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Let’s Talk About NFL TV Numbers

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It is probably not a surprise to hear me say that I like the Green Bay Packers’ uniform. Classic logo, classic striping, and of course I love the color scheme. But there’s one thing that’s been bugging me for years, and the start of the football season has once again brought it to the front of my brainpan: The TV numbers are too freakin’ big.

Does it ruin the entire uniform? No. But does it inject a seriously discordant note into an otherwise pleasing visual symphony? Definitely. The numbers’ outsized proportions seem pretty obvious. Why can’t they make them just a smidge smaller?

That got me thinking about the current state of NFL TV numbers, which is what I’d like to talk about today. Let’s start with this: Twenty-three NFL teams currently wear TV numbers on the shoulders: the Bears, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers, Giants, Jaguars, Jets, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Titans, Vikings, and Kansas City. You can see examples of their TV numbers here (I’m just doing one jersey per team, but the shoulder style applies to all of their non-throwback and non-Color Rush jerseys):

Most of those look fine, except for the Packers (too big) and the Panthers (too small).

NFL sleeves have been getting shorter and shorter for years, so it’s no surprise that only three teams — the Colts, Raiders, and Texans — currently wear sleeve numbers (which means last Week 2’s Colts/Texans game was the rare matchup of sleeve-numbered teams):

The shoulder stripes plus the Nike maker’s mark result in the Colts’ and Texans’ numbers being too small. The Raiders look fine.

Four teams currently do not wear TV numbers on their jerseys: the Bengals, Chargers (although they do have numbers on their helmets), Commanders, and Patriots. Here are their jerseys:

The lack of numbers seems fine on the Bengals and Commies. I’d like the Chargers’ situation better if the shoulder bolts were moved inward a bit, closer to the shoulder seam. The Pats get the stripe positioning right, but their stripes are too wide, so the lack of TV numbers feels more like a bug than a feature.

Finally, there are two teams that take inconsistent approaches. One is the Rams, who wear sleeve numbers on their dishwater jersey but do not have TV numbers on their blue and white jerseys:


The Cardinals, similarly, have shoulder numbers on their red jersey but no TV numbers on their white and black jerseys.

I think it’s fair to say that both of these teams have bigger aesthetic issues to worry about than their TV number inconsistencies.

Having compiled all of this, I have a few thoughts:

  • I knew there were more shoulder-numberers than sleeve numberers. But it’s kind of amazing that we’ve now hit the point where the sleeve-numberers are outnumbered by the no-numberers.
  • I kinda miss sleeve numbers, but that’s probably because I just miss football sleeves.
  • Speaking of which: Do you know which team was the first to move its TV numbers from the sleeves to the shoulders? I didn’t, so I looked it up. According to the Gridiron Uniform Database, the first such team was the 1964 Cowboys. That was the year they began wearing the design that they still have, more or less, today. The Cowboys then moved their TV numbers to the sleeves in 1970 (there were two other shoulder-numbered teams by then — the Saints and Oilers) and then moved them back to the shoulders in 1974 (by which time the Oilers had moved their numbers to the sleeves, but the Saints were still shoulder-numbered and the Eagles had also gone that route).
  • You probably know this already, but just in case: The Bengals had no TV numbers for the first 12 years of their existence — 1968 through 1979. They then added them in 1980 and included them as part of their 1981 tiger-striped redesign.
  • The big question: Are TV numbers still necessary? Spotters supposedly rely on them, but I don’t notice any of them complaining about the growing numbers of teams that don’t wear them. Personally, I like TV numbers, because they just feel like football, but maybe they’re more trouble than they’re worth, especially in an era of ever-shrinking sleeves and ever-shifting seam patterns.

What do you folks think?


One Last Substack Reminder

In case you missed it on Wednesday: For this week’s Uni Watch Premium article over on Substack, I’ve taken a close look at “What if?” uniforms, most of which involve prototype designs that were produced (and, in some cases, officially unveiled, like the 49ers’ infamous 1991 helmet) but, for various reasons, never made it onto the field, ice or court. Each one represents an intriguing road not taken, and in this article I’ve covered well over a dozen examples spread across the Big Four pro leagues. Even if you know a lot of about prototype designs, I’m pretty sure there will be at least a couple of examples here that you haven’t seen before!

