The Dallas Cowboys home uniform has remained essentially the same for the past four decades and is widely considered one of the classic unis in American team sports. ESPN’s Paul Lukas reminds us, though, that there are all manner of little quirks to the look.
The Cowboys almost always wear basic white jerseys, their helmet design is timeless and classic, and their basic aesthetic approach is blissfully free of extraneous bells and whistles. All in all, they present a simple, straightforward look.
Or so it would appear to the untrained eye. But to the practiced uniform acolyte, the Cowboys’ attire is rife with idiosyncrasies. In fact, America’s Team wears what is arguably the quirkiest uniform set in all of professional sports, full of unexplained anomalies and team-specific protocols found nowhere else. Look back into their history, and you’ll find even more aberrations.
So come along as Uni Watch takes a tour of the Cowboys’ top-10 uni-related nuances, past and present — many of them annoying, a few of them admirable, but all worthy of closer inspection:
1. TAPE JOB
Look on the back of any Cowboys helmet, and you’ll see a little blue label at the base of the white stripe. You’ve probably noticed it countless times over the years without even thinking about it. That’s a Dymo Tape name label, which has been a Cowboys visual signature for years — all the way back to the mid-1960s, in fact.
Uniqueness Factor: High. Smartypants readers (you know who you are) may be aware that Dymo Tape has occasionally been used for helmet identification by other NFL teams, like the Browns in the late ’60s (plus it’s also been used extensively in baseball). But no other team has had the chutzpah or intestinal fortitude to use the little labels so obsessively, or for so long.
Annoyance Factor: Low. Uni Watch actually loves the little labels and grudgingly salutes the Dallas equipment staff for having the dedication to turn a dorky little detail into an indispensable component of the club’s visual identity. Just try to imagine a Cowboys helmet without the little blue strip — it’s unthinkable.
2. TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN
Ever notice that the lower collar area on most of Cowboys jerseys — just above the uniform number — usually looks a bit pinched or crimped? Look closer, and you’ll see there’s actually a little shoelace or string that’s tying down the jersey to the shoulder pads.
How do they do this? By sewing a butterfly-shaped fabric panel onto the sternum area of each jersey. The panel is equipped with an eyelet, which the player can use to tie down the jersey to his pads. Sometimes additional eyelets are added so the player has multiple tie-down options.
Uniqueness Factor: Very high. To Uni Watch’s knowledge, no other team utilizes this type of jersey modification. A few former Cowboys, however, have tried to duplicate it after moving on to other teams. Keyshawn Johnson, for example, used a primitive tie-down when he moved from the Cowboys to the Panthers, and Larry Allen has been going tied-down with the 49ers.
Annoyance Factor: Very high. The crimped collar looks totally bush. And even if a player opts not to use the tie-down, you’ve still got that extra fabric panel just sitting there in plain view. Plus, there’s something untoward about modifying a uniform like this — is it even legal? Roger Goodell, please investigate.
3. SILVER MINE
The Cowboys always wear silver pants, right? Right — sort of. The team actually has two different sets of silver pants in its wardrobe: one with a greenish-blue tone and royal blue piping, which is worn with the white jerseys, and a more conventional silver version with navy piping, which is worn with the club’s seldom-seen blue jerseys. No vaguely reasonable explanation for this has ever been proffered. Not only that, the Dallas helmet doesn’t match either of the pants’ hues, meaning the Cowboys actually use three shades of silver.
Uniqueness Factor: Very high. Some teams occasionally have trouble matching their helmet color to their jersey or pants, because fabric dyes work differently than plastic dyes. But the Cowboys don’t have one intended version of silver that accidentally turns out three different ways — they actually have three different silvers in their official color specs. No other NFL team has this kind of color confusion codified in its uniform design.
Annoyance Factor: Very high. Kindly pick one silver and stick with it for all applications, end of story.
4. EVEN COWBOYS GET THE BLUES
The Cowboys’ chromatic inconsistencies go beyond silver. When they wear their white jerseys (i.e., about 90 percent of the time), their socks, pants striping and uni numbers are royal, but the blue on their helmets is navy, so the two blues clash.
Uniqueness Factor: Very high. Other NFL teams understand the simple concept that your colors should match.
Annoyance Factor: Huge. Are these people colorblind, or what?
5. HOME WHITES AREN’T JUST FOR BASEBALL
Wearing dark jerseys at home has been an unofficial football tradition for generations, but the Cowboys opted to buck that trend during the franchise’s earliest days. It was GM Tex Schramm’s idea: He figured that if the team wore blue at home, every home game would look the same — blue jerseys versus white jerseys. By wearing white at home, the team would give its fans a chance to see an ever-shifting range of colors as a new team came into town each week. Since most other NFL teams chose to wear their colors at home, the Cowboys usually ended up wearing white on the road, as well.
