I have a treat for NFL fans today as we dive into the Cincinnati Bengals helmet history, which is one of the most unique in NFL lore. For one, like the Browns, Steelers, and Ravens, the Bengals’ helmets have changed just once since their inaugural season in 1968. Yet it’s the team’s helmet history that sparks interest in many NFL historians.
While many of our historical teams are much more well-known for their long, storied histories such as the NFC’s Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, unique tales regarding uniforms even reside in many of our younger franchises, such as the Bengals who served as the tenth and final edition of the AFL franchises in 1968.
Among NFL-AFL relations, the Bengals serve as a bridge not only between the two leagues but as actual spawn from another NFL team, where a series of events brought about not only the Bengals’ existence, but also their original helmet and entire uniform design.
This has simply not been seen often in either the NFL nor any of the four major North American Professional Sports Leagues.
And for that, a team whose history may be rather bland other than a few successful years in the 1980s becomes far more interesting regarding their creation and their whole look, from 1968 until today.
From the Browns to the Bengals
Paul Brown, who saw success with the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1962 lobbied the NFL for a new franchise, refusing to take part in the “inferior” AFL. Yet upon learning of the NFL-AFL merger for the upcoming 1970 NFL Season, Brown founded the Bengals, who took the field in 1968.
Brown, despite his falling out and subsequent firing with former Browns owner, Art Modell, still owned the equipment, so he took it with him to Cincinnati to start the Bengals, changing the brown on the jersey to black. In fact, the Bengals’ helmet was almost the exact same shade of burnt orange the Browns used at the time.
If you follow this link, you can see just how eerily identical the Bengals’ original uniforms were to their future and now current division rival.
The only difference in these helmets was the BENGALS wordmark on the sides plus the absence of a stripe down the middle.
The Bengals wore their Cleveland-like helmets and jerseys from 1968 until 1980, when they finally overhauled the look.
Note, that this could never be done in today’s NFL, however some college teams like the Iowa Hawkeyes and Duke Blue Devils have modeled their own uniforms after NFL teams, with Iowa taking the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ look and Duke’s primary uniform set resembling the Indianapolis Colts.
While the Bengals have modified their uniforms over time, the helmet has remained the same, featuring tiger stripes and a black facemask. Like division rivals Browns and Steelers, the Bengals’ helmets are also unique in that their logo wraps around the top of the helmet from one side to another, reminiscent of tiger stripes.
Some consider this an actual logo while others do not, claiming the helmet is simply multicolored, as stripes are on a tiger.
Something that is certain, however, is the uniqueness, where logo decals in the league consist of either pictures or letters, the Bengals are the only team in the league with markings. Such a design has become so popular that college football teams like the Memphis Tigers have adopted the design on multiple occasions. Take another look here.
The unique look has definitely caught on, and if there is any consistency with the Bengals over the past four decades, it begins and ends with the helmet.
I’ve always been enamored by the Bengals helmet and next to the Browns’ logoless look and the Steelers’ one-sided logo, I consider it the most unique in football. Even more interesting is the fact all three teams play in the AFC North and are bitter upon bitter rivals.
No team out there plays down and dirty like the Bengals while the Steelers are known for their hard-hitting and the Browns have gained a reputation lately of playing with swagger and cockiness, especially with the addition of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Three timeless, unique helmets, three heated rivalries, six new chapters each season.
May the Bengals’ helmet remain unique….but they should probably look into changing the jerseys and pants.
Timelessness, that’s what has become of the Bengals’ current helmet, fitting in right with the Browns and Steelers, but also mimicking other teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and other classic teams. While the Bengals are relatively young having been founded in 1968, making them the 7th youngest franchise in terms of years, the helmet itself has the look of a team decades older than they.
The similarities to their in-state rival begins with the helmet as well, stemming from similarities between the two cities, their close proximity to one another, but entirely different cultures between the two, as has been pointed out by several Cleveland and Cincinnati figures throughout the decades.
While the Bengals’ uniforms might not bring in the same tradition as the helmet itself, they can always claim at least one link to the past, and it begins with the orange lids.
The history tie-ins are certainly another point of uniqueness here, allowing some interest within the Bengals’ somewhat lack of compelling history which is plagued in mediocrity in each decade not named the 1980s. Well, the team does have an interesting history, even if such history came about a few years before their inception and the series of events that led to the creation of the Cincinnati Bengals.
A big thanks for stopping by The Helmet and Jersey Stop, please come back soon.