The NFL, in a move that had long been hinted at, pulled the plug on the Pro Bowl yesterday. The game will be replaced by a skills competition and a flag football game.
It seems odd that the most popular sports league will now be left without a traditional all-star game. But the Pro Bowl, which was first played in 1951, wasn’t just a game — in recent decades it also became a showcase for some of the most hilariously awful uniforms the sports world had to offer. At their best (read: worst [read: best]), Pro Bowl uniforms weren’t just bad; they were bad in that particularly spectacular way that becomes entertaining, especially with the benefit of hindsight. With that in mind, here are my picks for the first worst (read: best [read: worst]) uniform designs in Pro Bowl history, going from least-worst to most-worst (read: best).
One note: For the years, I’m listing the calendar years in which the games were played, not the seasons that they were part of. I know some people prefer the season-based approach, but the NFL has always referred to Pro Bowls based on the calendar year (and so have I), so I’m going to stick with that format.
Ready? Here we go.
5. 2003-04: History’s Most Bloated Thigh Panel
What’s better (read: worse [read: better]) than completely unnecessary panels running up the sides of the jersey and pants? Making the pants panel so bloated it looks like an overstuffed pork chop and then slapping the conference logo on it. A masterpiece of sorts. Here are some additional pics:
4. 2007-08: Star Time
This was during a period when the league was experimenting with sublimation (only a decade or so after the NBA and NHL!), this time with a bunch of stars. Bonus points for the brutal side panels on the jerseys and pants.
Here are some additional pics:
3. 2014-15: The DayGlo Years
Neon/fluorescent hues and GFGS — two awful tastes that taste awful (read: great) together! This was Nike’s first real attempt to put their visual stamp on the Pro Bowl (their first set for the game, worn in 2013, was surprisingly sedate), and they certainly delivered. Here’s a slew of additional pics:
2. 2011: Here, Try It With a Longer Inseam
This was the year that some genius (read: idiot [read: genius]) at the NFL — or at Reebok, or both — decided it would be a good idea to offer Pro Bowlers the option of wearing long pants. Thankfully, enough players said yes to provide a very entertaining photographic record of a very bad (read: good [read: bad]) idea, as seen here:
1. 1995-97: There Are No Words
This was the first of the “wacky” Pro Bowl uni sets, and it’s still the best (read: worst [read: best]). For three years — three years — the best football players on the planet wore costumes that looked nothing like any football uni before or since. Feast your eyes on these pics:
And there you have it: one observer’s rundown of the most spectacularly awful uniforms in Pro Bowl history.
Disagree with my picks? Fair enough — there are plenty of other bad Pro Bowl uniforms to choose from! Also some good ones, back in the early days. You can see all of them on the Gridiron Uniform Database.
What is that sticker on Leroy Hoard’s helmet?
I’ve always had a soft spot for those mid/late 90s pro bowl uniforms. They are awful, but remembered fondly.
You know, I assumed that was just a reflection, but you’re right — it appears to be an “angry face” sticker! Either that or someone photoshopped it into the image.
Not a sticker. If you look at the other Getty image (link) you can clearly see it.
Coincidentally Paul, you used an image of Hoard in an ESPN piece (link). It is hard to make out, but you can see the same sticker in the glare on his helmet.
A quick reverse image search seems to indicate it was some sort of 80s/90s sticker/shirt brand Bad Boy Club.
Couldn’t find any record as to why Hoard would have been wearing it though.
Looks like the “bad boy” or “bad boy club” logo, as seen in some of the results link.
All Star games were doomed once the stars figured out they didn’t have to actually play in the game. Don’t know who started it but once it caught on, that was it.
Plus around the same time, the Pro Bowl was moved from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before it and out of Hawaii, the quality of the game was dying.
Although Hawaii is nice, Aloha Stadium is a hellhole of a place to play.
This. So many all-star games over the years were ruined when a star player dropped out. Ovechkin, Jordan not competing in the slam dunk, a poop-ton of quarterbacks, and star pitchers would routinely drop out and the sports league had to keep a very, very deep list of reserves to call on at the last minute.
And here’s the thing: the cancellation of the Pro Bowl was needless. How many devastating injuries occurred in Pro Bowls past? Why is it only a problem now?
Oh, yes. Money and CTE.
Long gone are the days when helmets were repainted for the Pro Bowl. The player would bring his regular game helmet, someone would strip off the decals and SPRAY PAINT them gold and decal them for the game. Then they’d take the helmet home and the team equipment manager would RE-SPRAY PAINT them and decal them back to team colors. Spray paint! I’m sure it did wonders for the integrity of those flimsy plastic shells back then.
I think there was also a time when they spray painted them red & blue, for the AFC & NFC, respectively. I’ve seen pictures of Joe Greene and a few other Steelers where the black paint on their helmets has chipped off in spots, showing red paint underneath. This threw me for a loop for the longest time until I learned about the painted helmet thing in the Pro Bowl back in the day.
I guess it’s been awhile since I paid attention to the Pro Bowl, because I was super confused looking at the day glow years and seeing players from the same conference – or same team – playing on opposite sides of the ball.
Philosophically, I feel like I’d rather have my wackadoo uniforms in the Pro Bowl than in a regular season game/in a team’s actual set. There’s something funny about making the best players in the league wear the worst uniforms imaginable.
