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One Last Look at the Cardinals’ Old Uniforms Before Today’s Unveiling

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Big day in the uni-verse today, as the Arizona Cardinals will be revealing a new uniform set. The move comes 18 years to the day after the team’s last uniform overhaul (which, if I’m not mistaken, really kicked off the now-standard practice of NFL uni moves taking place during the run-up to the draft). The team says the uniforms will go public at “7pm-ish” — that’s Arizona time, meaning 10pm-ish Eastern.

I for one am extremely stoked about this uni launch, because the Cards’ visual program has been a thorn in my aesthetic side ever since that fateful day 18 years ago. So while we wait for tonight’s unveiling, here’s one observer’s rundown of the most problematic elements of the team’s outgoing set — elements that, if all goes well tonight, we’ll no longer have to see on the field.

The Pants

The photo above shows the right and wrong ways to do football pants striping. I mean, what are the Cardinals even trying to do? It would be bad enough if it just tapered to a point, like the Broncos’ pants striping, but that little black squiggle at the end makes it soooo much worse, like an arena league uniform. I’m gonna go ahead and call these the worst pants in NFL history. Don’t believe me? Just look:

The Jersey Side Panels

Slowly but surely, the NFL has been weeding out its accursed side panels. Bengals? Gone. Pats? Gone. Cardinals? About to be gone, presumably. (You’re next, Broncos!)

The Sleeves

I have never understood the thinking behind those oddly shaped white panels on the Cardinals’ sleeves. What are they for? What are they supposed to represent? And there’s another set of them on the back:

(That last photo, incidentally, shows another problem with this uniform: the annoying team logo above the nameplate.)

The Nice Helmet That Makes No Sense

The Cardinals’ helmet is a very nice piece of old-school design. The plain white shell, the simple side logo, the grey facemask — it’s all very traditional. The problem is that it’s paired with a very non-traditional uniform. Even if you like the pants striping, the side panels, and the sleeves — which, again, I don’t — those elements are a stylistic mismatch for this helmet, and vicey-versey. At the very least, they should have swapped out the grey mask for metallic red or something like that (and I say that as someone who likes grey masks). Can’t believe they’ve stuck with this odd helmet/uni pairing for nearly two decades now.


A black alternate jersey and/or helmet makes sense for some teams: ravens are black; panthers are black; jets can plausibly be black. But you don’t need to be an ornithologist to know that cardinals are not black. When you’re already starting off with all the other design woes I’ve already listed, going BFBS just feels extra-sad and extra-predictable. All the black trim on the primary jerseys has never felt right, either.


Those are the major issues, at least for me. I don’t necessarily expect the new set to address all of these problems (I assume there will still be a BFBS design, for example), but I’m hopeful that they will right the aesthetic ship at least somewhat. We’ll find out soon enough.

I’ll have a separate post tonight, when the uniform goes public. See you then!



ITEM! A Vintage MLB Style Guide

I recently acquired this early-1990s MLB Style Guide. It’s filled with the then-current uni and design specs for each MLB team, like this:

I’ve written about this style guide for this week’s Premium article on Substack, I photographed every single page of it and provided commentary for every team’s entry.

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paying subscriber to my Substack (this will also give you access to my full Substack/Bulletin archives), which I hope you’ll consider doing. Thanks!



Can of the Day

The design is nice, but what I really like about this one is the product name — so good!

(Fun fact: There was also a product called Kleenzum.)

Comments (95)

    The section on the side panels: “Slowly but surely, the NFL has been weeding out its accursed side panels. Bengals? Gone. Pats? Gone. Cardinals? About to be gone, presumably [not presumaby]. (You’re next, Broncos!)”

    All the odd pants and shirt filigree on the Cardinals uniforms have made me think the designs were inspired by, or maybe meant to evoke, feathers. Not to defend them! They’re terribly executed if so! But that’s the impression they’ve given me.

