The Cincinnati Bengals jersey has seen three significant changes throughout the team’s 52-season existence, with each change seemingly bringing in a new era for the team.
The Bengals, then part of the AFL original jerseys were based on the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, with an identical shade of burnt orange along with black to replace the brown.
The story goes that Paul Brown, the first coach of the Cleveland Browns still owned the team’s equipment when then-Browns owner Art Modell fired him in 1963. Brown packed up all his equipment and five seasons later, used it to begin the Bengals in 1968 when it was confirmed the AFL and NFL would merge beginning with the 1970 season.
Black jerseys were worn for home games, consisting of a white-orange-white striping pattern with white numbers while the white jerseys consisted of a black-orange-black striping pattern with black numbers.
The team wore these jerseys even after the Browns agreed to join the newly created American Football Conference (AFC) to even out the number of teams in each division after the merger, due to Modell’s insistence to have an in-state rivalry with Paul Brown’s Bengals.
The Bengals scrapped their Cleveland-like jerseys following the 1980 season, opting for what was then a unique look in the NFL. The new black and white jersey consisted of arching shoulder stripes with an orange background laden with tiger stripes.
The white numbers on the black jersey were in block format, containing an orange outline while the black numbers on the white jersey included a similar outline.
The introduction of these jerseys brought in a successful decade for the Bengals, including three AFC Central titles in 1981, 1988, and 1990, five playoff wins, and two Super Bowl appearances.
Unfortunately, come 1990 the jerseys also contributed to a decade and a half-long struggle where the team wouldn’t reach the playoffs again in such a look, seemingly ending with another jersey swap, this one occurring in 2004.
The Bengals radically redesigned their look in 2004, with a jersey that was an ongoing trend for the decade.
The black and white jerseys both featured a new, round numbering font with dropshadow. More accents and a new striping pattern was added along with side panels.
The new black jersey saw white numbers, an orange outline, orange sleeves with tiger striping on the shoulders, with white side panels.
The white jersey consisted of black numbers, an orange outline, orange sleeves and shoulder striping, along with black side panels.
Finally, an alternate orange jersey was introduced with white numbers and black outlines, white side panels, and black shoulders and sleeves with orange tiger striping.
Again, this ushered in a bittersweet successful era for the Bengals. From 2004-2015, the team won the AFC North four times and made seven playoff appearances. However, the team went 0-7 in the playoffs during that timespan and hold the longest playoff drought without a win, with their last playoff win coming in 1990.
Ironically, the in-state rival Cleveland Browns held the NFL’s longest playoff drought without an appearance during this time, last appearing in the playoffs in 2002.
Finally, the Bengals introduced a white Color Rush look in 2016 as part of the NFL’s Color Rush. The jersey plays homage to the snow tiger. It features black block numbering, black sleeve tiger striping, and no side panels. The orange ‘B’ logo is plastered to the front above the number.
I was always a fan of the 1981-2003 combo and I believe the current look is a thing of the past, being hot in the early-2000s but these days, NFL teams across the board are opting for a classic or simplified look, as evidenced by the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, as well as the Cleveland Browns come 2020.
Other teams following the classic trend in the past decade have been the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos (Color Rush), and Buffalo Bills.
While some teams mentioned placed a modern twist in their jerseys, as is the case with Minnesota and Detroit, they strongly resemble their classic counterparts.
The Bengals need to do the same, especially due to the popularity of the team’s simplified Color Rush look.
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