You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber to my Substack (which will also allow you to access my Substack archives). And this is a particularly good time to subscribe, because the annual NHL and NBA Season Previews are both coming up in the next few weeks.

My thanks, as always, for your support and consideration.



Brooksie Update

As expected, the stand-alone “5” that the Orioles wore for Brooks Robinson on Wednesday night was replaced last night by a more conventional memorial patch. They’ll continue to wear it in the postseason (and, I suspect, next year as well).



Can of the Day

True fact: EVs don’t need motor oil. Hmmmm.

Comments (58)

    The more information, the better. TV numbers are occasionally useful for identifying who a player is in a photo or in some TV shots.

    What Jerry said. Keep the TV numbers. If it helps identify a player who might be injured or helps more quickly identify who had the carry or who had the tackle, keep that element in play. Though, admittedly, these are the musings of someone who has worked in media.

    (Also, can we get the Panthers back to more standard TV numbers? I saw a replay of their last Super Bowl. The difference in TV numbers and shoulder striping since is jarring.)

    Back in 2015-16 the Panthers were still wearing their Reebok template uniforms. The TV numbers got comically small when they finally switched to the Nike template in 2019.

    I subscribe to the argument that TV numbers “feel like football”, and the uniforms look somehow incomplete without them. As far as size, I like the larger numbers. Give me 1990s Ohio State shoulder numbers. What the Panthers wear now are almost comically small, like the NFL declared there must be numbers and their response was to make them barely big enough to exist.

    This is exactly what I came here to say. Eddie George’s TV numbers were probably 6″ tall. *That* feels like football.

    Front and back numbers used to be bigger, too, and I like that. I think K-State is really the only one left where two-digit numbers take up the whole front of the jersey.

    But ultimately, sleeve stripes are what really matters.

    I would like to see the Orioles continue with the stand-alone “5” on their black jersey and the patch on the white, orange, and gray jersey. I do wonder what will be on their CC.

    TV numbers arose from a request from the National Photographers Association for more numbers on player uniforms. Georgia Tech was the first to add them in 1955. Some conferences mandated them on the sides of helmets unless teams already had them on the shoulders or sleeves, so in the late 1950s and early 1960s, nearly every college team had them.

    I can’t find a good link to it (maybe you fine people can help me out), but I remember for a while Jermichael Finley had much smaller TV numbers than the rest of the Packers. It looked weird, but maybe just in comparison to the rest of the team.

    Here he is with the small shoulder numbers, while his teammate ((Donald Driver?) in the background is wearing the large ones.


    Ahh I remember those. Reebok had an alternate template towards the end of their run that used a “super-stretchy” material and a tighter cut that included smaller TV numbers. I remember that this template further truncated the Colts shoulder stripes so they looked more like epaulets.

    This fabric and cut became the primary cut for the adidas NCAA uniforms at that time, but I don’t remember if it was first used under the Reebok name in the NFL or under adidas name in college football. The current adidas college football uniform template evolved from these.

    Fun fact about the Bengals 1980 TV numbers- they had the team seamstress sew tackle twill numbers on their existing jerseys which had printed on numbers. Some of the numbers looked like they were cut freehand instead of being pre-cut.

    I always kind of assumed that the NFL was going to start fining the team for not having the TV numbers, and since they had the change in the works for 1981 they added these quick and dirty numbers for 1980 instead of ordering new jerseys for just one season. Paul Brown was notoriously cheap.

    Just waiting for them to replace TV numbers with QR codes so you can scan them on your phone and go straight to a profile page or a fantasy football page etc and so on…

    Or until they aren’t called TV numbers because people are not watching using TVs any more…

    Give it time and each player will have a mini projector built into their uniform to display a floating marker over their head like a video game.

