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Best and Worst NFL Helmets

January 21, 2010

One of my favorite things about sports is the uniforms.  I’ve never studied fashion, nor am I an especially sharp dresser, but uniforms fascinate me.  As a kid, I ordered a Randall Cunningham uniform from the Sears catalog.  Despite being a die-hard Colts fan, I loved the Eagles colors and the slick silver wing on their helmets.  My enthusiasm for the Eagles’ color scheme led to other foolish purchases such as green and silver Zubaz pants (they matched my Bret “The Hitman” Hart shirt so well).

If only Zubaz made visors...

I used four primary criteria to evaluate the helmets: simplicity, colors, and how well the helmet fits with the rest of the uniform and the city/team image.  Here are the worst three helmets in football, followed by the best three.

Worst helmets:

3. Baltimore Ravens

This one is tough because I like the Ravens logo- the purple bird with a red eye, a gold “B”, and gold and white accents.  However, there are two design elements on which the Ravens lose major points: the gold “B” and the helmet stripes.

The “B” is ok as a part of the stand alone logo, but when used on the helmet, it causes a problem.  When looking at the right side of a player’s helmet, the “B” faces the Raven’s beak.  However, when looking the the left side, the “B” faces the bird’s neck.  This confusing asymmetry always forces me to do a double-take.  We are used to seeing the “B” facing the bird’s beak, since that is how it’s presented on the normal logo, so to see the B reversed makes the whole logo look strange.

The helmet stripes are another issue.  The two stripes begin at the front of the helmet and get thinner as they move toward the back of the helmet, eventually disappearing near the top of the helmet.  There is nothing inherently wrong with tapered helmet stripes, except these ones seem out of place, since this design feature does not appear elsewhere on the uniform.  The Broncos, for example, pull off the tapered stripe well (despite the bright orange color) because the stripe reflects the tapered design of the jersey and pants.  The helmet would be better with no stripe at all, since the logo is sufficiently busy and a black, stripe-less helmet could look good with the all-black alternate uniforms.

2. Seattle Seahawks

The first problem with this helmet is the colors.  Lots of great artists have “blue periods”.  Picasso.  Van Gogh.  Gordon Gund?  Gund’s “blue period” led to hideous uniforms for the Cavs, as well as a court design that featured six different shades of blue.  Basically, they tried to do too much with a single color, which brings us to the Seahawks’ helmets.  The helmet features three different shades of blue, including a metallic one (which makes up a majority of the helmet) which glistens and changes color based on lighting.  I understand that the colors are supposed to evoke the Pacific Northwest’s crisp marine scenery, but three shades so close to one another make for an ugly helmet.

The second problem with this helmet is the wrap-around of the bird’s neck.  Most helmet logos stand alone.  However, the Seahawk logo wraps almost all the way around the back of the helmet to form a nearly continuous shape, which makes the bird look like a dissected worm with two heads.  Additionally, the colors that are stacked together on the back of the helmet hearken back to past uniforms that used stripes improperly.  Horizontal stripes are tough to pull off (with certain exceptions), especially on the back of a helmet.

The saving grace of this helmet is the bright green used to accentuate the bird’s eye.  The color is used nicely in small doses on other parts of the uniform as well.

1. Cincinnati Bengals

See Zubaz reference above…

There should be an official rule that the worse your team’s colors are, the less prominent those colors should be on your helmet. For example, the Dolphins are cursed with the hideous aqua and coral combination.  However, the team realizes this and takes a relatively conservative approach with the helmet.  Instead of featuring an aqua dolphin bursting through some waves and leaping through a coral ring of fire on an off-aqua backdrop, the team uses a white helmet with simple touches of coral and aqua.  The Bengals should follow this example from their sun-drenched colleagues.

The Bengals have ugly, but unavoidable colors.  Orange and black make a lot of sense since the team is names after jungle cats of the same colors.  However, covering the entire helmet is the wrong way to go.  We already “get” the stripes- they show up on the shoulders of the uniform AND on the sides of the pants.  If the Bengals really love the “our team is named after an animal, so we need to make our players look like said animal when they don the uniforms” approach, why not add a tail to the back of the pants?  I’m sure the NFL wouldn’t mind this alteration.  Plus, with a tail, these uniforms could be re-used as Halloween costumes for the dozens of Bengal offspring that are running around southwestern Ohio.

Since I have placed the Bengals as the worst helmet in the NFL, let me make a suggestion for a better one.  My first instinct was to go with an all-black background with some type of Bengals logo on the sides.  However, since the AFC North already has two black hats (Ravens and Steelers), the Bengals should not choose the same color.  So, here is my earth-shattering proposal: white helmet, this logo on each side, black facemask, and a black and orange tiger-patterned stripe down the middle of the helmet.  This way, the Bengals’ helmet uses less of their ugly colors and still scores originality points with the unique “striped stripe” down the middle of the helmet.

Dishonorable mention: Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns (yes, each AFC North team is here somewhere)

Now, on to the best helmets.

Best helmets:

3. San Diego Chargers

In 2007, the Chargers re-designed their helmet by looking back in time.  Many times, this can be disastrous, but for the Chargers, this worked out beautifully.  After all, when most of the country thinks about San Diego, they think first about “Anchorman” and Ron Burgundy’s scholarly insights into the etymology of the city.  After that, people think about the beach and the immaculate weather, which is why the white helmet (instead of dark blue) and the light blue accents within the lightning bolt fit the city and the team much better.  On top of that, the helmet is clean, simple, and fits well with the other lightning bolts on the uniform.

P.S. Despite the fact that I like the helmets, I hate the Chargers.

2. Dallas Cowboys

The greatness of this helmet rests in its simplicity.  Think of all the things the Cowboys could have on the side of their helmet: a lasso, a cowboy hat, some weird design in the shape of Texas, a spur, a flaming horse… You get the point.  By choosing a simple, star logo, the ‘Boys look good in their hats.  The star is excellent because it subtly hints at several things: America’s team (stars on the flag), Lone Star state (Texas’ team), and even the badge of a wild west sheriff, all of which fit the team well.

The only downside to this helmet is how well it fits with the rest of the uniform.  The helmet is one shade of silver, while the pants are completely different– almost a periwinkle shade, instead of silver.  However, this article is focused on helmets, so the Cowboys get big props for their classic choice.

1. New Orleans Saints

No other helmet better fits its team and city.  The Fleur-de-lis and gold color recall the royal French beginnings of Louisiana.  This flowery emblem also perhaps hints at the traditional softness of Saints (‘Aints) teams.  The black color touches on the swampy, dark, voodoo-ness which makes New Orleans so fun and intriguing.  These rich symbols and colors are all then combined into a simple, symmetrical dome-piece that looks classic and truly captures the history and tradition of the city.  The team has yet to live up to the lofty history of the city, but at least they look good while doing it.

Honorable mention: Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts (now that they have the gray facemasks)

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