    The BFBS photo just leaves me to think that if ever there was a team that needs a red helmet and could get away with an all-red moon uniform, it’s the Cardinals.

    I appreciate you trying to find some semblance of reason behind the Cardinals’ uniform design. It seems like it should have some sort of explanation behind it. Sadly, however, given the similar gew-gaws on the Vikings’ uniforms of that era link, not to mention the thin piping on the side panels the Patriots adopted around that same time link, I suspect there wasn’t much thought behind it besides “the kids nowadays will think it looks cool!”

    Anal avian fan response of the day: Phainopepla – the “black cardinal” of the Sonoran desert, and the Pyrrhuloxia, a desert cardinal that can appear pretty black at times are both examples of a cardinal of that region that sports BFBS – though neither justifies the hideousness of the team’s black duds…

    AND many of the red cardinals I’ve seen have black on their faces, so the black element of the uniform makes sense to me. I don’t think the Cardinals’ use of black should fall under BFBS.

    Yes and no. Cardinals (the bird) have some black elements, but the primary color of a (male) cardinal is overwhelmingly… cardinal, with a little black and a yellow beak. If we’re using the bird as a reference point, then black and yellow should never be more than a complementary trim color. But taking it further, the team was named for the color of the uniforms the team got in the early years, when they were in Chicago. They were uniforms previously used by the University of Chicago Maroons that had faded a little. The association with the bird came after the adoption of the red color. So, historically and aesthetically, the primary color is red. Using black as anything more than a trim color borders on BFBS.

    Not an NFL devotee, but a St. Louis resident for decades. But goshamighy, those, Chicago//St. Louis uniforms were among the best of their contemporaries. As a local, I blame the Bidwells.

    Agreed that black should be used sparingly as a trim color for the Cardinals and not as a dominant color. I’d also argue that yellow should not be used at all since cardinals have red beaks, not yellow: link

    The fact that cardinals, the bird, famously have black highlights on their feathers makes black an ideal secondary or accent color for a team named the Cardinals. But full-on black helmets and uniforms? A clear example of BFBS. Plus, the team isn’t named for the bird. The team is named for the color. (Also, the bird is named after the color, as well as the title of a class of high-ranking Catholic bishops who famously wear red vestments.) When a team is named after a color, any uniform predominantly made up of a different color is an automatic failure of good design.

    I live in Scottsdale, AZ, and I see this black cardinal often. Recently I looked it up, and it’s native to San Diego and the Sonoran Desert. We also have the traditional red cardinals. I’m no fan of BFBS, but black is one of the Cardinals colors. Let’s hope if they have a black alternate they do it better.

    As a biology professor and birder myself (who has lived in both Arizona and New Mexico), I have a couple thoughts:

    First of all, the Phainopepla is an amazing bird. It’s not actually related to cardinals, but I suppose it looks the part enough that I can buy it.

    I’m a little confused by your comment about Pyrrhuloxias looking black. I’ve seen a lot of Pyrrhuloxias in my life, and if anything, they’re even less black than regular cardinals.

    But my biggest point is this: I think uni watchers get way too hung up on realism sometimes, and this is a good example of it. At the end of the day, a sports uniform is a sports uniform; it’s not a guide to animal life. And the primary purpose of a sports uniform should be to LOOK GOOD, not to accurately portray reality in some way. I mean, how many blue lions or green eagles have you ever seen? But it’s OK because realism isn’t the point.

    Ultimately, I don’t like the Cardinals’ black uniforms either, but it’s not because cardinals aren’t black. It’s just because they’re ugly.