    “Or until they aren’t called TV numbers because people are not watching using TVs any more…”

    I hate the name “TV numbers” for that reason even now. Call them by where they are: “sleeve numbers” or “shoulder numbers”, like you do with the elements on the “front” and “back”. A name that is instantly comprehensible is preferable to jargon that requires some extra knowledge (“numbers [that are designed to be seen on] TV [because of its camera angle]”). Names on the backs of jerseys were designed for TV broadcasts, but we don’t call those “TV names”, do we?

    I’ve been lamenting this since the recent trend started, the lack of TV numbers make the jerseys look like cheap knockoffs. And the reasoning for getting rid of them seems like it comes from three things, all rooted in Nike policy:
    1) Nike emphasizing the size, color, and location of their mark of the devil to be highly noticeable. Even regardless of TV numbers. Just look at the current Dolphins jersey for example, the swoosh is more noticeable than the actual team logo on the sleeve.
    2) Jersey design templates. Yes part of this is to make uniforms as tight as possible for performance reasons, but when you are a billion dollar company you can figure out how to execute both function and fashion. UCLA stripes being the perfect example. They could make those stripes correctly, but are lazy and just truncate them. This unwillingness to think a little harder on how to best adjust the decrease in jersey space leads to them simply ditch the TV numbers.
    3) The need for unnecessarily excessive designs. Be it the Rams, Bengals, Pats, or Commies, the sleeves/shoulders are a bit over designed. Simple stripe patterns or logos look and work best. It is no wonder that ditching those design concepts leads to the need to compromise on the presence of other uniform elements, like TV numbers. Nike’s need to do something new for the sake of new creates a lot of these unnecessary deviations from uniform convention.
    There is no reason for getting rid of TV numbers other than Nike has other priorities and the NFL seems to have decided to bow to what Nike wanted, which is odd since Nike works for the NFL and should be meeting the NFL uniform standards, which of course had always included TV numbers.

    “Nike emphasizing the size, color, and location of their mark of the devil to be highly noticeable. Even regardless of TV numbers. Just look at the current Dolphins jersey for example, the swoosh is more noticeable than the actual team logo on the sleeve.”

    You can blame swooshie for a LOT of things, but the location of the maker’s mark ain’t one of them. Ever since mm’s have been allowed on jerseys, they’ve basically always been in this location (and that even predates Rbk’s league-wide contract in 2001). I’m sure, if they had their druthers, the’d LOVE to put the MM on the front of the jersey, as it is in college.

    Speaking of which, while I wish there were no mm’s at all, putting it on the front of the jersey actually BENEFITS sleeve designs and TV numbers.

    A perfect example is Iowa and Pittsburgh (Steelers). With the mm on the chest, the full sleeve striping treatment works well:


    With the mm on the sleeve, it forces the stripes lower and results in an incomplete set of stripes:


    I’d prefer mm below the back collar but we know that won’t happen.
    I have to disagree though, while MM have been on the sleeves long before Nike took over, if you look at their recent redesigns the actual designs are based around the MM being there, which is to say they seem to be considering the swoosh on the sleeves as part of the uniform design itself when they are creating new uniforms. As opposed to designing the uniforms and squeezing the MM in there. Rams, Chargers, and Bengals being the perfect example. If the MM didn’t have to be so heavily featured they could put numbers there. I mean the Rams’ uniforms practically spotlight the swoosh like it is a team logo, as do the Seahawks. And other uniforms, I’ll use the Dolphins as an example again, make sure the MM is in a highly visible contrasting color. It is intentionally orange on the Dolphins uniform to stand out, rather than being rendered in teal/aqua. The same with the Bengals; black jersey with orange tiger stripes, the MM is white so you can’t unsee it.
    It is fairly obvious a lot of the new Nike made designs prioritize the placement of their MM within the design so it will stand out, it is no coincidence that at the same time TV numbers got abandoned because there isn’t enough room anymore.

    I don’t disagree that swooshie is definitely designing new NFL kits with the placement of the swoosh in mind. I believe Paul first pointed this out in 2012, when the first new design under Nike was the Seahawks — and it seemed as though they purposely designed the shoulder cap pattern to host the swoosh.


    From that article: That little triangular-ish shape on the shoulder was clearly designed specifically to house the swoosh. Just as we came up with the term “Ree-box” for the annoying logo creep formatting on NHL jerseys, we need to come up with a name for this. The floor is open to suggestions.

