Honesty time: As we sit here waiting for a decision on a Deshaun Watson case, a moment that could once again leave us disillusioned and cynical about the league we cover, the kind of moment that makes you think, What are we doing here, man? we get distracted by a flurry of new helmets dumped over the weekend. I sent him messages editor Mitch Goldich and said: Let us list them. It’s a strange moment, to have such personal excitement about a new feature this year in a league I’ve watched religiously for over a decade, and that trove of disturbing news at the back of my mind; like, are we on the signs? Are we falling for the distraction?
And maybe it’s just important to keep that in mind. The NFL can be fun and frustrating. No person, place, object or idea is completely perfect or imperfect. We can enjoy the following exercise by remaining skeptical of the same undertaking.
This list combines both new alternatives and old throwbacks that will be in the field in 2022.
1. The Bengalis
Cincinnati defined a very understated kind of cool last year during its playoff run. Ghost black and white helmets reinforce the look and feel of a team populated by young, exciting stars. The White Tiger aesthetic is especially refreshing considering how rarely the Bengals come up with this sort of thing. Cincinnati has tremendous rebound potential but, at the end of the Marvin Lewis era, seemed stuck in a stylistic pattern of holding. Joe Burrow can attract the White Tiger. Andy Dalton? Maybe not so much.
I will understand any protest that this uniform is so over the top. It’s just a personal bias. I think the Giants uniforms of the Lawrence Taylor, Mark Bavaro, Phil Simms era are some of the cleanest looks in sports. The NY helmet script underscores the greatness of the franchise and the name itself… THE GIANTS. If my team was called the Giants, I would giants written on everything. Chin straps. Knee pads. Generations. Socks. This was the franchise’s true power era, despite winning half of its Super Bowls in the NY Script era. Unfortunately, the Script NY era is also a time when the franchise lost its way and began a string of disappointing seasons at the end of Eli Manning’s career and beyond. If I were Brian Daboll, I would have only agreed to coach if they would let me go back to the old uniforms.
Below, I talk about a uniform bias I have against alternate red helmets. Red helmets, or alternately red shirts, are automatically associated with Christmas in my mind and thus look out of place when not worn during the holidays. The only exception is if that alternate red is combined with black. The Falcons have recently veered into ugly uniform gradient territory instead of anchoring the ship sensibly to their roots. The red alternate helmet brings back the early years of the franchise in a modern and responsive way, as well as the 2009-12 seasons, when the red alternate was worn eight times.
We would have considered putting the Bears no. 1 on this list, if they hadn’t paired orange helmets with alternate orange jerseys. That’s just too much orange, and unless Guy Fieri is playing slot receiver (which could be an upgrade for the Bears at this point) it’s going to be hard to come by. The only hope is that opposing defenses believe for the time being that this is a non-contact practice uniform and spare Justin Fields if they get into the backfield.
The Saints followed a similar path to many teams on this list and went with the alternate black look. However, they distinguished themselves among that subset by making the center strip a bunch of miniature versions of the team logo. This combines many of the best helmet tricks in the sport into one satisfying package. The small fleurs-de-lis are a sort of arranged collection of goggle stickers, like we see on Ohio State’s helmet. The bar itself pulls into a triangular, mohawk shape at the back, giving them a Michigan/Princeton vibe as well. If you’re going to ditch the gold helmets, which are the best uniform property in all of sports, you should. The Saints have done it here.
This is a good alternative because it allows the silhouette of the Panther to remain in black and only be outlined in brown. This is similar to a trend of college helmets we saw a few years ago (Boise State pictured here) that bring some weight to the logo and make it feel like a special occasion, less like a permanent replacement. of the third jersey. Tea, like Calabrian chili oil, is very effective when used sparingly.
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One weird thing about me and something I just can’t get over: Every red substitute feels Christmassy to me. The Texans did nothing wrong here. We love the Bears, Falcons and Bengals for taking an underrated color out of their scheme and making it a dominant showcase. Houston just gets punished for the reds. If these uniforms come off sometime in mid-September, I’m already thinking about putting up the tree, shoveling the snow, and taking down the lights. If you too suffer from red Christmases, know that you are not alone.
It’s hard to believe the Patriots haven’t worn their alternate uniforms in a decade. New England used them sparingly from the early 1990s through the Tom Brady era. Now, they are back. While we’d love to see a fresh take on the era of Drew Bledsoe and the royal blues, or a greater integration of the wild, patriotic font of the ’70s dinner plates they had, there’s nothing wrong with polishing a classic.
9. The Cardinals
While college football has been ahead of this trend for years, the fact that Arizona has essentially stripped some of Louisville’s mid-tier waterfall designs knocks them down a peg here. The NCAA Cardinals, who share the angry (but with teeth!) red bird mascot, have dominated the uniform space for a while now (go back to the early 1980s and prepare to be amazed). The Arizona Cardinals have had lame uniforms for decades now, and short of a complete and totally aggressive rebranding, it’s hard to imagine anything changing the scheme they’re in.
The Cowboys’ alternates are okay, but ultimately pale in comparison to their initial old-school throwback to the white helmet with the blue star. What we’re seeing this year is a bit of a modern take on the helmets we’ve come to love. While I’m very happy for the “let’s add a stripe” guy in their marketing room who ended up scoring the big win here, I think they could have gone in a different direction. While browsing through fan-made alternate Cowboys helmet concepts, I saw an arctic camouflage look that would have made a strong statement.
It’s strange how some aesthetic changes can catch the eye. The Bengals are #1 on this list by simply changing the orange portion of their helmets to white. The Eagles are number 11 on this list simply by changing the green portion of their helmets to black. At least from one person’s point of view, with most teams with new helmets making the obvious move towards black helmets, which always look good, the wow factor goes down a bit on a global scale. What do I mean by that? I think an individual fan base that only cares about a particular helmet will love the black. But as a tough NFL writer tasked with looking at all the helmets, I’m less willing to give style points when most other teams have made a similar decision.
In 2019, when I reviewed the Jets’ uniforms, one major regret was not expressing enough love for the team’s helmet from 1990 to ’97, which was green with “Jets” written in white and little tail Jet above. The same could be said for their ’63 helmets, which had “JETS” written inside an actual Jet. Very cute. I think there was an opportunity to go full-back here that was passed up. There is an obvious desire for the Jets to move away from their past, which is mostly football nonsense, but there is something to the idea of revisiting their first year as the Jets (’63) or the ’90s, which most of us of the generation who actually care about helmet changes will be nostalgic.
The commanders had just been reassigned, and so they had no nostalgia to safely enter. This ultimately feels like a cash grab, so far as I tell a capitalist enterprise to take a good chance. But the same uninspiring “W” is simply moved to the front of the helmet, and then the Commanders throw the jersey number on the sides of the corresponding helmet. My main concern here? The jersey numbers on the sides of the helmets are a distinctly old flourish. It’s hard to understand what a “new” team helmet means without history attached to it. I feel the same way about these helmets as I do about most attempts at farmhouse chic, in that the quest to modernize something old gets lost in the fact that your house was built in 2007.
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