Making the Jade Grade: A Definitive Ranking of Green Sports Uniforms
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
This Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day, which means we’re going to be seeing a lot of green. And that’s fine by me, because green has been my favorite color for as long as I can remember. When my parents were going to get me a bicycle for my fifth birthday, I made sure they knew it had to be green. (It was.) Half a century later, I now have green sheets on my bed, green towels in my bathroom, a green sofa in my living room, lots of green clothing, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, a green-themed media brand devoted to sports uniforms.
All of which, I not-so-humbly submit, makes me extremely well-equipped to create a ranking of the best green designs in sports uniform history. Frankly, I’m surprised I never thought of doing it before! And what better time than now, when green is in the air?
Before we start, a few ground rules:
My original plan was to rank the 25 best green uniforms. But I was finding so many great green designs in the course of my research that I expanded it to 35. That feels like a good number — anything more would risk lowering the bar and watering down the quality, and anything less would risk omitting some worthy unis.
For a uniform to be considered, green had to be its primary non-white color. For example, the Brazilian national soccer team has a gorgeous kit with very nice green trim, but that’s not a green uni — it’s just a uni with a bit of green — so it wasn’t eligible. Similarly, the New Jersey Devils’ original 1980s uniforms had a decent amount of green, and the Devils have even made a habit of reviving that design as a throwback for St. Paddy’s Day, but that’s still a red uni, not a green uni — not eligible. On the other hand, the Devils’ 2021 Reverse Retro design, which was based on that ’80s uni, did qualify for consideration (but didn’t make the final cut), because green is clearly its main color.
I based the rankings primarily on aesthetics, although historical influence and other intangibles were also taken into account.
All sports were eligible. But with one exception — again, due to historical import — I avoided minor league baseball, major junior hockey, Division II and III colleges, high schools, and so on. Too many teams and the uniforms change too often, so I had to draw the line somewhere (even though there’s one junior hockey team I really wanted to include).
With a couple of exceptions (yet again, due to historical import), I avoided promotional one-offs and stuck to “real” or full-time uni designs.
Uni Watch jerseys were not eligible.
To help set the green-themed mood, I suggest reading the rest of this article while listening to the great self-titled debut album by the 1980s indie power-pop band Green, which you can stream in its entirety here.
Okay, enough preliminaries. Without further ado, I hereby submit to you the definitive ranking of the 35 greatest green uniforms in sports history, counting down from No. 35 to the top spot.
35. Peggy Fleming, 1968 Winter Olympics
As some of you probably know, I’ve long questioned whether figure skating even qualifies as a sport, but Peggy Fleming’s famous chartreuse dress at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, deserves inclusion on this list because of its backstory. The dress was made for her by her mother, Doris. Why did she choose that color? Because she learned that French monks in the Grenoble region made Chartreuse liqueur at a nearby monastery, so she thought the French audience would approve of the color and cheer extra-hard for her daughter. It apparently worked, as Fleming was the USA’s only gold medalist at those games. Here’s the chartreuse-clad free skate routine that sealed the gold for her:
34. Pakistan National Cricket Team
Plenty of cricket teams wear green. But only one — Pakistan’s national team — is nicknamed the “Green Shirts” and the “Men in Green.” The gold stars on the helmet, jersey, and pants provide well-positioned visual interest and tie everything together nicely.
33. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Despite their name, the Fighting Irish wear navy, not green — usually. On special occasions, however, they do break out the emerald tones, most famously for their 1977 home game against No. 5-ranked USC. Coach Dan Devine had the team warm up in navy, but the players then pulled a locker room switcheroo and came out of the tunnel wearing green. With Joe Montana under center, the Irish ended up winning, 49-19, in what has become known simply as the “Green Jersey Game.” Here are some highlights:
It’s a great story and a mighty fine uni, but there’s still something weird about seeing Notre Dame in a color other than navy — it doesn’t feel quite right. Otherwise they’d rank higher on this list. (You can see a good two-part overview of Notre Dame’s history of wearing green here and here.)
