in flashes for Sunday night football games or Monday Night Football and get excited -- [Spanos] gives that to L.A. when they so clearly didn't want the team there. L.A. doesn't even realize the gift they were given with these powder blues."

Canepa said that when owner Alex Spanos bought the team in 1984, he worked to create a new identity for the franchise with navy blue uniforms, which debuted in 1985.

"People wanted the powder blues," Canepa said. "They'd used them a couple times a year. When they'd go to the powder blues, Chris Berman would hold up the powder blue uniforms on TV, saying they're the best in the world.

"The way I look at it, it's just another slap in the face because they never did it here. It was almost a spite thing. People in town wanted them. They (Chargers ownership) didn't. But I'm not surprised. I thought they would go with the powders all along now that they moved the team."

Even Tomlinson can relate to how fans in San Diego feel about the change, having played most of his career in that city.

"Me and the fans in San Diego have something in common, because I feel the same way," Tomlinson said. "I look at it this way: I will never be a Los Angeles Charger player. My history is with the San Diego Chargers. So with that, I have to be able to say this is the Los Angeles Chargers era. I can't be mad about it. For these guys like Derwin James, this is their era, and they deserve to have more than we have."

Hardwick believes it's time to move on.

"The decisions that they're making now have nothing to do with the past, and it should be taken that way," Hardwick said. "They decided that these jerseys are going to garner some eyeballs and let's move forward with it. I don't think it has anything to do really with San Diego. It was a great decision because those jerseys are awesome."