The San Francisco 49ers logo may be timeless, or at least it has remained essentially the same other than a few modifications throughout the ages, one might ask why there was a debacle in regard to the ’91 logo. I mean, you’d think the Niners never would’ve considered major change, right?
Okay, FYI, newsflash, surprise, surprise, surprise, you’re about to never look at the 49ers in the same way ever again when I’m through writing this post, because there was indeed a proposed change to the interlocked ‘SF’ within the oval that the team had plastered to the side of their helmets and all over its merchandise for decades.
The late 1980s and Early 1990s Aesthetic Landscape
See, the 1990s were a time of pizzazz, and many franchises across the Four Major North American Professional Sports Leagues jumped on board, with the NFL being no different. If you go back to say, the NBA during the 1990s, you’ll see all sorts of crazy uniform combinations along with wild color schemes, namely teal and purple. Lots of burst in these logos.
The NHL experienced something similar and it looked for a moment that the NFL was going to catch on to the trend, starting with the 49ers and who knew what would be in store for the league’s other twenty-seven teams (we’re talking 1991 here, kids) as the NFL steamrolled into its final decade of the 20th century.
But then again, perhaps the NFL showed up a decade or two late to the party, with some of the most horrendous looks arriving in the early-2000s, yes, I’m talking about you, Seattle and Buffalo, and your migraine-inducing Arena-like threads.
Back in the 1990s, despite changes in looks sweeping the professional leagues, uniform changes weren’t these high-profile events that featured bands like Florida-George Line performing during an unveiling at a public fan event. In fact, most uniform changes simply went unnoticed by most fans unless something drastic occurred, as in the case of the 1997 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
So, in 1991 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo simply held a news conference addressing the State of the 49ers’ Franchise before unveiling the new helmet as an afterthought. DeBartolo and Seifert simply displayed the helmet, posed for a couple pictures, and flashed the “old” Niners’ helmet to mark the before and after changes.
NFL Reporter Bill Williamson was on hand covering the conference, who stated it was a unanimous feeling in the room “that it was hideous, it was USFL.”
The next day, fans phoned the team’s headquarters, where hundreds of angry fans supposedly flooded the switchboard, with some believing the new logo foreshadowed a possible franchise relocation due to the fact the team had dropped the ‘SF’ in favor of ’49ers’ script.
The One-Day Logo?
It has long been speculated that the reaction to the logo was so bad that the team scrapped the logo the very next day. However, DeBartolo waited six days before dumping the logo due to fan outrage over the past week. The team didn’t announce it during a news conference, simply via one-page fax.
While the look is called the One-Day Logo, most likely due to fan outrage and the outpouring of negative support given to the logo the following day after fans witnessed the disastrous piece of work on the evening news, the six-day story holds true even if DeBartolo had indeed conceded the following day after the unveiling.
However, despite the fact the phantom logo lasted only a week didn’t stop the release of 49ers promotional items and merchandise bearing it. Here’s a look at the full-sized replica helmet and water bottle including the proposed 1991 logo. This merchandise belonged to a man named Stevens Wright, who was the graphic artist responsible for creating the logo.
Though disappointed, it was believed that Wright never took it personally that the logo was rejected by Bay Area fans, stating he did what the 49ers asked he and NFL Creative Properties to do; conceive and design a new logo for the team.
In a memo from Wright’s supervisor, David Boss, it was clear that DeBartolo wanted “to emphasize 49ers, not ‘SF.'”
That said, Wright indeed did his job by fully replacing ‘SF’ with ’49ers’ script. It’s also understanding as to why Bay Area fans rejected the logo and believed a foreshadowment of relocation. Not only did this imply DeBartolo wanted to emphasize 49ers over San Francisco, but at the same time DeBartolo wasn’t a California guy, being from Youngstown, Ohio and the DeBartolo family also owned the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 1977 to 1991.
While relocation was never considered, it definitely gave the fans reason to speculate.
Fortunately, the 49ers’ logo change and reverse change occurred in an era where teams could change logos, uniforms, and jerseys almost at will; it wasn’t uncommon to see a jersey change in a single season, let alone from year to year. However, in today’s NFL landscape, such changes wouldn’t be possible due to the rule that teams must wait five seasons before embarking on any kind of change.
So, if you’re wondering why the 2013-2017 Jacksonville Jaguars or 2015-2019 Cleveland Browns took so long to do away with their eyesores, it’s basically because of NFL mandates that are in place these days.
Further, it’s also important to remember that a uniform change is planned years in advance, sometimes as early as three to four years prior, and the uniform change process typically takes two seasons to complete. So, if the 49ers were to have made such a radical swap in the early-2000s, we would’ve been stuck looking at this new logo for an age.
These days, it’s the NFL’s hope that fans will see the new uniform and either warm up to them or at the very least, cope with them. But as mentioned, in the cases of the Jaguars and Browns, if fans haven’t warmed up to a look after five seasons, it’s definitely time for an overhaul, which explains the Jaguars’ quick switch and the Browns stating they will have a new look in 2020.