32. Dartmouth Big Green
Let’s face it, any team called the Big Green was probably going to get a spot on this list. But Dartmouth would have earned its spot anyway, thanks to its unique helmet design (created in 1965 by coach Bob Blackman). The “Lone Pine” sleeve logo (here’s an explainer) is a great finishing touch.
31. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Fans tend to think of MLB’s Tampa Bay franchise as having two primary phases. The first one began in 1998, when the team debuted as the Devil Rays with a roster that was bad and uniforms that were even worse. The second phase began in 2008, when they officially dropped the word “Devil” from their name, changed their color scheme, and promptly went to the World Series. But in between those two phases — from 2001 through 2007, to be precise — was a transitional period when the team adopted green as its main color and wore very handsome uniforms. The Rays weren’t very good during these years, and the uniforms have largely been forgotten (they’ve never gotten a throwback showcase), but they’ll always be a sentimental favorite here at Uni Watch HQ.
30. NFL Field Judges
Little-known fun fact: NFL officiating crews’ zebra stripes were color-coded by position from 1941 through 1946, with the field judges wearing green. Makes sense — who could doubt the integrity and judgment of an emerald-clad arbiter? Unfortunately, color photos from this period are super-rare, and color video tends to have degraded to the point of making the stripe colors indistinct. But even a simple mock-up like the one shown above is enough to demonstrate how tremendous this must have looked on the field.
29. South Africa Springboks
If you’ve seen the 2009 Clint Eastwood-directed movie Invictus, then you know the story of the South African national rugby union team, commonly known as the Springboks. With South Africa hosting the Rugby World Cup in 1995, just after the dismantling of apartheid, the Boks were not expected to perform well but ended up winning the title on their home turf. A gorgeous green kit certainly didn’t hurt their chances!
28. New York Jets
I’m usually not such a fan of football uniforms that are just one color plus white, but it helps when that one color is green, and the Jets’ original look added lots of visual interest via well-deployed stripes and those contrasting sleeves. The team’s current look, sadly, is an arena-esque embarrassment, but here’s hoping they go back to the classic design soon. Bonus points for the team being nicknamed “Gang Green.”
27. Vermont Catamounts
I know nothing about lacrosse, but I know what I like, and Vermont’s lacrosse uni is the bomb. The school doesn’t have a football team, but imagine if they did — that helmet design and those perfect Northwestern sleeve stripes would make them the class of the gridiron. The LAX team’s green jersey is no slouch either.
26. Fresno Tacos
It’s not often that a single uniform can change an entire industry, but that’s what happened in 2015 when the Fresno Grizzlies — the Single-A minor league affiliate of MLB’s Colorado Rockies — got the idea to honor Fresno’s annual Taco Truck Throwdown competition by renaming themselves as the Fresno Tacos for one game, complete with a new green/orange uniform. The promotion was such a hit that it launched a wave of food-based one-day team rebrandings, which have now become a favorite promotional trope throughout minor league baseball. Meanwhile, as other teams have hopped aboard this bandwagon, the Grizzlies have continued to play as the Tacos for a few games each season and have annually trotted out new Tacos uniforms — most of which have featured plenty of green (although this season’s edition is slated to be purple — yikes!).
25. Utah Jazz
Despite the seemingly obvious Mardi Gras connection, the Jazz never wore green when the franchise was still in New Orleans during the 1970s. They first wore it in the early 1980s, shortly after moving to Utah, and then went green-free for 25 miserable years. Finally, in 2011, they unveiled an updated version of the ’80s design, featuring an earthier shade of jade, separate colors for the team name and front uni number, and some blue trim, all of which worked extremely well and was an improvement on the original version. Unfortunately, this uniform was worn only from 2011 through 2016. The team has kept green in the rotation since then, but the designs haven’t been as good as the 2011-16 version, and now there’s talk that the team will soon be changing its colors, so green appears to be a dead hue walking in the team’s chromatic scheme. Dang.
