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A Close Look at Super Bowl Field Design Through the Years

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[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from Jeff Flynn, who is super-obsessed with the details of Super Bowl field design. He points out tons of stuff you probably never noticed or thought about. He’s included an insane number of photo links, so apologies in advance for any click fatigue you may experience. — PL]

By Jeff Flynn

It won’t come as a surprise to readers of this blog that there is a subset of the uni-centric population that cares a lot about how the fields look for the Super Bowl. From the beginning until recently, starting with the Burger King-esque “crown” logo at midfield in SB I, the fields were prepared in a way that made them look like the Biggest Game Ever was about to take place. The earliest designs were boldly colorful with old AFL and NFL logos, dueling midfield helmets, colorful Lombardi trophies, uncommon team logos, even some unintentional throwbacks. End zones had fairly basic but attractive block lettering, which eventually made way to team wordmarks in SB VI, while the AFL and NFL logos morphed into AFC and NFC logos in SB V.

The first Super Bowl that I can remember watching is SB VIII, between the Dolphins and Vikings. Not coincidentally, the greatest and longest-running general Super Bowl end zone template, at least in my opinion, began that year: team helmet on the left, team wordmark in the center, conference-logo helmet on the right. The background color was never the same as the helmets, and the team wordmarks were often outlined in white or another color in order to make them pop that much more. Even the hated Patriots’ end zone was glorious in SB XX. In the conference championship games, I usually rooted for whichever team hadn’t yet been represented in a Super Bowl end zone, just so I could see the design treatment. So, let’s go Jets in 1982! Seahawks in ’83! And so on.

For no apparent reason, little things changed year to year, but the fields were always still great. In SB X, small shields appeared at the 35 yard lines, featuring that game’s Roman numeral. These grew bigger and bigger the next few years, until they were replaced in XIV with a white football graphic featuring that year’s Super Bowl logo. It even included Pete Rozelle’s signature! The midfield NFL logo, which first appeared in SB VI, even changed frequently during this time period, sometimes outlined in white and at other times in blue. Starting in SB XIV, the NFL logo settled into what most people likely remember as “the” NFL logo and remained unchanged for many years. In SB XXIII, the giant footballs at the 35 yard lines were removed and replaced by larger versions of that year’s Super Bowl logo.

There was a one-year slight change in SB XXV, with the Super Bowl 25th-anniversary logo at midfield. and the AFC and NFC helmet logos disappeared from the end zones in SB XXIX, while the NFL 75th anniversary logo took over at midfield, but this general template lasted through SB XXX. In SB XXXI, the overall design changed fairly dramatically. The NFL logo was relegated to the corner of the end zone and replaced at midfield by that year’s Super Bowl logo. Helmets were removed from the end zones and put at the 30s. Wordmarks generally still popped nicely, though, and important details like team striping around the 20s and two-point hash remained bright. It was a different look for sure, but still colorful. The end zone team helmets unexpectedly returned in SB XXXVIII. It wasn’t quite the same as before, though, as the Eagles helmet was the same color as the end zone, instead of a contrasting color, in SB XXXIX. The Super Bowl logos returned to the 25s as well in SB XXXVIII. In SB XL, the end zones featured the conference logos in a banner treatment. These disappeared in SB XLII and the current NFL logo made its debut at midfield in SB XLIII. SB XLIV, with the Saints’ beautiful gold end zone, was the last year of original Super Bowl logos.

SB XLV ushered in the current corporate-style “logo system” with much greater consistency from year to year, including the field design. The 20s and two-point hash marks have no longer been outlined in team colors. End zones have been boring with wordmarks no longer outlined. In SB XLVIII at the Meadowlands, they didn’t bother to enlarge the stadium’s existing midfield NFL logo to match the size in previous Super Bowls, and didn’t paint the team logos onto the sidelines. The AFC and NFC logos have not appeared since SB XLIX, when a huge blank space was left in the Patriots’ end zone. A splash of color was added in the SB LI logo, but the corporate feel was still there.

Now, for SB LII, which takes place this Sunday, we are being introduced to the unbalanced end zone template. The Patriots’ wordmark is substantially larger than the Eagles’, and the Eagles’ end zone has empty space again. Is there any thought going into the fields at all anymore? Who designs and approves the fields? Or do they just wing it? Do they have any idea that people don’t like them as much as they used to?

