It’s time to have a lot of fun here at the Helmet and Jersey Stop, focusing on what all NFL helmet designs looked like during each decade. Starting with the 1966 season, I’ll be going through each significant season in the NFL that saw changes in either major relocations, changes in helmets, and changes in the division/conferences.
Featured seasons will occur here in 1966, 1970, 1978, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2019.
In other words, the NFL won’t look the same with each season that I feature and I will be featuring plenty here at the Helmet and Jersey Stop over the next few weeks. I purposely featured more seasons starting with 1990, because the NFL landscape from a helmet (and these days uniform) standpoint sometimes changed year to year, so as you can see, the intervals become much more congested as time goes on.
Below is a brief overview of each season, what changed, as well as a tiny taste of featured helmets from each season, many of which are long forgotten.
This season occurred four seasons prior to the AFL-NFL Merger, but it’s a season that saw the playing of the AFL-NFL World Championship, later known as the Super Bowl. For this reason, I’ll be plotting both NFL and AFL teams and what each league looked like at the time.
The NFL was a drastically different place in 1966, and featured only fifteen teams, welcoming the Atlanta Falcons, while the AFL included just nine, with the expansion Miami Dolphins starting play that season. The 1966 season would set the stage for every other season featured here, as each occurred post-merger.
The 1970 season was the first year of the AFL-NFL Merger, which broke the team into two conferences, the AFC and NFC. The AFC consisted of ten teams, however three, the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Colts, migrated over to the AFC to even out the conferences, with each franchise being paid $3 million to do so.
The Browns moved because they wanted an in-state rivalry with the Cincinnati Bengals, prompting the Steelers to follow Cleveland so the two teams could continue their rivalry, as well as start a rivalry with the Bengals, while the Colts moved for financial purposes (owner Carroll Rosenbloom would later trade franchises with Los Angeles Rams owner, Bob Irsay).
This season saw twenty-six teams, as the New Orleans Saints were now part of the NFC and the Bengals part of the AFC, both franchises had debuted just a few seasons prior.
Two new franchises, the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, emerged two years prior, with the Seahawks joining the NFC West and the Buccaneers joining the AFC West. The franchises would later swap conferences prior to the 1977
season, with Seattle going to the AFC West and the Buccaneers, the NFC Central, where each team played until the 2002 season. As a result, the 1977 Divisional Alignment remained until 2002, with no real migration.
The New York Jets would switch from white to green helmets. Also in 1978, teams were in the midst of swapping out their old gray facemasks for ones of color. A few years prior, the Los Angeles Rams returned to their yellow-horned helmets for the first time since 1963.
The 1985 season would see two locations occur just one and three years prior, as the Baltimore Colts became the Indianapolis Colts, while the Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles to become the Los Angeles Raiders.
A few changes were made from a helmet standpoint as well, with the Buffalo Bills switching to red helmets just a year prior, as well as the Cincinnati Bengals switching from their generic-looking ‘BENGALS’ script to tiger-striped patterns. Switches to colored facemasks continued during this time.
1990 saw the Phoenix Cardinals, who relocated to the city from St. Louis three seasons prior. This season also marked the beginning of NFL dynasties in the Buffalo Bills (four straight Super Bowls), and Dallas Cowboys (three Super Bowl victories in four seasons). Another team from Texas, the Houston Oilers, also started the decade strong.
The Falcons swapped their red shells for black and it was a sign of things to come later in the decade. The San Diego Chargers had moved on from their ‘Air Coryell’ era helmets two seasons prior in 1988. The New York Jets added black outlines to their helmet logo and a black facemask.
The 1995 season marked two new franchises, as well as a relocation for two franchises as well. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers started play, while the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders relocated to St. Louis and Oakland, respectively. The Phoenix Cardinals had since changed their name to the Arizona Cardinals. It would also be the final season for the Cleveland Browns, who would be deactivated for three seasons following the 1995 season.
Of course, new helmets emerged for the Panthers and Jaguars, and 1995 marked the beginning of radical helmet design changes that would take the league by storm over the next two decades. Two seasons prior, the New England Patriots unveiled their Flying Elvis logo, retiring Pat Patriot, though the latter has made sporadic appearances and is available on team merchandise. A year prior the Indianapolis Colts switched from white to blue facemasks.
The Houston Oilers now spent their first season in Tennessee, playing as the Tennessee Oilers in Memphis in front of sparse crowds while they awaited the completion of their new stadium in Nashville. the Baltimore Ravens were now in their second season, having absorbed the roster and front office personnel of the Cleveland Browns a year prior.