Uniqueness Factor: Medium-high. Other teams have favored home whites over the years, most notably the Redskins, Dolphins and Browns. Plus, some warm-weather teams opt to wear white at home early in the season to avoid baking in the sun. But the Cowboys were the first to go this route, and they’ve stuck to it more single-mindedly than any other club.
Annoyance Factor: Low. Schramm’s original rationale was an admirably early example of uni-based marketing. And, let’s face it, the white jerseys look better than the blue ones. Which leads us to …
6. THE CURSE OF THE BLUE JERSEY
The Cowboys were the designated home team in Super Bowl V, which meant they had to wear blue (the rule since has been changed to allow the designated home team the choice of wearing white or colors). Dallas lost the game, and the legend of “the blue jersey curse” was born. In subsequent years, opposing teams periodically have worn white at home just to force Dallas to wear blue — most famously in the 1981 NFC championship game, when the Eagles wore white at Veterans Stadium and won, thereby cementing the blue jersey’s status as uni non grata.
Uniqueness Factor: High. While there are other NFL teams that prefer to stick with one jersey, no other team has developed such lore and superstition around one uni element.
Annoyance Factor: Low. Uniform-based rituals and mythologies are A-OK with Uni Watch.
7. SEPARATED AT BIRTH — NOT
Most teams’ white and dark jerseys are essentially mirror images of each other. There might be minor distinctions, but they pretty much have the same typography, the same striping and so on. But look at the Cowboys: The white jersey has block uni numbers, two plain stripes on each sleeve and no wordmark on the chest, while the blue jersey has outlined uni numbers, a thick, star-studded stripe on each sleeve and a “Cowboys” wordmark on the chest. It’s not just that these jerseys aren’t twins — they are barely second cousins.
Uniqueness Factor: Very high. No other NFL team has this type of disparity between its jerseys.
Annoyance Factor: Very high. Yo, people, look around at the rest of the league, see how it’s done and please get with the program.
8. HIP HUGGERS
In 1982, someone decided it wasn’t enough for the Cowboys to have uniform numbers on their chests, backs and shoulders. And so it came to pass that the Cowboys began wearing uni numbers on their hips — useful if you’re trying to identify a player who’s only partially shown in a photo, but pretty bogus-looking otherwise. The ‘Boys stuck with this format until 1989, when sanity, in the form of numberless pants, was restored.
Annoyance Factor: Massive. One of those “innovations” that nobody was clamoring for. A solution to a non-problem. Textbook case of failing Uni Watch’s standard “Is it good or is it stupid?” litmus test.
9. SPIRIT OF ’76
Not many people seem to remember this, but the Cowboys gave new meaning to “America’s Team” in 1976, when they changed one of their helmet stripes from blue to red, creating a patriotic effect for the nation’s bicentennial.
Uniqueness Factor: Very high. No other NFL team modified its uniform — much less introduced a new hue to its color scheme! — for the bicentennial.
Annoyance Factor: High. Truth be known, Uni Watch kinda likes this move, at least when viewed in a vacuum. But in the context of all the “America’s Team” nonsense, it’s just another example of the institutional hubris that makes it so easy — so necessary — to hate the Cowboys.
10. COLLAR MY WORLD
Little-known fact: During the Cowboys’ first four seasons, they wore a bizarre crossover-style collar, which created an odd wraparound effect that didn’t look so hot. Further details and lots of additional photos are available here.
Uniqueness Factor: Off the charts. As far as Uni Watch knows, there’s nothing else like this in NFL history.
Annoyance Factor: Negligible. While the collar looked awful, it was one of those obscure historical subtleties that are Uni Watch’s raison d’Ãªtre.
When Tom Landry died in 2000, the Cowboys decided to memorialize him on their uniform. But instead of taking the boilerplate approach of wearing his initials on a helmet decal, they took his signature fedora and depicted it as a chest patch.
Uniqueness Factor: High. Uni Watch can’t think of another NFL team that’s used a simple graphic symbol as a remembrance.
Annoyance Factor: Exceedingly high. In fact, this is arguably the most annoying Dallas quirk of them all, because it’s so brilliant. How’s Uni Watch supposed to keep hating the Cowboys when they come up with something this cool?
I like quite a few of the things that Lukas hates. Most especially, I think having very different blue and white unis is fine. I’ve long thought, though, that having multiple shades of blue and silver looked strange, since the helmets and the pants clash. Why they do that, I couldn’t say. And the Dyno labels are rather high schoolish.
Hat tip: Robert Wilonsky
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