24. Philadelphia Eagles
Ah, the Iggles decked out in their traditional Kelly green — such a pleasing sight, and so much better than the darker shade they wear nowadays, wouldn’t you agree? (That question is rhetorical, as I already know everyone agrees.) Now that the NFL is lifting the one-shell rule, there’s widespread hope of this design being revived as a throwback. Can’t wait!
23. Minnesota Wild
Some people don’t like the Wild’s name, which I understand — team names should end in “s.” But then there are people who also don’t like their primary logo, and I don’t understand that at all. Just about everything about this team’s visual program, from the logo to the various uniforms, has been first-rate from day one. And of course they continued the Minnesota tradition of wearing green, which they inherited from the state’s previous NHL franchise. (You can be sure that that other team will be appearing elsewhere on this list.)
22. George Mason Patriots
A classic uniform, for sure. But what puts it over the top and earns it a space on this list is the team name — Patriots. Because really, what’s more patriotic than wearing green? Even the university isn’t entirely sure how GMU ended up with this color scheme, but connecting green and patriotism makes righteous sense here at Uni Watch HQ.
21. Mike Bliss, 2015 Bojangles’ Southern 500
For various superstitious reasons, green cars are considered bad luck in auto racing, but they still show up here and there, never more handsomely than when Mike Bliss drove a green-themed beauty in the 2015 Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. This design was actually a throwback based on the famed “Skoal Bandit” car that Harry Gant drove in the 1990s. But Bliss’s version had fewer ads than the original (look at that gloriously unfettered hood!), allowing the magnificence of the underlying paint scheme to shine through.
20. Mexico Men’s National Soccer Team
Lots of soccer teams wear green jerseys with white shorts, but Mexico took the unusual step of accessorizing that look with red socks. Mixing red and green is always risky because you can end up looking too Christmas-y, but the green/white/red color blocking totally worked here because it mimicked the design of the Mexican flag. Sadly, the team no longer wears this kit, but it’s too good to stay mothballed for long — or at least that’s what I’m hoping.
19. Colorado State Rams
Lots of teams say their colors are green and gold, but come on — in most cases, as you can see simply by scrolling through this article, it’s actually green and yellow. Colorado State, on the other hand, pairs its excellent shade of green with a similarly resplendent shade of gold, making for a very sharp on-field look. And while the helmet design is poached from the NFL’s L.A. Rams, it sure is nice to see it rendered in this color scheme.
18. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Green is great (duh), but sometimes you want to supplement it with a few other colors — or maybe a lot of other colors. That was the case for most of the 1980s and ’90s for the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors, who lived up to their name by wearing a rainbow-patterned helmet logo and matching pants stripes. A unique and underrated look.
17. War Emblem and Victor Espinoza, 2002 Kentucky Derby
It’s not unheard of for a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey to be wearing green silks (like Jacinto Vasquez aboard Genuine Risk in 1980), or for a Derby-winning horse to have a green saddle cloth (like American Pharoah in 2015). But it is rare for those two things to occur in the same year. As near as I can tell, the last time it happened — maybe the only time — was in 2002, when jockey Victor Espinoza wore spectacular green and white striped silks while riding to victory aboard War Emblem, whose Kelly green saddle cloth was a perfect match for Espinoza’s attire. War Emblem’s green halter was the emerald icing on the cake.
16. Portland Timbers
The half-black, half-green treatment is a little annoying, but the Timbers use such a tasty shade of green, and it's complemented so well by the black, that I don’t mind that much. So easy on the eyes, it’s almost enough to make a soccer fan out of me.
15. Australia Women’s National Basketball Team
Australia is one of the few countries whose national colors (green and
gold yellow) are distinct from their flag colors (red, white, and blue). Aussie sports teams almost always wear the national colors in international competitions, so they tend to look great wearing all that green, but the women’s basketball squad deserves special mention for their groundbreaking one-piece kit. The Opals, as the team is known, first wore the unusual unitard uni from 1996 through 2008. They then reverted to the more traditional tank top and shorts, but the one-piece design was revived last year for the Tokyo Olympics because the current players wanted to dress like the past team members they grew up idolizing. Traditionalists may not care for this one, but I’ve always admired the unique design as much as the color scheme. Green: It’s the color of innovation!
14. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have worn green throughout their history — paired sometimes with red, sometimes with purple, and lately with black. But the sweet spot was from 1985 through 1993, when they paired green with … more green. This uni set, dubbed the “Irish Rainbow,” had three distinct shades of green, but it felt like more because of the way they were deployed on the jerseys’ side panels. If Dorothy really wanted to find the Emerald City, she should’ve headed straight to Milwaukee!
13. Cincinnati Reds
Gimmick uniforms are usually just that — gimmicks. But some gimmicks turn out to be game-changers that justify their existence and earn our respect, and that’s definitely the case with the green unis that the Reds wore for a spring training game on St. Patrick’s Day, 1978. More than four decades later, teams wearing green on March 17 has become an annual Grapefruit and Cactus League ritual that everyone looks forward to. Did I mention that green is the color of innovation? Bonus points for the cognitive dissonance of the team wearing one color while being named after another.
12. Oregon Ducks
Whatever else you can say about Oregon’s uniform program (and let’s face it, you could say quite a bit), they’ve certainly done their part to raise the profile of your friendly uniform columnist’s favorite color. Obviously, some of the designs have been more regrettable than others, and it’s a shame that even the good designs have promptly vanished as part of the school’s ridiculous never-ending uniform carousel, but anything that showcases the never-ending possibilities of green uniforms has definitely earned a spot on this list.
11. Hartford Whalers
Is this jersey crest, with the hidden “H” for Hartford, the greatest sports team logo of all time? It’s certainly in the discussion. That logo would elevate any uniform, but put green in the mix and we’re talking an all-timer. Bonus points for wearing green Cooperalls in the 1982-83 season.
10. Celtic FC
I like green and I like stripes, so of course I like Celtic FC’s kits. I love the little hairline stripes above and below the larger hoop stripes, and even Adidas’s obligatory triple-stripe treatment on the shorts and shoulders seems less annoying in this context.
9. Seattle SuperSonics
One of the saddest things about the Sonics relocating to Oklahoma and becoming the Thunder was the loss of one of the uni-verse’s premier green uniforms. Something about that arched treatment across the chest feels just right, doesn’t it? Bonus points for duplicating it for the players’ names on the back of the jersey.
8. The Masters
Even though it’s not worn during competition, the Masters’ fabled Green Jacket is arguably the world’s most coveted piece of sports apparel. And if the winner also happens to be happens to wearing a green shirt, as Danny Willett was in 2016 (see above), so much the better.
7. Serena Williams, 2002 French Open
I was thinking of including the Cameroon soccer team on this list, but then I remembered that Serena Williams wore a really cool green dress based on the Cameroon kit in the 2002 French Open. So this isn’t just a great green uniform — it’s a great green uniform inspired by another great green uniform! Definite bonus points for that. Some people put this one on Serena’s “fashion faux pas” list, but it’s always been a big favorite here at Uni Watch HQ. Here’s how it looked in action:
6. Boston Celtics
Amidst all the silliness that characterizes the modern NBA uniform scene, certain eternal verities endure, none more timeless than the Celtics’ green uniform. It’s a shame that they’ve watered down their look in recent years with black, grey, and other unseemly shenanigans, but their primary look is still a balm to the eyes.
5. Miami Hurricanes
As you can see just by scrolling through this list, green is most frequently paired with yellow or gold. But don’t overlook green and orange, a badly underutilized color combo that deserves more on-field exposure. For proof of concept, look no further than Miami. Puts the “u” in “superb”!