    I don’t think we ever came up with a name for it, but maybe, 11 years later, it’s time.

    But regardless, moving the placement from the shoulder caps to the front of the jersey — as noxious as that would be — is clearly the better alternative to what we have now (see my Iowa/Steelers as a perfect example).

    I’ve always been a fan of sleeve numbers. My all-time favorite, of course, is the 1963-77/1998-2018 Jets treatment, where the sleeve numbers are the inverse of the front/back numbers; it’s a unique look and the Jets own it. (The 1965-66 Broncos did something similar, which I’ve also always liked.) I will continue to hold out hope for its return….

    Ordinarily I don’t have an issue with shoulder numbers, and I was fine with teams like the Chiefs, Bears, 49ers, &c. moving them up there so they can keep their iconic horizontal stripes on the “sleeves” of modern sleeveless jerseys. One thing I really didn’t like, though, was in the mid-’90s when teams like the Bengals and Vikings who had shoulder loops on their jerseys (in the Vikings’ case, only on the whites) moved the TV numbers to the shoulders and put logos on the sleeves. If the jersey has shoulder loops then the numbers should go below the loop, not above it, in my view; the Colts and Texans, thankfully, still get this right, and I think the Panthers are the only remaining example of numbers-on-the-shoulders-and-logos-on-the-sleeves with a shoulder loop dividing them. Yet somehow I’m fine with the numbers-on-the-shoulders-and-logos-on-the-sleeves without shoulder loops (e.g., Eagles, Ravens, Saints). Go figure.

    I also think the Giants should move the TV numbers on their blue jerseys from the shoulders to the sleeves, since (like the Raiders) there’s nothing else there; those jerseys have never looked good. The whites, with the Northwestern stripes on the sleeves, can stay the way they are.

    TV numbers on NFL unis have steadily gotten less real estate with the ever-shrinking jersey and sleeves over the years.

    A couple years ago, Jimmer Vilk & I *tried* to address the situation.

    NFC: link

    AFC: link

    I seem to remember the Packers shrinking the TV numbers at some point (maybe just on some players’ jerseys) and it made them look like cheap consumer knock offs, so they went back to the big ones. Am I imagining that?

    I like the Pack’s large TV numbers. Just feels like the Packers. Gold lid, green & white stripes, oval G & big numbers.

    I make cheap knockoff jersey shirts and hoodies. Mine have TV numbers and no makers marks.

    Ah, you meant team logos, Chris.
    Yeah, you have a point there.
    Wordmarks make them look college-y.

    This team-by-team breakdown got me thinking about what it is for CFL teams for pro football north of the border with the New Era jerseys. An interesting breakdown.

    4 teams with no TV numbers.
    3 teams with TV numbers on shoulders.
    2 teams with TV numbers on sleeves.

    “The TV numbers are too freakin’ big.”

    Bite your tongue!

    Unless the shoulders or sleeves are too freakin’ big, the numbers are fine.

    Everyone else should aspire to have TV numbers like Green Bay. I’d rather have smaller striping than smaller numbers.

    I love TV numbers, especially on the shoulders. I look at jerseys like Stanford’s, for example, and think that simply adding TV numbers would improve the look tremendously. Their color scheme is too good to be that plain. I actually had to get my yearbook and see if we had TV numbers in high school. We didn’t, but then again, we were never on TV. We did have real sleeves, though. With stripes. That was a looooong time ago.

    Shrinking shoulder pads have reduced the real estate on the sleeves, which had already taken a hit by the players’ tightening of the material around the armholes. A crowded circumstance in Green Bay is worsened by the elaborate collar trim. Non-throwback jerseys with the best-looking TV numbers are the Raiders, Steelers and Bears. Something has to go on the Panthers’ jersey; I’d delete the team sleeve emblems, which have always looked superfluous going all the way back to the CFL in the 1970s.

    Part of the issue with shoulder numbers looking large on the Packers is not just that the jersey’s are smaller/tighter, but the pads are as well. There used to be a lot more flat real estate to cover in the 80’s/90’s that just doesn’t exist today.

