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Should the NFL Scrap Its ‘Alternate’ Helmet Usage Rules?

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[Editor’s Note: Paul is on his annual August break from site (although he’s still writing his weekly Substack column). Deputy editor Phil Hecken is in charge from now through the end of the month.]

Good morning!

With the word this week that the Cincinnati Bengals had petitioned the NFL to alter their alternate helmet/jersey rules, and then announcing they would be wearing their white (alternate) tiger stripe helmets with their primary white jersey, somewhat effectively mooting current alternate helmet usage rules, is it time the NFL actually does just that?

From the moment the NFL announced it was rescinding the “one shell rule” last year, it’s been somewhat confusing as to how and when teams can wear their alternate helmets, and with what uniform they are permitted to do so. Basically, it came down to this: a team can wear an alternate helmet with (1) an alternate jersey; (2) a color rush (CR) uniform; or (3) a “classic” (throwback) uniform. And strictly speaking, that is what all teams did last season. Since teams can also only wear their alt/CR/throwback (or any combination thereof) a maximum of three times, the alternate helmet was also restricted to being worn three times per season.

The way I’m understanding what the Bengals are attempting to do is not to request a rules change per se: while they did petition the NFL to wear their white helmets with what is their primary white (usually worn on the road) jersey, they apparently didn’t request an exemption to the current alternate helmet usage rules. What it appears they have done is to eliminate their current CR uniform (with which they paired their white helmets last season), and redesignated their primary white to also have alternate (CR) status — similar to what the Carolina Panthers did last season.

The above photos are both from the 2022 season (and confirmed by the GUD). You’ll note both uniforms are identical save for the helmet. Carolina played somewhat fast and loose with the alternate helmet rule, as the black jersey is both their primary jersey, AND a part of their CR uniform. So they were able to wear their black helmet a maximum of three times, and it had to be paired with the mono-black (CR) uniform. If you look at that graphic from the GUD, you’ll see they also wore their black jersey (and silver helmet) with their white and silver-gray pants. As it turns out, they only wore their black helmet one time — they wore their regular silver helmets for the remaining 16 games. But they wore both a silver and black alternate helmet with the same exact uniform one time each. Obviously that’s “within” the rules, but still…

So it’s my understanding that the Bengals are seeking to do basically the same thing, although I believe in this case they’re seeking to ditch their former CR uniform, and to designate their white primary as part of their new CR uniform.

Just yesterday, the Bengals announced they’ll wear their white alternate helmets with their white jerseys for two Monday Night games this season. Apparently this is because they’ve been able to “ditch” their old CR uniform (above right) and will be creating a “new” CR uniform (left) going forward. If they wear the white helmet no more than three times (which seems to be the case), they’ll still be adhering to the current alternate helmet use rules.

One other team played a bit fast and loose with the alt helmet rule last season: the Dallas Cowboys. Only they did it in a different way.

As you are aware, last year the Cowboys added a white alternate helmet to their current silver lid, which they used two times and with two different uniforms: on the left is their 1963 classic (throwback), and on the right is a new “Icy White” CR uniform. While the shells are the same, the Cowboys applied different decals and stripes for use with different uniforms. Again, not in violation (worn three or less times, paired with Alt/CR/Throwback) of the rules, but definitely bending them a bit.

All of which leads me to this: alternate helmets were originally prohibited (following the 2012 season) for safety reasons. With those concern$$$ clearly assuaged now, the alternate helmet use returned last season, but contained the above-mentioned stipulations. But two teams (last year) and now the Bengals have all gone to great lengths to find workarounds for wearing their alt hats. If the problem with the alt helmet use in the past was safety concerns, but those concerns have now apparently been satisfactorily resolved, does it still make sense to limit teams to wearing them a maximum of three times a season, or to be restricted to wearing them only with an alternate, CR or classic uniform?