I think the tradition of ugly unis will live on in whatever they cook up for the players to wear in the skills contests. There must be merch, so there will be unis.
Agreed. Won’t they wear some kind of uniforms in the flag football game?
I thought i read somewhere, but I could be mistaken, that the special uni gimmick will continue. If helmets are necessary for any of the competition I have to hope that the new, low-risk format, and the lifting of the one shell rule would result in a special helmet as well. I mean seriously… f—- it all anyway and just go for broke. At least an awful looking uni would be… well… uniform.
Hey, I attended the last-ever Pro Bowl as my only Pro Bowl I ever attended. That’s pretty cool.
I always thought those first Nike unis were Phil Knight just putting Oregon and Oregon State colors out there for all [read: whomever actually watches this absurdity] to see. Like it was some scheme to get the schools to say: Yes, more of the highlighter please!
Flag football as an All Star Game for the NFL. Like playing stickball as an All Star Game for MLB. I like this. But hopefully once again in very ugly ASG uniforms, Nike and NFL!
What is odd about the move to a flag football game is that one of the most notable injuries in the Pro Bowl came from a rookie flag football game. Robert Edwards of the Patriots had such a bad injury he nearly had to have his leg amputated, and it basically ended his promising career.
The flag football game seems like a fun idea, but they are still leaving themselves open for serious injuries.
But given how tight and tiny actual NFL game jerseys are, I assume they’ll probably still make the jerseys, the players simply won’t wear any pads underneath.
I remember that injury — but didn’t that take place playing in the sand? I’m fairly certain they’ll never play “on the beach” again. Horrific injury, end of a career…but freak injuries can happen at any time. As long as they take precautions to minimize injury risk (like, not playing on sand), hopefully that will not happen again.
I believe you are right, that it was played on the beach or some other sand field. No doubt that added to injury. But it just stuck into my memory that the worse Pro Bowl injury was a non contact injury.
I do actually think the flag football game could be more entertaining to watch than the normal pro bowl, just because it is something different.
The only, and I mean ONLY thing that bums me out about the death of the Pro Bowl is my hope for a return to those AFC and NFC helmets used in the 1970-77 games is squashed.
I’m a little concerned about the “mercury” aspect of that silent switch… guessing the mercury is liquid to allow for the quieter switch while still allowing it to be conductive (vs. solid metal wires)? Just be careful & maybe put it in a secondary container (tupperware) in the chance of a leak!
You are correct. Mercury was used in all sorts of sealed switch contacts, including the thermostat in your house and the sump pump switch to keep your basement dry. Those days are gone, because of the lackadaisical control over disposal, and the potential contamination involved.
Does anyone think that the 2011 uniforms would be a pretty sharp without the gimmicky long pants & fixing the pants stripe?
I like them. Particularly the shoulder yoke on the NFC’s jerseys.
Not that the Pro Bowl was ever great, but it was better when it was the week after Super Bowl in Hawaii.
Fewer players skipped it (free trip to Hawai’i and the Super Bowl was already over). Aloha Stadium was weird to look at and it was strange watching a game at sunset when it had been dark out for hours at home.
Most of all, it felt slightly important. Even it it was total garbage football, it was the last NFL football we’d see for 8 months. It felt like we SHOULD watch it because it was our last fix of football for the year.
Same here for me. When they moved the Pro Bowl to the week prior, I stopped caring because there was a football game to watch one week later. That’s also when I started telling the wife “yes there’s a football game on right now but I’d rather spend the day with you.” The demise of the Pro Bowl means the end of that ploy so I guess I am a little sad to see the Pro Bowl end.
RE: Uni Watch Plus. Can we get a login button on the homepage of the desktop site? Had trouble finding it since it’s buried on the contact page.
Hi, Rob. It’s right there in the margin:
Am I misunderstanding your request?
Ahh ok. I didn’t see it on my computer after I logged out because of all the ads… Ironic…. Was looking for a login option near the “Join” button. Thanks
Happy to help!
Paging through Gridiron Uniform Database. There were actually some nice, basic, designs used for the Pro Bowl over the years. It was held in LA at the Coliseum until 1972 (a game which I got to see in person…tickets were cheap and my brother and I got to spend an awesome afternoon with Dad). It was 1978 they stopped repainting the helmets and let them use their game lids as is.
The 1954 and 56 games featured the link vs their away jerseys!
Even stranger, 1950 and 51 featured the home jerseys of the Cardinals which were also the away jerseys of the Lions and Giants and the only jerseys of the 49ers (in 50) – versus – ah, vice versa!
Should read: 54 and 56 featured the NY Giants home vs road jerseys.
The players stopped caring when the extra money was no longer significant.
I own an 07/08 Tomlinson AllPro jersey (same as the one pictured). Of all the jerseys/sweaters/kits I own, I get more looks and/or comments on that one than all the others combined.
You want to talk about advertising on uniforms? The advertising on the Gridiron Uniform Database is a nightmare.
Amazing resource that provides its content for free. Their web-hosting costs are real, and so is the labor it takes to produce their invaluable visual database. I’d say dealing with a few ads so they can cover their overhead is a bargain.
I still can’t believe they cancelled the College All Star Football Classic!