    As much as I like sleeve/shoulder stripes on football jersey’s it’s just time to admit that they don’t work anymore with the modern layouts. It’s one of the reasons I grew to like the link(prior to the current redesign) and the link current version (not a fan of the mono, but enjoy the grey pants looks).

    I’m in favor of trying new designs around the shoulders to try and recognize the change in the sleeve situation and accommodate it.

    Not sure why the ‘link’ text covered up the actual text, but I was mentioning the Titans and the Seahawks jersey’s.


    Yeah, when the blog redesigned a year ago, you can no longer use html coding. Every link, no matter what you try to do to it, will show up as link and any text you try to include in the tags will not show up.

    Growing up I always saw TV numbers as the defining element between college and pro. All pro teams (except the Bengals who weren’t good and rarely on TV in my market) had them. 45 years later of course sleeve lengths have evolved to the point where it’s almost an either or in terms of a number or logo/stripe if the goal is to maintain some level of aesthetic integrity (see Panthers tiny numbers).

    Surprisingly I am ok with the evolution and think what the Bengals and Commanders have done looks just fine in terms of eliminating TV numbers. My biggest quibble is probably the Patriots – the sleeve logo is an unnecessary duplication of the helmet logo – for me numbers would work much better (thought it would also make them look rather Texans like).

    I am a public address announcer for a local college football team. I consider my most important job is to correctly identify players, especially at the amateur level where family may be attending. My two biggest peeves with many of today’s uniforms are the size, style an the lack of numbers. If numbers don’t matter that much, then don’t have them anywhere

    Thank you for your service Jeff!
    As a former play-by-play announcer and color analyst, I know your struggle.
    One time I applied to be the announcer for the Canton Invaders indoor soccer team. For my audition I was supposed to record myself calling one of their preseason exhibition games. I was given rosters for both teams, but neither wore their regular uniforms. Whatever they were wearing, they didn’t have numbers on them. I almost got up and left, but I stuck it out and called the game.

    It did not go well.

    If I called a game now, especially at the high school level, and a team came out with stealth numbers or something equally stupid, I’d be tempted to get up and leave again.

    Amen, brother. I called some high school football in Dallas and South Oak Cliff wore old gold numerals on white jerseys (circa 1983). Very difficult to spot. I feel your pain.

    Clearly the Packers are trying desperately to uphold the heritage of the Sand Knit font in this era of the disappearing sleeves. I say, stick with it! For more on that font and its TV numbers, I wrote a comprehensive history for Uni Watch during Paul’s August break a few years back.


    If there was one thing that Nike did “right” when they took over, was move the Bears TV numbers. The sleeve stripes had gotten so thin, the jerseys just didn’t look right. Now that the TV numbers have been moved, the stripes are much wider and look like the Bears again.

    But, in the 80’s, a LOT of the Bears didn’t have shoulder stripes due to them cutting the sleeves and using tape to bunch the jersey under their armpits for a tighter fit.

    To answer the Q about the first “shouldered” TV numbers: The 1956 Philadelphia Eagles, on their white jerseys only. They were very miniscule, however: link

    One thing that makes the Packers’ TV numbers look awkward (and kind of amateurish) is the ever-expanding width of the collar. The numbers looked fine with reasonably-sized stripes in the 1980s and early ’90s (link) but the current stripes look chunky and ridiculous. It might be time to go back to the Lombardi era, when there were no stripes on the collar.

    The question I have is this:

    If someone in the league decreed that sleeves must be brought back on football jerseys, who would really complain with cause?

    With so many players wearing tight-fitting undershirts anyway, why not create a jersey in a longer template but using that same tech fabric? More room for proper design … same streamlined performance.

    If players say they can’t perform as well while wearing so much fabric (which would make it easier to be tackled) then how in the world did the players of the past ever perform at all?


    Check the Eagles 1959 visiting jersey on Gridiron Uniform database. They beat the Cowboys for shoulder TV numbers by 5 years.

    TV numbers equal football. They should be part of every football uniform, be it on the shoulders or on the sleeves. Or in case of some teams also on the helmets.

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