    By my count in recent years 15 teams have gotten new uniforms under Nike, of them Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Tampa have had two redesigns, with the second redesign reverting mostly back to a previous design, so we can certainly consider those 3 initial redesigns as failures.
    Of the remaining 12 I’d consider another 8 to be failures or at the very least significantly worse than the uniform they replaced: ATL, DET, LA, MIA, NYJ, SEA, TEN, WSH.
    Which leaves Cincinnati, Minnesota, New England, and the Chargers as the non negative design changes, and even with each of those, there are glaring, easy to adjust issues with each of those new uniforms that still make them worse than other designs in the teams’ histories. Based on this track record, at best we’ll get a new Cardinals uniform that is better than the current mess, but still featuring some bad design elements that keep it from actually joining the list of good uniforms in the league.

    Not to get into a debate on which redesign were good versus bad, since that is very much a matter of personal opinion, but I do think the Seahawk’s redesign has objectively been a clear success. Seahawks fans in general have embraced this design as the team’s identity and there is no significant momentum towards switching back to an older design besides as a throwback. It is also worth noting that the current design replaced the short-lived “Seahawks Blue” uniforms and not their classic blue and green design with silver helmets.

    Looking at that first pic, the red jersey over white pants, that’s a pretty good, traditional Cardinals look. I’ve never gotten down in the weeds with the curving pants stripe; I would never have noticed that without you telling me.

    I’m just afraid whatever they come up with will be much worse than that first pic.

    Yeah, I think the pants stripe was just DFDS. Different for different’s sake. The whole set looks like it belongs on a high school field.

    Which is more likely … Cardinals make the Super Bowl or that they come out with a good redesign? They seems destined to do something really stupid.

    I always thought these uniforms were “too busy”. Up close, they may not seem that way. But, on the field, it is a visual nightmare. Sometimes “less is more”. Look at most of the iconic uniforms in NLF history. They all are, for the most part, simple. I did like the addition of the Arizona flag to their jerseys years ago when they played at Sun Devil Stadium. Maybe they will find a way to incorporate that idea into the new set. Just not some crazy pants striping or giant jersey sleeve design. Just a little accent maybe.

    In anticipation of the new Card Unis, I was pondering yesterday… who replaces them as the NFL team most in need of a redesign? Sadly, after just one season, it might be the Commanders, though a case can be made for the Titans and Falcons too.

    Broncos – Adopt the color rush unis as the main set and make just an inverted white version.
    Dolphins – Their throwbacks they wear already pretty often should just be the main set
    Falcons – The 90s era throwbacks, make them the main set
    Commanders – You can still call them the Commanders but the WFT unis with Washington just replacing Redskins on the chest were perfect
    Patriots – Pat the Patriot era clearly better
    Lions – The very plain, blue and silver that they sometimes wear as a throwback. just make a white and blue as the away and you’re set.
    Jets – The original kelly green era units but with the current logo on the helmet would be ideal
    Giants – Pretty much good as is, but I’d make the white color rush the primary away instead of the red & white.
    Eagles – Kelly green era unis should come back as primaries
    Steelers – Another that are basically fine, just go back to the original font for the numbers rather than the slanted font
    Titans – Oilers era with the Titans logo on the helmet.

    A strong case could be made for the Falcons and the Patriots to redesign, but I’ll go with the Titans.
    Returning to some iteration of their Oilers uniforms (save the silly silver helmet era) would be so great!

    Yea the Titans uniform are a disaster. It’s just a bunch of colors thrown together haphazardly. They have no identity.

    The last uniforms the Oilers wore are easily adjustable to the Titans. White helmet with the Titans logo, a navy blue version of the jersey, white numbers with columbia outline, and the stripe pattern on that jersey (red/white/columbia/white/red) could remain as is. Then the white version would just have navy numbers with columbia outline, and replace the white with navy from the stripe pattern on the navy jersey. Follow suit re: colors and stripes on the pants and socks.

    Assuming the broncos are coming soon and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think it’s the Seahawks. Commanders have the worst uni program in the league, imo, BUT it’s only been one season, they deserve shitty unis, and they are being sold (so maybe new ownership will make changes or tweaks as soon as the rules allow).

