The photo shown above is from the 1997 unveiling of the Broncos’ then-new uniforms — the most radical uniform set in NFL history. For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article on Substack, I’ve taken a deep dive on these uniforms, including 10 fun facts you might not know about and a look at this rare vintage brand guide:
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 (which will also give you full access to my Substack/Bulletin archives). My thanks, as always, for your consideration!
I posted a comment on Substack, but I’ll summarize here as well: I’m wondering if the Broncos’ design had an influence into the NHL. It seems coincidental that the San Jose Sharks introduced a similar pointy side panel on their third jersey the same year, and they were also outfitted by Nike at that time (though the Sharks’ unis had a twist of that black panel being made of “pothole” mesh for extra ventilation, and the white version introduced the following year kept the shape of the panel, but left it white to blend into the base color).
Another item that may have come about due to Reebok supplying both leagues at the time, but originated with the Broncos under Nike, was the move of the NHL shield to the collar, as many teams that stuck with a V-neck or lace-up collar used a similar insert panel for the shield (while a few teams with different collars placed the shield underneath the collar).
That Broncos uniform was a superspreader event for bad design. What exacerbated the tragedy was that it replaced a uniform that was an all-time classic, one that should have stood untouched indefinitely.
I think another contender for the title of most radical design would be the Bengals’ uniform that debuted in 1981. That one, like the Broncos’ 1997 uniform, replaced a dignified look that is vastly superior. The Bengals’ mess is even uglier than the Broncos’ design; but, fortunately, it didn’t have as much influence on other pro and college teams.
The saddest part of the picture is John Elway rocking the far superior orange crush jersey on the sign to the left. I hated the Broncos uniforms at the time and the influence that design had over all sports uniforms for more than a decade was awful.
Hard disagree on the Bengals. The inclusion of tiger stripes into the uniform was genius and loads better than the hokey “BENGALS” across the helmet.
You’re kidding me if you don’t think that the Bengals’ new uniform in 1981 was a HUGE improvement over the old uniform set. The bengal stripes on the helmet is a stunning look. The previous set was just a re-hashing of the Browns’ old uniforms with the word “BENGALS” on the helmet.
I agree, Ferdinand, that the Bengals original look was dignified, classy and easy on the eyes. I was attracted to the helmet, as well, by its understated, unique presentation. However, when they introduced the stripes in ’81, I thought it was revolutionary and brilliant. The way that they confined the tiger stripes on the shoulders and pants was key. It was when they started to expand on that concept in the ’90’s is when things went awry. I think their current look could use some tweaks, though (ditch the word mark on the chest, use standard block numbers)
I know I’m one of few, but I like these. Prefer this over the orange of yesteryear. It only was ruined when they added the orange jersey later on. Just my opinion.
As one of the designers of the logo and uniforms (as well as being born and raised in Denver, and my family were season ticket holders) I had a unique seat at the table. Personally, I hated the anorexic horse in the ‘D’. It stood for failure and super bowl blowouts. Pat Bowel came to us at NIKE and said, “I want a horse that looks like it’s going to kick your ass.” Mr. Bowel wanted a horse that was timeless.
We spent 9 months working on the project. Did a LOT of research about the team and used inspiration from a few places. The horse was inspired by a native american legend of a ‘ghost horse of the plains’. The legend was about a horse that was so spirited it couldn’t be tamed by man. We also drew inpiration from other uncontrollable sources like tsunamis, volcanoes, other forces of nature.
The horse is white in the logo because it’s a ghost. The eyes are the windows to the soul—the orange fiery belly. Thats where the orange comes from.
It’s disappointing to me—as a lifelong Broncos fan and Denver native—that fans don’t appreciate the amount of work that went into creating Mr. Bowlen’s vision. Moreover, the fact the team won two freaking super bowls in the new look. As Vince Lombardi said, “some people do their jobs well, some people do not but we’re all judged by one thing…the result.”
The result is the team started winning super bowls in the new look.
The first person who put the new uniform on was Steve Atwater. He immediately said how much “tougher” he felt in the new uniforms. The players also loved the new unis. Now, we have hindsight that shows the new Broncos look is associated with winning Lombardi trophies…and THAT is what Pat Bowlen wanted.
The fan base is so illinformed and lacking understanding…still after all these years and that’s unfortunate. I’m happy with what we created. It’s been admired and copied for the past 20 years…who else can say they changed their market like we did?
Awwwwww!!! Too bad!!! The fans didn’t like your design!!! BOO HOO!!! It’s a BORING look!!! Very bland!!! If your feelings are hurt, then go to therapy and cry it out with a professional!!!
Yikes! It seems to me that you’re giving your Nike team’s creation a lot of undeserved credit for the Super Bowl wins. Regardless, the unis are not attractive in the least and the previous set were indeed classics. The fan base is ill informed and lacking understanding because we don’t like the uni? What a sad comment.
You can tell that Rick Bakas is an overly sensitive creative type. Most of them are very sensitive.
“ It’s disappointing to me—as a lifelong Broncos fan and Denver native—that fans don’t appreciate the amount of work that went into creating Mr. Bowlen’s vision.”
Response: Most fans don’t care about the design and creative process. They just care about the end product and how it looks.
“The fan base is so illinformed and lacking understanding…still after all these years and that’s unfortunate.”
Response: Insulting the fan base won’t get anyone to sympathize with you. Grow up and grow a pair.
“I’m happy with what we created.”
Response: Good for you. Now stop whining. We have a right to our opinions. If you’re emotionally immature and can’t handle it, maybe you need a new line of work.
“It’s been admired and copied for the past 20 years…
Response: Who “admires” it? And who “copied” it, exactly? If so many fans “admired “ it, then why are you so salty?
“Who else can say they changed their market like we did?”
Response: How did you “change the market”? What did you change, exactly?
Final Comments: Grow up, Son. Everyone has critics. Even you. You’re NOT infallible.
I don’t know if anyone will ever see this comment, given that I’m posting it two days late. But I just want to say two things:
1. Thanks to Rick for the behind-the-scenes information! That’s exactly the kind of peek behind the curtain that us uni-watchers (in theory, at least) crave and love.
2. The responses to Rick’s comment are a perfect example of the comm-uni-ty at its absolute worst – just completely childish behavior. We all love our hobbies, but if your distaste for a uniform design is so important to you that you feel the need to trash someone associated with it on a personal level, the hobby would be better off without you. Grow up.
I was a kid when these came out – maybe the perfect age, because this immediately seemed like the “coolest” uniform in the entire league, only the first Titans uniform, and the late-90s University of Miami uniforms coming close. I wasn’t even a Broncos fan and I’d have killed for a replica uniform – they looked so sharp.
Unlike a lot of “cool” designs from back then, like, say, the original Raptors uniforms, these never looked particularly dated either. Sure, they’re recognizably 90s uniforms, but it’s not like the Bengals or Cards redesigns which started to look past it less than five years after these were introduced.
As a 6 year old I loved these uniforms. I can see why people don’t like them now however.