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Monday, December 19, 2005
The Island of Misfit Unis

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

With the holiday season upon us, Uni Watch recently watched yet another screening of the classic Rudolph claymation special, which of course features the Island of Misfit Toys. But if you were watching the NFL this past weekend, you saw rare cameos by two misfits of a different sort: the Cowboys' blue jerseys, making their first and possibly only appearance of the season, and the Bills' blue-over-white combo, which took the field for the first time since 2002.

We'll get to the Bills later. For now Uni Watch wants to talk about Dallas, which has been wearing white at home since the franchise's early days, when GM Tex Schramm thought it would be cool to let the team's fans see the parade of opponents' colors, instead of blue-vs.-white week after week. And the Cowboys usually end up wearing white on the road too, since most other teams wear their colors at home. The only time the 'Boys are guaranteed to wear blue is when they make their annual visit to Washington, because the Redskins prefer to wear white at home too (we'll get to that in a minute). The result is that Dallas' blue jersey has become the most prominent resident on the Island of Misfit Unis -- an assortment of unloved uniform components that are quietly gathering dust in the back of their teams' lockers.

In addition to being a misfit, the Cowboys' blue jersey has near-legendary renown as a bad-luck charm. Some say this started in the early 1970s, when Dallas lost Super Bowl V while wearing blue and then won Super Bowl VI while wearing white. Others point to the 1981 NFC championship game, when the Eagles chose to wear white at home, thereby forcing the 'Boys to wear blue. Dallas lost, cementing the blue jersey's status as uni non grata.

The blue jersey's hex is why the Redskins started wearing white at home years ago. Even in 2002, when the 'Skins celebrated their 70th anniversary by wearing special burgundy throwbacks at home, they went back to wearing white when hosting Dallas in Week 17, just to make the Cowboys wear blue. Naturally, the Cowboys lost that one too.

Even more naturally, they also lost yesterday.

A less celebrated misfit: the Cowboys' silver pants. "Wait a minute," you're thinking, "the Cowboys' pants are always silver!" Well, yes -- sort of. For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, the Cowboys actually have two different sets of silver pants. The one that's worn with the white jerseys has a greenish-blue tint (officially called "silver-green") and royal blue piping, while the one that's worn with the blue jerseys -- in other words, almost never -- has a whiter sheen (officially plain old "silver") and navy blue piping. It's such a subtle distinction that many NFL fans aren't even aware of it, which just increases the misfit factor.

There are other misfit unis out there. But before listing them, let's establish some ground rules: First, throwbacks don't qualify, since they're only meant to be used on special occasions anyway. Same goes for NFL alternate jerseys, since they're only allowed to be worn twice a year. And let's also disqualify bizarre combinations, like the Patriots wearing blue-on-blue. That combo may be rare, but it's not a misfit; it's a misbegotten freak.

With those stipulations in place, here are the top-10 residents of the Island of Misfit Unis, along with Uni Watch's thoughts on whether they deserve to be rescued:

1. The Cowboys' blue jersey and silver pants. The classic misfit combo, saddled with bad karma and worn only when the team has no other choice.

Rescue-worthy? Karma, shmarma -- the best reason not to wear the blue jerseys is that the white outfit looks so much better. Leave 'em on the island, says Uni Watch.

2. The Redskins' burgundy jersey. Since the 'Skins wear white at home, their colored jersey has become a rarity (even more so this season, because the Cowboys wore blue throwbacks when hosting the 'Skins back in September, allowing Washington to wear white at Texas Stadium for the first time in ages). For years Washington's white pants were also saddled with misfit status, but no more -- the 'Skins have been going white-on-white in recent weeks. So now only the maroon shirt is marooned on the island.

Rescue-worthy? The colored jersey isn't bad, but white-over-burgundy has become the classic 'Skins look -- they should stick to that.

3. The Bills' and Seahawks' color-over-white combos. Most people no longer remember this, but when Buffalo and Seattle introduced their new uni designs in 2002, their home outfits were supposed to look like this and this. But a few weeks into that season, they both started going dark-on-dark, creating the league's two ugliest combos. Both teams have stuck with the putrid monochromatic look ever since, with two exceptions: Week 1 of this season, when the Seahawks finally decided to look like they played in the NFL instead of the Arena League, and this past Saturday, when the Bills gave their retina-weary home fans an early Christmas present.