If you’re interested in this subject, there is an awesome thread on SportsLogos.net that is must-read, start to finish. This thread includes every previous Super Bowl field template graphic, “alternate” graphics for some of those “what might have beens,” updates on this year’s (crappy) field, and more. The thread was summed up best by a Jaguars fan who remarked that one of his favorite things about making the AFC Championship game was that the Jaguars could now at least be included in the “what if” section.

Also, there’s currently an online poll that invites you to rate the Super Bowl fields from first to worst. Have fun with it, and enjoy Sunday’s game, even if the field design isn’t as good as it could be.

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Dear Team, Please Send Me Super Bowl Tickets: Yesterday I had an ESPN piece on an extraordinary confidential NFL memo from 1966 (if you haven’t read it yet, please do — it’s powerful stuff), which Uni Watch reader Tom Jacobsen found in some old files. Those files also included some really interesting letters and paperwork regarding the very first Super Bowl, including the handwritten letter shown above. It was sent by a Denver dentist named Thomas Ross to Don Smith, the Broncos’ PR director in the mid-1960s. It reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Smith:

As a loyal season ticket holder and member of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club [a local booster club] for seven long years, I have suffered thru good and bad. Please help relieve my suffering by obtaining six (6) tickets to the “Super Bowl” to be played in L.A.

Sincerely,
Tom Ross

These documents provide a very entertaining glimpse into the Broncos’ inner workings at the dawn of the Super Bowl era. That’s the topic of a new ESPN piece that I’ve written — link coming soon. Meanwhile, here’s one more plug for yesterday’s ESPN piece, which is one of the most important and interesting stories I’ve ever worked on — don’t miss.

• • • • •

ITEM! Mini-helmet sale: With the football season almost over, our friends at Rocker T Collectibles are running an end-of-season sale on Uni Watch mini-helmets. The original price of $39.99 has been reduced to $29.99. They’re available here.

• • • • •

“What’s It Worth?” reminder: In case you missed it last week, I announced a new partnership with Grey Flannel Auctions. If you have a potentially valuable collectible, GFA will appraise it at no charge, and with no obligation. Think of it as an online version of Antiques Roadshow. Full details here.

• • • • •

The Ticker
By Kris Gross

Baseball News: The Pirates officially confirmed their new military jerseys and caps for 2018, which had already been obvious for several weeks because they’d been available for retail sale (from Hayden Kay). … The Durham Bulls are releasing new uniforms later today. … A proposed pace-of-play suggestion for MLB included the return of bullpen carts. I’m all in (from Mike Chamernik, @caesarscott). … Check out these gorgeous 1973 powder blue uniforms for the Omaha Royals, a KC Triple-A affiliate. … Missouri has seven new unis for 2018 (from @JGorla_). … New D-Rose cleats for Indiana. … Here’s a piece looking back on BYU’s uniforms from the 1980s. … As of this morning, the Mariners online roster still shows manager Scott Servais wearing No. 9 and newly acquired OF Dee Gordon with no number assignment, but this photo suggests that Gordon may have convinced Servais to give up No. 9 (from Tim Dunn).

NFL News: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said they’re not putting an Eagles jersey on the Billy Penn statue out of fear of a jinx. Putting a jersey on the statue has not worked out well for Philly teams in the past (from Michael). … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers said in a radio interview that the Packers frown upon the post-game jersey swap, and they make players pay for the jerseys if they give them away (from Jeff Ash). … Sports Illustrated did an interview with the man who creates Super Bowl stadium replicas filled with food (thanks Brinke). … Falcons owner Arthur Blank is upset the Patriots puts 283 diamonds in their Super Bowl rings (thanks Brinke). … Golfers and celebrities at the Phoenix Open wore NFL jerseys on the 16th hole (from Zeke Perez Jr.).

Hockey News: The Rangers wore their Winter Classic jerseys last night, and Ondrej Pavelec and Henrik Lundqvist had special masks (from Al Kreit). … New mask and pads for Blues G Jake Allen (from Bryce Mandrell). … Maple Leafs G Curtis McElhinney wore the “Fathers Trip” hat. The players’ dads went to New York with them last night (from Kevin Wilson).

