Saints vs. Colts: Behind the threads
Uniform-wise, Super Bowl XLIV is a pretty straightforward proposition. The Colts (who'll be wearing their blue jerseys) and Saints (who'll be in white) both wear fairly traditional uni styles -- no crazy colors, no wacky design flourishes.
Sure, we could talk about the Colts' ever-shortening shoulder stripes or debate whether the stripes on the Saints' gold pants are too thick, but that's Uni Watch 101. Instead, let's take an in-depth look at some overlooked chapters from these teams' uniform histories. This is the Saints' first trip to the big dance, so we'll begin with them:
1. Saints of a Different Stripe: Everyone knows the center stripe on the Saints' helmet goes black-white-black. It's always been that way, even back in the Archie Manning days -- except for the last 12 games of the 1968 season, when they switched the striping to white-black-white. As you can see in that photo, some players got new pants to match the helmet stripes, but others stuck with the old pants. Of course, inconsistent pants striping was the least of the Saints' problems in those days.
2. Once You Go Black, You Can Go Back: The Saints have never worn a black helmet -- or have they? That shot is from the 1969 preseason, when team owner John Mecom Jr. tried to jazz things up with a new helmet design. Unfortunately, he neglected to get permission from the league office, which didn't look kindly upon unauthorized uniform changes. The black design was scrapped when the regular season started. (For further details and additional photos, look here.)
3. If the Shoe Fits ... : The most famous shoe in NFL history? It's gotta be this one, which was worn by stump-footed Saints kicker Tom Dempsey when he booted a league-record 63-yard field goal in 1970. Forty years later, Dempsey's kicking shoe has its own display in the Hall of Fame. (You can see video of Dempsey's kick here.)
4. Fool's Gold: The Saints' team colors are simple: black and gold. But which shade of gold are we talking about? If you look closely, you'll see that the Saints employ at least four different golds -- one each for the helmet, collar, numbers, and pants. And it's not just that photo, or a trick of the light. The more you look, the more you'll see that the golds don't match up. Not only that, but their original gold tone was more of a copper. All of which must be very confusing for these guys.
And they're not the only ones. "I have no idea why the Saints do it that way, and it drives me nuts," says Society for Sports Uniform Research founder Donovan Moore, the uni-verse's foremost authority on team colors. He confirmed that the Saints do indeed use a plethora of gold tones, as you can see in this little chart he worked up. For the record, Moore says he hasn't yet decided whether to watch Sunday's game on a black-and-white TV.
(Incidentally, is Uni Watch the only one who thinks the Saints looked better when their white jerseys had gold numbers, instead of the black numbers they use today? Just askin'.)
As for the Colts, Peyton Manning will be wearing essentially the same uniform design that Johnny U wore back in the day, but that's not to say the team hasn't made some tweaks along the way:
1. If the Horseshoe Fits ... : The Colts have worn their familiar horseshoe logo on the sides of their helmet for over half a century now. What you might not realize is that they used to wear the iconic equine hoofwear on the back of their helmet. It started in 1954, when the team wore blue helmets with white horseshoes on the back. Two seasons later, they kept the shoes on the back but reversed the color scheme. The season after that, 1957, they moved the horseshoes to the sides, where they've remained ever since.
2. Horses of a Different Color: Most people seem to have purged this from their memory banks, but the Colts went through an odd fascination with gray during the mid-1980s. It began in '82, when they ditched their usual white pants and switched to silver-gray knickers with horseshoe-framed uni numbers on the hips. And on the road, they added gray to their shoulder stripes, pants stripes and number outlining (the gray is hard to see in the pants striping, but it's there). Gray sock stripes, too.
It's bad enough to mess with a uniform as simple and near-perfect as the Colts', but of all the alterations you could make, why add gray? It's like the Irsays sat around one day and said, "You know the problem with our uniforms? They're not drab enough. Gotta do something about that." Anyway, the experiment had run its course by 1988, when the team went back to its standard blue-and-white color scheme.
3. Kind of Blue: Gray isn't the only non-white pants color the Colts have dabbled in. Back in 1995, they wore blue britches for three of their road games, remember? That's OK, neither does anyone else. Bonus points for the white belts!
4. Mismatched Mask Mix-Up: The Colts made several small uniform changes in 2004, including changing their face masks from blue to gray (there's that color again). But the giant helmet printed on the RCA Dome's 50-yard line still showed the blue mask, leaving the players in the unusual position of wearing a helmet that didn't match the one shown on their field -- possibly an NFL first. The turf was replaced the following year, at which point the face-mask color was updated, much to everyone's (or at least Uni Watch's) relief.
A few other notes worth considering:
• This year's Super Bowl jersey patches look really big, no?
• The Colts are 2-0 while wearing their white jerseys in the Super Bowl (SBs V, XLI), 0-1 in their blues (SB III).
• The last five Super Bowls have been won by the team wearing white: the Steelers, Giants, Colts, Steelers and Patriots. This is the longest white or color streak in Super Bowl history and has pushed the white jerseys to a 26-17 lead over the color jerseys in the all-time Super Bowl sweepstakes.
• Do you remember the late-1990s sitcom Smart Guy? Uni Watch doesn't, but that show apparently predicted the outcome of this year's Super Bowl way back in 1998. Here, see for yourself.
OK, so that last one had nothing to do with uniforms, but it's still pretty interesting. Enjoy the game, and remember not to go overboard with all the "Who Dat?" jokes.
Paul Lukas would give anything to see the teams wearing these caps on the sidelines on Sunday. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
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