More than half the teams in the the league now have alternate helmets. For those pairing them with throwbacks, that makes perfect sense and in most cases it would look silly/stupid for teams to pair those shells with either of their current primary home/away uniforms (although it might be interesting to see say, a white Buccaneers helmet or a Flying Elvis on a white shell). But for those alternate helmets which have been introduced that are not for use with throwbacks, would it really hurt the NFL’s brand if those were permitted to be worn with a team’s primary uniform? Would you like to see the Saints black alternate helmet worn with their black jerseys? Their current all-black uniform with gold helmet looks ridiculous, so pairing that with a black helmet couldn’t hurt.

What about the Bears wearing their new orange hat with their navy jerseys and white pants? How about the Texans pairing their new red helmet with their blue jerseys? Some of the possibilities are actually intriguing — and the NFL could still limit alternate helmet use to three times per season…just without the current restriction to an alt/CR/throwback.

Or would that be opening a proverbial “Pandora’s Box” — does anyone really want to see, for example, the Jets pair their black alternate helmet with any uniform with their green jerseys? Or the Colts new black helmet with any jersey at all? As it stands now, the Lions must pair their new blue helmet with their gadawful gray CR uniform — but how good might that look if paired with their blue or white jersey?

Obviously the possibilities are endless if the alt helmet use rule were amended to permit teams to pair those helmets with primary uniforms. But we’re already seeing teams playing fast and loose, so why not go all the way?

Already we’re hearing rumblings from the Bills that they’d like to introduce a red alternate helmet for 2024. If they were to do so, under current rules, they’d need to pair a red helmet with either their red CR uniform or introduce a throwback — but they couldn’t pair it with either their white or blue primary uniforms.

What do you guys think? Are the rules currently in place (three times max, must be worn with CR/alt/throwback) sufficient? If they remain in place, will more teams go the Cowboys/Panthers/Bengals route to stay within the rules, but not the spirit? Or should the NFL just say, “you can wear your alt helmet with any uniform”? And if so, should they at least keep the alternate helmet wearing to a maximum of three times a season, as the rule currently states?

The “floor” is all yours…



Guess the Game from the Scoreboard

Guess The Game…

…From The Scoreboard

Today’s scoreboard comes from Jack Hewitt.

The premise of the game (GTGFTS) is simple: I’ll post a scoreboard and you guys simply identify the game depicted. In the past, I don’t know if I’ve ever completely stumped you (some are easier than others).

Here’s the Scoreboard. In the comments below, try to identify the game (date & location, as well as final score). If anything noteworthy occurred during the game, please add that in (and if you were AT the game, well bonus points for you!):

Please continue sending these in! You’re welcome to send me any scoreboard photos (with answers please), and I’ll keep running them.



Guess the Game from the Uniform

Based on the suggestion of long-time reader/contributor Jimmy Corcoran, we’ve introduced a new “game” on Uni Watch, which is similar to the popular “Guess the Game from the Scoreboard” (GTGFTS), only this one asked readers to identify the game based on the uniforms worn by teams.

Like GTGFTS, readers will be asked to guess the date, location and final score of the game from the clues provided in the photo. Sometimes the game should be somewhat easy to ascertain, while in other instances, it might be quite difficult. There will usually be a visual clue (something odd or unique to one or both of the uniforms) that will make a positive identification of one and only one game possible. Other times, there may be something significant about the game in question, like the last time a particular uniform was ever worn (one of Jimmy’s original suggestions). It’s up to YOU to figure out the game and date.

Today’s GTGFTU comes from Chris Hickey.

Good luck and please post your guess/answer in the comments below.



Uni Tweet of the Day

Just so much to love about this photo…


And finally...

…that’s all for the morning. I’ll have an additional post this morning, then I will be on the road for a chunk of the day beginning in the early afternoon — but if there is early (or late) breaking uni news I’ll try to get to that ASAP, so do check back in!

Everyone have a great Thursday.



