A Deep Dive on the Most Radical Uniform in NFL History
After 26 years, the Denver Broncos’ 1997 makeover still stands alone among groundbreaking NFL uniform designs.
In recent weeks we’ve taken close looks at an early-1990s MLB Style Guide and a 1999 NFL Style Guide. As I was looking through my library for other items to possibly write about, I came across something I’d forgotten about: a brand guide for the Denver Broncos’ 1997 uniform redesign. It’s sort of like the league-wide style guides we previously examined, but just for the Broncos:
Rediscovering the guide got me thinking about the Broncos’ 1997 uniforms. Uni Watch didn’t yet exist in 1997, but I was definitely a uniform aficionado at the time, and it’s hard to overstate how much commotion this uni set caused back then. 1997 was a big year for NFL uniforms — it was the year that the Buccaneers changed from orange to pewter, and the Steelers moved away from block numbers — but all of that was overshadowed by the Broncos’ new set. It clearly represented a quantum leap for NFL uniform design (although people disagreed on whether that leap was forward or backward). I didn’t like it when it was unveiled and still don’t like it today, but I can’t deny what a game-changer it was.
As the years have gone by since then, I’ve been struck by two unexpected developments. First, although Denver ’97 was clearly an “of the moment” design that looked very much like a product of its times, it has had unusual staying power. A quarter-century after its launch, it’s largely unchanged and is now one of the NFL’s longest-serving uni designs, which is about the last thing I would have expected in 1997. Granted, the Broncos won the Super Bowl after the 1997 and ’98 seasons, which certainly accounts for some of this uni set’s longevity. Still, it’s pretty amazing that the radical design has become a legacy design.
But then there’s this paradox: While the 1997 set definitely changed people’s perceptions about what a football uniform could be and thereby loosened up some of the old design rules, and while it definitely sent design ripples through the world of college football, it hasn’t really been that influential on the NFL level. Look around the league today: Are there any uniforms that seem like direct aesthetic descendants of Denver ’97? In many ways, the Denver design is as much of an outlier today as it was when it was released.
Now the legacy outlier’s days could be numbered. While nothing is official yet, there are signs that the Broncos may be getting new uniforms in 2024, which means the 1997 set might be entering its final season. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this design. We’ll start with 10 deep-dive details that you may not have known about, and then we’ll circle back to the branding guide.
Ready? Here we go!