Rescue-worthy? Send out the search parties already!

4. The Dolphins' aqua jersey and pants. Miami is yet another white-at-home team, so their colored jersey has been a longtime misfit. It's only been worn once this season, in Week 6. But in past years, the Fish often paired their white jerseys with aqua pants. Not this season, though -- they've gone white-on-white instead, reportedly because coach Nick Saban prefers it that way, making their colored pants the newest arrival on the island.

Rescue-worthy? Uni Watch doesn't like to see the Fish out of water -- let's see a little more aqua (as long as it's never used like this).

5. LSU's purple jersey. For years, the NCAA honchos mandated that home teams wear color and visiting teams wear white. But they recently relaxed that rule, and LSU has now brought the white-at-home format to the collegiate ranks. As a result, their purple jersey has only appeared twice this season: against Appalachian State and against North Texas.

Rescue-worthy? By now everyone should be familiar with Uni Watch's feelings about purple. Don't just keep this jersey on the island -- tether it to a tree so it can't escape.

6. The Mets' blue cap. Here we have the island's lone non-football resident. According to the Major League Baseball Style Guide, this is the Mets' official home cap. But you'd never know that from watching them -- they usually wear this design at home (even though it's officially designated as their road cap), and occasionally this one. The blue lid makes just a few token appearances per year. Why? Because equipment manager Charlie Samuels, who decides what the team wears each day, thinks the blue cap would clash with the club's black dugout jacket. So he only breaks out the blue caps during a few sweltering games in July and August, when nobody's wearing a jacket. This is complicated by the fact that pitching coach Rick Peterson always wears a jacket, no matter how hot it is, which gives Samuels an excuse to keep the blue caps in mothballs.

Rescue-worthy? It's hard to know which is stupider -- letting a dugout jacket determine which cap the players will be wearing, or letting black overtake blue as the team's dominant color. Airlift the blue cap off of the island and stick Charlie Samuels there instead. And get a blue dugout jacket, while you're at it.

7. The Broncos' blue pants. Just as the Cowboys have two different sets of silver pants, Denver has two different white pants: one with an orange stripe, which they wear with their blue jerseys, and one with a blue stripe, which goes with their white jerseys. Unbeknownst to all but the most hard-core fans, however, the team's wardrobe also includes these blue pants, which to Uni Watch's knowledge have appeared in only one regular-season game: Week 3 of the 2003 season.

Rescue-worthy? Thanks to the orange stripe, the blue pants can only be paired with the orange-paneled blue jersey, which makes the team look even more XFL-esque than usual. Sorry, blues -- no rescue for you!

8. The Buccaneers' white pants. The Bucs usually wear their pewter pants with their red and white jerseys. Very occasionally, though, they bust out the whites, just to remind you that they're there. They've done it twice so far this season -- in Week 2 and Week 4 -- which practically qualifies as heavy rotation for this seldom-seen uni element.

Rescue-worthy? This is a team that should never go white-on-white -- the pewter pants look sharp with the white jerseys. But when they're wearing red on top, the white pants make a nice change of pace. Uni Watch wouldn't mind seeing more of that look.

9. The Rams' blue pants. The Rams always wear gold pants, whether their jerseys are white or blue. Oops -- make that almost always. On at least two occasions, they've donned the blue britches: Week 1 of 2003 and Week 11 of this season.

Rescue-worthy? No need to fix what ain't broken -- the Rams' gold knickers are among the league's best. And the piping on the blue pants is way too thick and clunky. Let 'em rot on the island.

10. The Jaguars' turquoise pants and the Rams' white pants. Can't remember ever seeing either of these? That's because they've never been worn. But they definitely exist, at least according to the NFL Style Guide. Check it out: Jax and St. Looie. The ultimate misfits, so unloved that they've been orphaned since their inception.

Rescue-worthy? Tough to be sure until we see them in action, but the mere term "turquoise pants" does not bode well, y'know?

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Cowboys' blue jersey may get a rare back-to-back showcase: The word Uni Watch hears through the grapevine is that the Panthers may wear white at home when hosting the Cowboys next weekend, just to make Dallas wear blue.

Paul Lukas hates the Cowboys but has to admit that their white jersey uniform looks mighty sharp. Archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.