Comments (50)

    The Texans have such a clean, nice look (makes me wonder why oilers die-hards can’t get over it, especially when, in terms of unis, the Texans are having the last laugh. The titans do and have always looked bad, while the Texans have always looked great). And I see no reason why they should be told they can’t wear red/white/blue or blue/white/red when both of those would be beautiful options and not at all – I don’t know – non-traditional, or whatever it is the NFL claims to be afraid of.

    Completely agree with your assessment of the Texans uniforms!
    It’s a shame they feel the urge to change their look.

    Support for the Texans’ uniforms seems to be an unpopular opinion on this site, but I agree with you both. I think it’s a modern classic.

    The Texans are a modern classic that aged well. Mixing and matching red, white and navy would work well in most cases. The Chargers are another modern classic, and the Jags have finally found their way out of the wilderness, although a little more gold would serve them well.

    I’ve always wondered how this would look with the CR jersey since it has red numbers, theoretically tying in better than the primary blue

    I think that, in this day and age, the idea that such a thing could be “diluting the teams’ brand identities” is obsolete. So I say go for it!

    I may have reached the point where as long as it looks good to me, any combo is OK.
    Whatever. Whenever.
    I will still hate the Bengals white and Bears orange, will still love the Cowboys OEM/Icy’s – and would be curious to see how the good/stupid the throwback Falcons red with modern decals would pair with their standard uniforms…ditto for the Seahawks silvers.

    As an outsider, I think the degree to which the NFL regulates what uniforms and combinations can we worn is ridiculous. Why can’t the teams choose for themselves? Do the “brands” that are supposedly being protected belong to the teams or the league?

    I’m not one to ridicule individual players for how they choose to wear their uniforms, as I prefer to see them to express themselves as they wish. But the way I see it, the sloppy and otherwise non-traditional ways players wear their uniforms these days, coupled with the league-wide sock fiasco, is surely more damaging to the NFL’s brand as a whole…no?

    I agree with you and I would not walk on your lawn, that would be disrespectful of your very nice and mature lawn, just as you would probably stay off of mine.

    GTGFTS: Braves at Phillies, May 15, 1956, Connie Mack Stadium. The Phils tagged Lew Burdette for three runs late and won the game 3-1 behind a complete game by Stu Miller, who scattered six hits and three walks but only the one run. I’m not sure what if anything was notable about the game, though…

    I don’t understand the safety reasoning. I’m coming from hockey so don’t know much about football. But helmets degrade over time. I imagine helmets are replaced each season? So with 17 games. You wear 1 helmet 14 times and the other 3. Wouldn’t that mean that the primary helmet is weakened over the season? Wouldn’t it be better if there were 2 helmets worn equally?

    The safety aspect has to be a legal thing but I have no idea. There are players such as Hasson Reddick, with Eagles, who changed his helmet mid-game numerous times last season. He would often start in an Axiom and finish the game in a Speedflex.

    Travis Etienne, RB for the Jaguars, D’andre Swift (when with the Lions) have both worn multiple helmets during the season, going from Schutt, to Riddell, back to Schutt and then Riddell again.

    There’s just no way players only wear 1 helmet per season. Then there’s the NCAA argument. Shouldn’t NCAA players have stricter rules? Some of these teams have 4+ helmets throughout the season.

    It’s a silly NFL rule that’s even sillier with the must be worn with certain uniform aspect. The NFL loves rules and loves inconsistency with them. Just look at how they handle suspensions for gambling vs abuse/DUI etc.

    The argument of the one-shell rule, as I understand it, was not regarding players’ individual choices, but teams not being able to force players to change helmets because of lack of spares for certain players’ preferred, grandfathered-in models that did not have padding that could be swapped into the newer models. Since the player still has to practice in the helmet, if no spares were available (or worse, the padding wasn’t swappable in the first place), then the team couldn’t get it repainted and ready in time for the game. The main concern, then, was that when a player had to switch models because the team was wearing an alternate color, the league was concerned that the player could suffer an injury in a helmet they were not used to, and they decided to take the decision away from the teams so that they wouldn’t be liable. That became moot when the grandfather clause was removed and the older models were abolished.