NBA News: The NBA unveiled the 2019 All-Star logo. It pays tribute to the “Hornets and the city of Charlotte”. … Blake Griffin made his Pistons debut last night and immediately had a uni-related snafu: He didn’t start the second half because he forgot his jersey (from Mike Chamernik). … ESPN Photoshopped LeBron James into a Warriors jersey but forgot to change the advertiser logo. … The 76ers are honoring the Eagles with giveaway shirts tonight (from Mike Chamernik).

College Hoops News: 1950s throwbacks for Hofstra last night (from @OlegKvasha). … Oklahoma women unveiled pink uniforms for cancer research. … Check out these Midland College warmups (from Jay Crain). … Carmel High School in Indiana celebrating the Chinese New Year (from @lilbropeep). … Arizona State’s Mickey Mitchell wore mismatched shoes last night (from @gayhooters).

Soccer News: Whitecaps FC teased the new kit they’ll reveal on Feb 5 (from Wade Heidt). … Bethlehem Steel FC, the USL affiliate of the Philadelphia Union, has a tweaked primary crest, new secondary crest (from Kody Allenson). … Also from the USL, new kits coming on Monday for FC Cincinnati (from Tom Gelehrter).

Grab Bag: Cross-listed from the NFL section: Golfers and celebrities at the Phoenix Open wore NFL jerseys on the 16th hole (from Zeke Perez Jr.). … Sticking with the Phoenix Open, John Rahm is wearing a RAHMBO headband (from Zachary Loesl). … Also from Zachary, Rickie Fowler honored a deceased fan by wearing a photo of him on his hat. … Schmidt Peterson Motorsports unveiled its 2018 IndyCar liveries (from Tim Dunn).

45 comments to A Close Look at Super Bowl Field Design Through the Years

  • Dave | February 2, 2018 at 8:17 am |

    Those Omaha uniforms are great! Wonderful photo and a good find! Slight correction — I think Storm Chasers is a relatively new name, and that the team was the Omaha Royals then.

    Thanks for sharing that photo.

    • Paul Lukas | February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am |

      Fixed.

    • mild bill | February 2, 2018 at 12:22 pm |

      That is a nice photo.

      Noticed some familiar names; Frank White, Buck Martinez and Wayne Simpson.

  • WFY | February 2, 2018 at 8:20 am |

    The bullpen carts will be covered in advertising, so meh.

  • boxcarvibe | February 2, 2018 at 8:23 am |

    MLB using bullpen carts isn’t going to shave any noticeable time off any game. Want to increase pace of play? Make it a balk to visit a mound twice in one plate appearance, or with the same number of outs. Any pitcher entering a game must face 2 batters, or runners advance on a balk. Give catchers and pitchers a bluetooth connection to call pitches verbally, and stop with the signals all together. Using bullpen carts, just like the “Intentional Walk” rule now, won’t matter a hill o’ beans to pace of play.

    • RS Rogers | February 2, 2018 at 10:08 am |

      Also: Award a ball, but not ball four, for any pitcher’s throw to a base.

      • scott | February 2, 2018 at 8:16 pm |

        So there’s be lots of pitchers stepping off the rubber and staring at the baserunners? I think that would increase the lengths of games.

    • Brett Alan | February 5, 2018 at 7:41 pm |

      The fascinating thing about the bluetooth connection idea is that the pitcher would have to call the pitches, since if the catcher did, the batter would hear it. Hmmmmm.

  • Mike Edgerly | February 2, 2018 at 8:28 am |

    Isn’t it anachronistic to refer to the 1973 Omaha AAA team as “Storm Chasers”, a name not used until 2011?

  • Christian Berumen | February 2, 2018 at 8:28 am |

    There one link in the field story that says the afc badge is not there but it’s on the right side it’s the logo that’s missing from the left side but it’s under the team name in the patriots end zone

    • Rob S | February 2, 2018 at 9:38 am |

      He said it was the last time they used the conference logos, and that there was a blank space in the Pats’ end zone. He didn’t say it was blank because of an absence of the AFC logo.

  • Daniel Tarrant | February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am |

    Good work, Jeff.

    I agree. The NFL has gotten really lazy lately with the SB field designs.