4. Joe Frazier, 1971 Heavyweight Title Bout
Green boxing trunks are fairly rare. But for the 1971 “Fight of the Century” showdown between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali — the first of their three 1970s bouts, and also the first loss of Ali’s career — Smokin’ Joe wore spectacular green trunks with gold trim. An epic look for an epic event! For good measure, even Frazier’s cornermen wore green. Here’s a video of the whole fight, so you can admire Frazier’s magnificently verdant stylings:
Footnote: Frazier also wore green and amber gloves for his 1973 fight with George Foreman.
3. Oakland A’s
Former A’s owner Charles Finley was notorious for many things, but we all owe him a debt of gratitude for dressing his team in green and
gold yellow. When he introduced the color scheme in 1963 — the A’s were still in Kansas City at the time — it was, incredibly, only the second time in the 20th century that a big league ballclub had worn green. (The only previous instance was a one-year experiment by, of all teams, the Dodgers in 1937.) Nearly six decades on, it’s impossible to think about green sports uniforms without thinking of the A’s. They’ve had lots of green-themed looks over the years (including a solid-green combo that might be a bit too much even for me), but if forced to choose I’d go with the 1970s green pullover jersey over white sansabelt pants, as modeled by Vida Blue in the photo above.
Footnote: Finley used the same color scheme for the other two pro sports franchises he owned, the NHL’s California Seals and the ABA’s Memphis Tams. Clearly a man with excellent taste in colors!
2. Minnesota North Stars
Best hockey uniform ever? Quite possibly. From the spectacular chest logo to the unbeatable color scheme, it’s a thing of beauty. When the Wild used this uni as the basis for their recent Reverse Retro design, no wonder everyone said, “Just make that your standard look!” It’s nice that the franchise has continued to wear green after relocating to Dallas and becoming the Stars, but the Dallas unis can’t compete with the Minnesota look. Sorely missed but fondly remembered.
1. Green Bay Packers
The classics are classic for a reason, are they not? And it doesn’t get more classic than the Pack’s magnificent green/yellow uniforms, featuring the perfect autumnal color palette for an autumn sport. Bonus points for having the word “Green” in their city name. Chef’s kiss!
Honorable mentions (some of which were also referenced in the main text):
MLB: Brooklyn Dodgers.
NBA/ABA: Memphis Tams; San Diego Rockets.
NHL: California Seals; Dallas Stars; New Jersey Devils; Phoenix Coyotes.
NCAA: Baylor; Eastern Michigan; Manhattan; Marshall; Michigan State; North Texas; Ohio; Tulane; UAB; USF.
Soccer: SpVgg Greuther Fürth; Hibernian FC; Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras; Plymouth Argyle FC; AS Saint-Étienne; Tampa Bay Rowdies; SV Werder Bremen; and the national teams of Algeria, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Germany, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Pakistan.
Other: Boxer Gerry Cooney; NASCAR driver Chase Briscoe; sumo wrestler Shōdai Naoya; singer Elvis Presley.
Dishonorable mentions: A pox on the Orlando Thunder and Seattle Seahawks for besmirching green’s good name. There are some other teams that belong in this category as well, but let’s not dwell on the negative.
And there you have it — a deeply immersive assessment of uniforms rendered in the world’s greatest color. I don’t mind saying that the photo research for this article was one of the most enjoyable tasks I’ve ever embarked on. I’ve been in a green-induced good mood for weeks!
But while this article is extensive, it is not exhaustive. Although I tried to cast a wide net, I’m sure there some deserving green uniforms out there that escaped my notice. If you know of any, please post them in the comments. And of course, also feel free to quibble with my rankings if you think I got something wrong.
While no other color can match up to green, the broader notion of color-based uni rankings offers some intriguing possibilities for future articles — stay tuned.
(Special thanks to Jamie Rathjen for soccer research assistance and to Greg Franklin for the Elvis tidbit.)
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Bulletin articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.
The Jets do not have a monopoly on Gang Green, ask any Eagles fan about it.
I really really love to see Mexico unis in this list. :) I'm proud.
Buuuuuut... Eagle are way low. :( Those uniforms deserve a lot more love, Paul. Really.