    Given the amount of turnover inherent in college football, players in these prominent programs are going to be equipped with current helmet models anyway, so with the swappable padding, multiple shells aren’t an issue.

    Obviously, if a player chooses himself to change models, that’s all on the player, not the league.

    Beat me to it; your post posted while I was still typing mine. Your explanation is better than mine.

    If I’m remembering correctly the NFL 1-shell safety rule came out of the concussion lawsuit settlement. It had a lot to do with the NFL’s old helmet rules that allowed veteran players to continue to wear outdated and discontinued helmet models years after they were dropped by the manufacturers (Riddell, Schutt and anyone else). Think about Tom Brady wearing a Riddell VSR-4 with the original 1990s-style softer padding for example. The rule was so that a player didn’t have to wear a drastically different helmet model as part of an alternate/throwback uniform. Those old helmet rules were finally ended as of 2019; now players must wear helmets that are at least still supported by their manufacturer is the one-shell rule was finally lifted.

    No comment about how reasonable or unreasonable that “logic” was at the time; it always seemed kind of a knee-jerk reaction to me, and that the league was being counter-intuitive in not just mandating players move on to more modern (and supposedly safer) designs.

    Oh my god. Make it stop. Pick a uniform (and helmet). Make it your home uniform. Repeat step. Make that one your road uniform. Go play.

    On one hand I say free for all, on the other hand I firmly believe in a one design (not 1 helmet, players should be able to switch models as much as they like, as long as they are in the same design) rule as I still think the helmet is part of the NFL team logo set. More than with hockey, more than with baseball hats. College football is already a free for all and that fits the spirit of that game. But NFL helmets are really much more of a team logo so why change it so often during a 17 game regular season? I would allow a throwback design on a special occasion (so many years in existence or a SB win so many years ago) but that is it. As for uniforms I advocate a free for all, but not for helmets. One helmet will do.

    The NFL, apparently, taking cues from the University of Oregon. Or your average minor-league baseball team, wearing a different uniform every day.

    I still think the “real” reason for the one-shell rule was for quarterbacks, so that they knew they would be throwing to the same color of helmet (more or less) every week.

    A helmet is part of a uniform – *both* need to be designed to go together. It’s the unregulated mix-and-match of helmet and uniform that is the problem here. I think it can be solved by doing:

    + One Primary Helmet to be worn with home and road uniforms only
    + One Throwback helmet to be worn with a throwback uniform only
    + One Alternate helmet to be worn with an alternate uniform only
    + Throwback and alternate uniforms to be worn a total of no more than 3 times a year.
    + 5 year rule only applies to primary uniforms
    + Throwback and alt uniforms may be changed once year
    + No mixing and matching (unless like the Raiders or Chiefs you have the same helmet for everything)

    That would keep the integrity of the brand by keeping the primary uniforms clean. It would also allow for plenty of new merch to keep the league etc happy but we would only have to see it three times a year.

    I think having a helmet that specifically goes with each uniform would be absolutely fine. The CFL has teams with distinct home and away helmet designs. Home/away/alt/throwback. Why not?

    Some teams it would work great. Some teams would do terrible things with it. But that’s no different than the freedom teams have with the rest of the uniform pieces.

    Then again I’m of the opinion that getting rid of helmets altogether and teaching players to tackle, like rugby, would result in a safer and no-less entertaining sport.

    Rules for Rules Sake

    Wearing alternate gear, wearing different uniform combinations, does nothing to hurt the merchandising of each team, however, what it does is keeps the uniforms static, and therefore more likely to be changed up by Nike after 5 years.