    Makes me think a bit deeper about this and ask: what city is saddled with the worst, or blessed with the best unis across all sports? Without getting too deep into it yet, I think Washington DC (considering all teams that use that locator even if they don’t play in the district) has the overall worst sports uni culture.

    Yeah, no memorable unis in DC… New York/ New Jersey immediately comes to mind as a one of the best, if it weren’t for the Jets recent downgrade. Pittsburg and Minnesota are also good.

    What kills me about the jets unis is the use of the football/arched text logo. The entire uniform seems like it was specifically designed to match the 80’s logo (squared off font with the supersonic jet flying off the top of the J). If they used that logo in the helmets then the sleeve and pants darts would make so much more sense and the whole thing would at the very least feel coherent. In the history of the franchise, their logos have made the statement that a jet is a goofy looking commercial airliner, a jet is absolutely nothing other than a nondescript football team, and a jet is a sleek, super fast plane. The sleek, super fast plane matches the current uni way better than the nondescript football team.

    I’d say Minnesota is the worst, but all is not lost.
    The Twins took a step back in ’23, the Vikings could use some tweaking, the T-Wolves were historically uneven but have gotten slightly better, and the Wild look best when they crib the North Stars colors. If you consider the soccer team as a ‘major’, their uniforms don’t exactly help raise the bar.
    YMMV of course.

    Seahawks. Go back to the Silver/Green/Blue. And not that idiotic gunmetal blue they used from 2002 to 2012.

    Getting ready to be underwhelmed.

    My thing will be, how close will the Cardinals unis and the U of Louisville’s unis seem to unintentionally morph as one …

    From what I’ve heard, and what ur seen people mocking up based on what they’ve heard, I am very confident that my reaction to this reveal will be “what’s the rule on how soon they can change uniforms again?”

    Someone suggested that the briefcase in the video will be the helmet color/finish (metallic sand with subtle red flake metallic). I’ve heard that the black helmets “contain” the main inspiration for the new main helmets and also that the organization really loved the red flake metallic finish on that black helmet. If the briefcase foretells the helmet, I hope they do just the red outline logo, because I hat that logo and the less of it I have to see, the better. That said, I’d be ok with them doing a Sonoran red and sand color palette as most arizona teams seem to do at some point, but the actual detail and execution is what scares me. Also if they want to do a tan (“sand”) helmet, I think flat paint would be a better choice.

    I just hope they do the right thing rather than simply mess it up a little bit less like Atlanta did. Don’t get me wrong, the Falcons currents are definitely better than the Vick/Ryan era disasters, but they have beautiful throwbacks just sitting there and didn’t go with even a “modernized,” version of those.

    I can’t really describe in words the 2000s sports aesthetic. I can only point to the Cardinals uniforms (and the Falcons)

    “90’s” era redesigns all seemed like they were trying to push too hard to get away from traditional uniform concepts. But, you can also say the 90’s was the “teal/purple” era as well. So much that the Pistons totally forgot who they were for a while.

    The Cardinals’ Twitter account posted 11 hours ago that they would be revealed around “7 PMish” tonight.

    This ones an interesting case study for how they’ve been able to keep it under wraps until the day of the reveal. It seems like almost every change over the last several years has been leaked or slipped out before the team’s scheduled show and tell. And I’m guessing by your phrasing of “if all goes well tonight” in the opener that you don’t even have a good feel for where this is going to land.

    Actually, lots and lots of recent unveilings have taken place without any leaks. Leaks just seem like the norm because they get more attention.

    Fair point. I’m sure it’s just my confirmation bias showing. I was mostly thinking of expected big changes that have seemed to have this much lead time. The NBA jerseys mostly seem to pop out early and several MLB changes ones have been tipped by some hat and sock retail snafu’s. But that starts leaking into the whole discussion of uniform elements vs. the whole look and retail vs. on field. Admittedly I’m mostly worried the Cardinals are going to make things worse so I’m looking to be soothed (or warned) by anything.