    I really hate that they’ve gone away from each Super Bowl having it’s own distinct logo. Does anybody like the fact that they all have the same basic (ugly) look?

    • Greg | February 2, 2018 at 8:57 am |

      Yeah, the unique feel of each game is replaced. Feels less like a big event and more just a standard championship game. Endzones this year are bad, and that isn’t helped by the terribly dated Eagles wordmark.

      • GuidoRRMC | February 3, 2018 at 8:58 am |

        A neat idea might be to use each teams actual home field design for their end zone in the SB.

    • Brad Johnson | February 4, 2018 at 11:53 am |

      Totally agree. The fields with the two helmets in the end zones were by far the best designs. Using the teams secondary color as the primary color of the end zones always looked the best. They look like crap now. I cannot believe they’ve gotten so basic and boring.

  • Mangler | February 2, 2018 at 8:31 am |

    What if the Jaguars reached the Super Bowl, and their end zone was colored in black and gold to match their helmets?

  • BurghFan | February 2, 2018 at 8:57 am |

    Proofreading:
    “SB XLVIIII at the Meadowlands” One I too many.

    • Paul Lukas | February 2, 2018 at 9:08 am |

      Fixed.

  • Greg | February 2, 2018 at 9:00 am |

    Those pictures of Superbowl XLIV reminded me what a great looking game that was. Last time we saw a unique SB logo, great looking endzones, and a classic uniform matchup of the Colts in blue against the Saints in white, with their gold pants. With the awful standardized SB logos, the horrible endzone designs, and the downward trend and Nike-ification of uniform design, I wonder if we will ever see such a good looking SB again.

    • J | February 2, 2018 at 2:26 pm |

      Agreed, and you left out natural grass…

  • Martina | February 2, 2018 at 9:08 am |

    I feel like there is a lot of explanation missing for the brief item about the “new D-Rose cleats for Indiana.” Why in the world are there baseball cleats featuring a basketball player’s signature and why would they be specifically made for Indiana of all teams?

  • Wade Heidt | February 2, 2018 at 9:21 am |

    Interesting to me to compare the Super Bowl fields to what is done with the Grey Cup fields in the CFL. Grey Cup fields have not been as consistent in their formula, but have developed a pretty regular design recently.

    The Grey Cup game logo at centrefield, major game advertisers getting a place on the field. The participating team logos only in each end zone. Here is an example of this past year’s game in Ottawa. When the field was not covered in snow like it was for a lot of the game this past year :).

    https://d3ham790trbkqy.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/AlexDaddese_20171126-0063-1600×1067.jpg

  • Dan K | February 2, 2018 at 9:29 am |

    Where are the soda display pics?! That’s my favorite part of Super Bowl week!

  • Another-JT | February 2, 2018 at 9:46 am |

    Looking at the image for this year’s field, it struck me that while the midfield logos are orientated to be seen from one (primary tv) side of the field, that due to the Eagles logo facing opposite to how most other “faced” logos face, both teams’ end zone logos are facing away from that primary side. However, I can’t put a finger on why this bugs me.

    • Greg | February 2, 2018 at 10:57 am |

      Now that you pointed it out I can’t unsee it. Ideally they would have flipped and used a simplified version of the Eagles workmark, no drop shadow or excessive out line. Would have allowed them to make it wider and balance out the endzone more.

  • Mark K | February 2, 2018 at 10:18 am |

    This doesn’t have to do with anything but I always like photos taken from within the stadium lights.

  • Daniel E | February 2, 2018 at 10:40 am |

    Good to see the Rangers trotting out their Winter Classic unis at least one more time. I’m surprised we don’t see more outdoor game unis become permanent alternates the next season, given how popular many of them are.

    Boston did it for the 2016-17 season, and Chicago wore a modified Winter Classic jersey with an added shoulder logo for a couple years starting in 2009. Philadelphia also eventually brought their 2011 Winter Classic uniform into permanent rotation, but only after a two-year gap. Those are the only ones I can recall, out of all the outdoor uniforms that have been worn in the last decade-plus.

    Given that the retail merchandise is already out there, if a uniform/jersey is popular, why not just keep wearing it right into the next season?