    There is no logical reason that most teams couldn’t have 2-3 helmets, that can be paired with 3-4 jerseys and 3-4 pants. It makes zero sense to try and keep the integrity of the classic home or away uniform, when every time an NFL broadcast shows a graphic or clip of a player they go out of their way to show him in an alternate or a throwback. (If you haven’t noticed that yet, pay attention this season)

    Interesting point: in order to avoid having Nike mess up classic uniforms after 5 years if they stay the same we allow or even encourage them to bring out lots of alternates. It is like being held hostage by the swoosh. Buy our alternates or we will mess up your standard uniforms after 5 years.
    I agree, the media love to depict players in throwback or alternate uniforms. The subliminal message is: out with the old, in with the new. Next time you will buy a Bears jersey make sure it is the orange one. The classic navy one is the one your grumpy dad or crusty granddad wears.

    By the way, that Gil Hodges picture is very good. I guess he could do the same with 2 basketballs.

    Let the teams wear what they want with any combination. If the NFL wants “brand consistency” then I guess limit the number of times a combo can be worn, but I’d prefer a cap of 5 times instead of 3. That’s still less than a third of the games.

    I wouldn’t want the NFL to go all “Oregon Ducks” on us, but if they limit the alts to a few times a year, let them mix and match however they want during those games.

    I’m fine with alternate helmets being worn with standard jerseys, although doing so should count as a use to the alternate uniform limit.

    I am in favor of any rule that prevents the Chicago Bears from wearing their orange helmets,


    May 4, 2008, Rangers (wearing Senators throwbacks) at Athletics (wearing 1968? throwbacks)

    That’s correct!
    As I wrote to Phil when this was submitted, Kurt Suzuki was the last Athletic…or is it Athlete?…to wear Rickey Henderson’s #24 before it was retired the following season.
    I think this is the last time the Rangers threw back to their DC roots (they did so in 2002 as well…again versus the A’s).

    The NFL should scratch ALL rules.

    Land mines on the field.

    Cheerleaders are eligible receivers.

    Wear cleats on your hands and gloves on your feet.

    I literally bought Madden to play with various uniform combos and mix it up since the NFL seems to go mono v mono as much as possible in real life.

    I’d love to see this as a result, but know that even more dumb combos will come of it too.

    I think teams should be able to wear their throwback and/or alternate uniform a total of 3 times and their alternate helmet shell (with whatever graphics they choose) a total of 3 times, but they do not need to be done so together. For example, let’s say the Patriots wore their throwbacks twice, they could then have another game where they wear the white shells with the Flying Elvis logos and the normal uniforms if they wanted.

    (Also, I’ve always used “Brian” as my comment name here, but since there seems to be a few just “Brian” commenters lately, I’m going to start using Brian D.)

    I’d like to see it where they have pre-designated options. I’ll use Carolina as an example:

    At home:
    If wearing Black jersey and silver pants, they must wear the silver helmet.
    If wearing Black jersey and black pants they must wear black helmet.
    If wearing White jersey and either white or silver pants they must wear silver helmet
    If wearing White jersey and black pants they must wear black helmet
    If wearing Blue Jersey and silver pants they must wear silver jersey
    If wearing Blue Jersey and black pants they must wear black helmet.

    You can copy and paste for the road or make changes but it designates one helmet for each jersey and pant combo and prevents unlimited mix and matching.

    So, basically you always want the helmet and pants color to match.

    With the one exception of when they go white over white. What about other combos with white pants (if they did so)?

    This Chris might not mind seeing the Panthers go alt helmet over white jersey/pants and black socks.

    Ideally I would only have a primary home/away uniform and maybe one alternate. Once we go beyond that, it seems silly and impractical to have conditions on the number of helmets and uniform combinations. I feel the same about the NBA uniforms and 4+1 MLB Rule. These rules are not strictly enforced and there can be exceptions, so it seems nonsensical to keep them.

    Have as many jerseys/pants/helmets/socks as you want. But before the season each team has to designate a max of 4 combos of the above components and can only choose between those combos. That allows plenty of flexibility for teams to do a couple different things with their uniforms as they see fit, but doesn’t go down the Oregon different uniform for every game route, and should make it so branding stays more consistent per the league office’s concern.

    I think the lions new alternate helmet would look real nice with the white jersey paired with any of the three blue, grey or white pants

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