As noted, helmet changes ran rampant here, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos unveiling new looks. The Ravens unveiled their own look a year prior, as did the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers. 1997 would also be the Jets’ final year in green helmets, which would remain until 2018. The Miami Dolphins also updated their helmet logo.
1999 would mark the return of the Cleveland Browns to the NFL after a three-season hiatus. The team returned in their familiar, logoless orange shells while ironically the Baltimore Ravens would change logos, citing a lawsuit from their original logo’s creator. The Jets were now back in white helmets, a return to their pre-1978 looks. 1999 was also the first season for the Tennessee Titans, who unveiled their new name and logo upon moving into their new stadium in Nashville.
The 2002 season came with a divisional realignment, with the Houston Texans joining the league as the 32nd franchise. The Seattle Seahawks returned to the NFC for the first time since their inaugural season in 1976, while the AFC and NFC Central Divisions were renamed the AFC and NFC North, respectively. Each division now featured four teams, with four divisions per conference. A new AFC and NFC South Division was also created.
The Seahawks overhauled their helmets to coincide with joining the NFC in 2002 while the Bills redesigned their look as well. The New York Giants returned to a classic helmet two seasons prior in 2000, as did the St. Louis Rams. The Washington Redskins wore their 1965-1969 helmets for seven games and all of pre-season. The New Orleans Saints also unveiled updated helmets two seasons prior. Finally, in 2000, the New England Patriots darkened the shades of red and blue on their uniforms.
2007 saw a few helmet changes over the previous seasons. In 2003, the Atlanta Falcons updated their helmets to their current incarnations, the San Diego Chargers introduced white helmets for the first time since 1973, the Minnesota Vikings unveiled a lighter shade of purple the year prior in 2006, the Detroit Lions added black to their helmets in 2003, and the Arizona Cardinals upgraded their helmets in 2005. The Cleveland Browns also returned to gray facemasks for the first time since 1974 a year prior in 2006, and the Indianapolis Colts returned to gray facemasks in 2004.
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the original eight AFL teams donned throwbacks, as did the Dallas Cowboys while playing select games against the AFC West. The New York Jets played as the Titans of New York, the Tennessee Titans played as the Houston Oilers, and the Kansas City Chiefs played as the Dallas Texans.
The Broncos bore brown helmets for the first time since 1961, the Raiders wore their 1963 look, the Patriots revived Pat Patriot, the Bills took their white, standing bison helmets, and the Chargers returned to their old 1961 look.
As noted above, the Cowboys also wore their 1960-1963 helmets, which were white with zero outlines on the lone star. Also in 2009, the Jacksonville Jaguars slightly tweaked their helmets, which now included a teal tint when light hit the black shells at a certain angle. The Detroit Lions updated their helmet logo.
2012 became the first year for Nike as the league’s exclusive uniform manufacturer, and while concepts of new helmets and uniforms hit the internet as early as 2010, Nike made very subtle changes, most notably shown on the collar. The only team to radically redesign (and somewhat improve) their look were Nike’s homegrown Seattle Seahawks.
One year prior, the Bills returned to white helmets for the first time since 1983. It would be the Minnesota Vikings’ final season in their incarnation of uniforms that took place in 2006, as well as for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins. The Carolina Panthers would also unveil an updated version of their current panther logo. Three seasons prior saw the San Francisco 49ers return to a lighter shade of red, one similar to the team’s 1964-1995 look.
In 2015, the Cleveland Browns unveiled a radical redesign for the first time in team history, featuring a new shade of orange, detail on their helmet stripe, and brown facemasks. The Dolphins, Vikings, and Jaguars had all switched looks back in 2013.
2015 also brought new turbulence to the NFL, and relocation would occur in the future for three NFL teams, with the Rams returning to Los Angeles the following season as the Los Angeles Rams, the Chargers followed suit in 2017, returning to Los Angeles for the first time since 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers, and the Oakland Raiders would later make plans to move to Las Vegas to become either the Las Vegas Raiders of Vegas Raiders, starting in 2020.
And finally, we’ve made it to 2019, where the Titans broke out in navy helmets prior to 2018, the Los Angeles Rams since returned to white ram horned helmets for road games and yellow-horned helmets for home games. The New York Jets returned to green helmet shells for the first time since 1997.
2019 will be the final season the Cleveland Browns will be in their current helmet shells, looking to return to the classic burnt orange look in 2020. The Jacksonville Jaguars ditched their two-toned helmet prior to 2018 as well.