    • Daniel E | February 2, 2018 at 10:41 am |

      You know, I just remembered the Penguins have actually done this twice as well. Maybe it’s not as rare as I thought…

    • Brian | February 2, 2018 at 10:58 am |

      The Islanders did it as well. Their Stadium Series jerseys became their alternates prior to the Brooklyn move.

  • Thomas | February 2, 2018 at 10:55 am |

    The “corporatization” of the Super Bowl field template probably speaks to an ethos that consistency is the same thing as creativity. Consistency can add something to good design but it cannot make a design good on its own.

    By the same token, inconsistency doesn’t mean that the design is inherently creative. After all, the MLB playoff logos have shifted from year to year and I can’t think of many designs more corporate than those.

    The NBA Finals have had the same jersey patch since 2011 and used the same logo (for the most part) since 1989 but that’s fine because the script is elegant and it looks great against the gold basketball. The consistency works in support of good design to make something iconic.

  • Tony T | February 2, 2018 at 11:07 am |

    I didn’t get a shot of it, but last night (2/1/18) in the Wichita State Vs. Temple men’s basketball game, at some point during the first half, one of the WSU players entered the game, and was wearing a long sleeved black shirt under his uniform. The ref’s stopped the game and made him take it off before entering the game. Maybe someone can find video of that, I just happened to glance at the TV as it happened but didn’t have a chance to get a video.

  • Lance Vannoy Hemmert | February 2, 2018 at 11:42 am |

    Man, I just ordered that uniwatch mini helmet. It’s going right next to my Houston Oilers mini helmet. I appreciate this site and everything you do. I’ve been a fan and a daily reader, I think, since you stood the site up. I love it.

    • Paul Lukas | February 2, 2018 at 11:44 am |

      Thanks. Enjoy the helmet!

  • Bobby | February 2, 2018 at 12:02 pm |

    Local reaction to the ASG logo hasn’t been great.

    • Rob S | February 2, 2018 at 2:27 pm |

      Probably because the NBA’s gone with a standard template, so 2019’s logo looks too much like 2018’s.

  • RICKAZ | February 2, 2018 at 12:43 pm |

    Practically nobody would even know that the Patriots put 283 diamonds in their ring to honor the 28-3 comeback if Arthur Blank didn’t complain about it.

  • Kabob | February 2, 2018 at 1:13 pm |

    Jeff- you forgot to mention that this year might be the first year ever that the yard line numerals aren’t standard font but the Vikings numerals. Common man! Huge detail.

    • Greg | February 2, 2018 at 2:06 pm |

      Along those lines, would really have interesting to see, had the Vikings made it, if they would be allowed to blow the horn to pump up the crowd? I know every team has little things they do to get the home crowd going, but the Vikings horn is really the only one you notice watching on tv.

    • Dumb Guy | February 2, 2018 at 2:24 pm |

      That’s been mentioned here for the past several weeks.

    • Jeff | February 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm |

      I was torturing Paul as it was with too much text and too many graphics! Actually I wouldn’t mind the Vikings’ number font as part of a classic, colorful field because it would lend location context. Back in Super Bowl X, one of my favorite fields because of the little X shields at the kickoffs, they didn’t change the thin, recognizable Orange Bowl yardline number font which was iconic to the stadium. I “could” see the Vikings’ number font as being in that spirit, if the real reason for having it was to lend location context to the theme, rather than just being lazy which is the actual reason.

  • D.P. McIntire | February 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm |

    The holy grail of documents from the mid-1960’s era is a copy of the actual AFL-NFL Merger Agreement. The only copy I’ve ever seen of it was one Paul Tagliabue held in his hands during an interview about the merger. I’d love to find a copy to study.

    • Greg | February 2, 2018 at 3:26 pm |

      I’ve always been curious as to why the Steelers, Browns, and Colts were the teams that ended up moving to the AFC. I know that part of why Paul Brown agreed to be an AFL expansion franchise (rather than pursuing an NFL team) was because he was assured the Browns would be coming over to the AFC post merger. I wonder what the carrot was to get the three NFL teams to swap over.

      • D.P. McIntire | February 2, 2018 at 9:06 pm |

        That’s actually easy to answer: they were paid to move. A one-time payment of $3 million, to be precise.

  • Dennis | February 2, 2018 at 5:34 pm |

    i thought the NFL had a rule where they could not do cross promotions with teams from other leagues…