    I picked that up from a young-adult book that I read as a kid (the title of which now escapes me). I liked it, it stuck with me, and I’ve been using it ever since.

    It was a line spoken by a guy who was unhappy with his toaster. I remember it as something like, “When you set it for ‘Light Brown,’ the toast turns out nut brown, and vicey-versey.” I don’t recall any other details, unfortunately!

    That’s Homer Price, by Robert McCloskey of Make Way For Ducklings fame. Here’s a link to the page. link

    I just Googled it. My mother was a longtime children’s librarian, so I have a few skills in finding that sort of thing, and she would have wanted me to find it.

    The Cardinals’ sleeve things might be the biggest disparity between the on-field look and retail look in the history of retail jerseys. On the retail ones (particularly from the Reebok days), they almost resemble genuine stripes, even getting close to evoking Arizona flag:



    but seriously, when they get to the tighter on-field tailoring…yeesh.



    While the Cardinals pants are bad, I personally think the Browns “Browns” script from pants from 2015 deserve the title of worst pants ever.

    Come to think of it, it would be fun to see a “worst ever” for each nfl uni element, and maybe even combine them into some heinous atrocity

    Worst pants?

    Inuagural Baltimore Ravens black pants.

    No purple anywhere. No gold anywhere. The white stripe is way too fat.


    Definitely agree with the opinion of Browns having the worst pants ever. Way worse than the Cardinals, Vikings and anything Baltimore has ever worn. Spelling out the team name on the pants just makes my stomach turn.

    Worst socks:
    Definitely not the brown vertically-striped Denver Broncos hose (though yellow>white).
    It’s every team that uses plain white!

    This is counter to prevailing wisdom, but I really like the white helmet / black top / white pants combo for the Cardinals. I am not a fan of the black helmet / black top / black pants, though.

    “I’m gonna go ahead and call these the worst pants in NFL history.”
    Even worse than these?:
    Forgettable…and best forgotten!

    I’m not surprised, but somewhat disheartened to see so much “just go back to the old thing” sentiment. While it’s hard to argue that a plain uni and pants with simple shoulder or sleeve stripes and big blocky athletic font numbers with a plain color gloss finish helmet and quirky old school logo looks good, it’s also somewhat uncreative, and if every team goes back to that look then it all just starts to look like super-tecmo bowl palette swap sprites.

    While I agree that many of the teams in the league could stand to retool their uniforms to some degree, and Nike does tend to overdesign things, I’d argue that the falcons have a great looking set and help save the league from looking like the east bay catalogue football template page. For me it’s not the specific Jersey design elements that fail the overall look, it’s the execution. Prime example: tapered pants striping: not inherently bad. Cardinals and broncos tapered pants striping: really bad.

    The Cardinals should return to their St. Louis Cardinals uniform. Yes, a plain red home jersey and an interesting black/red pattern on the away whites.
    And, please, bring back the original logo. How did narrowing the head and making the bird angrier improve the look?

    They should move back to St. Louis if they were to wear the St. Louis era uniforms

    I always liked the maroon-ness of the traditional Cardinals unis. I grew up in STL in the 80s, so they were everywhere on the news, etc until…they weren’t… and their maroon-ness (brick-ness?) set them apart from the baseball Cardinals. Also, I liked when the Coyotes had maroon/brick as their main color. Under-represented in my eyes as a color.

    I must be the only person in the Uni-verse who doesn’t hate the Broncos uniforms. I don’t love them, mind you, but they’re representative of the Broncos best years. And love it or hate it, they kind of invented the side panel and swooshy pants stripe look.

    Probably even more true for the Seahawks. That’s their look. I’ve come to kind of like it.

    You’re not the only person, I’m right alongside you. Never hated the Broncos blue jersey or white jersey set. Not a fan of the orange jersey though. I’d prefer they stayed with the set of blue top, white pants and then all white away. I know I’m in short company when I say I’m not a fan of the old Bronco uniforms. The snot-rocket horse logo just isn’t appealing to me. Nor the color of that helmet. There really isn’t one item of those uniforms that I liked at all.

    Me three. I don’t love the Broncos unis. Heck, I’d be hard pressed to honestly say I like them. But I can’t call them bad. They’re middling C uniforms in my book. C-minus at absolute worst, but we’re still talking about a passing grade. They’re right at that level of mediocrity where I get worried about any updates, since it’s at least even odds that any change will make the uniforms worse rather than better. Making the Cardinals uglier will take real effort and commitment, whereas making the Broncos uglier would be just another day at the office for Team Nike.

    What’s true of the broncos and Seahawks is true of the eagles.

    I won’t call for any of those teams to simply go back to plain jerseys in their retro colors, but I’d be thrilled to see any of those teams’ unis evolve or refresh.

    I’d love the Eagles in kelly green again, regardless of the uni design. I’d only ask, very politely, if they CAN CHANGE THAT OUTDATED NUMBER FONT. Politely.

    The plain white shell has always looked unfinished to me. A red center stripe would really have helped.

    It has been my long-held opinion that the Patriots 90’s re-design to the flying elvis really christened in the age of bad redesigns. I know this is an unpopular viewpoint, but the Patriots uniforms have always felt like USFL uniforms to me ever since that time and I have never been on board with that look. I can however appreciate that the Patriots period of excellence coincides with this look and understand how Patriots fans and others now look at the Brady uniform years as the default for the franchise and would loathe to move away from it, but I’m sorry, I have always hated the look and it has nothing to do with the success of the franchise or resenting their success. The other uniform that pops to mind as among the worst I have ever laid eyes on would be the 2000’s era Buffalo Bills with the dark blue shoulders on the white jersey and the red helmets. Oh God they were awful.

    I would see the Cardinals on tv and the helmet would always stick out in a way that would make me upset, more so then any other team. I never could understand why until this article making sense of it being a traditional helmet design contrasted with a non traditional jersey and pants. love the write up, thank you!

    Worst pants in NFL history? Did we forgetful the Browns had pants that literally spelled their team name along the side?

    You do realize the first comment on that tweet you linked is by the author himself who writes, “JK y’all! Looking forward to the release tmrw”

    lol. It’s more fun to watch the video than read the comments, I guess. I mean we’re all so excited to see them get rid of those crap uniforms. I jumped the gun.

    Are these the worst pants in NFL history? Or are the Vick era Falcons pants (white and black both) even worse?

    The one thing I expect to get worse in the Cardinal’s redesign is the number font. While I found the 1s to be wonky, I appreciated the Cardinals going with sans-serif block numbers that were smaller than the NFL average. I’m willing to be actual money the numbers will be some over-designed Nike fiasco on this set.

    Hopefully, they will go back to the traditional look. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they revealed some kind of desert-themed alternate or something.

    Absolutely horrendous. The one thing giving me hope was i thought it would be impossible for them to get any worse. Impressive.

    AZ, That’s not it.

    Literally just Screams OS*.. (the team down south).

    But I’m gonna hold my breath that the Lions do better next year!

    Is it safe to say that the NFL has entered the monochrome era???

    Yes, is old guys like basic and simplistic, but come on…at least give us striped socks.

    All the best,

    Congratulations, Cardinals … they’re even worse than I thought they’d be.

    That 1989-93 Brewers look was maybe their best of all time. They left the tacky, 80’s double-knit behind for a stellar, pinstripe and gray combo that would look good in any era. Love the script. Love the state logo on the jacket. Love that there’s yellow, but not too much yellow. It’s an accent, as it’s supposed to be. Only two colors and no need to mess with them. The tailoring around that time was always really good, too — not super tight, not super baggy. Goldilocks, just right. I do really like their 2000-19 look, too, but a good case can be made for the 1989-93 look as their best.

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