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What's With the Uniforms? The Stories Behind the AFL Throwbacks

Scott Allen
The Denver Broncos uniform has remained the same after the shift from its previously defunct uniforms.
The Denver Broncos uniform has remained the same after the shift from its previously defunct uniforms. / Justin Edmonds, Getty Images
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The eight charter members of the American Football League are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the league's launch by wearing throwback uniforms for select NFL games this season. At various times before the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, the Titans played in New York, Tennessee and Kansas City's current franchises were in Houston and Dallas, respectively, and a penny-pinching—and possibly colorblind—general manager in Denver told everyone who would listen that his team's mustard- and brown-colored uniforms were actually gold and copper. Here are the stories behind the nicknames and uniforms of the AFL's Original Eight.

Denver Broncos

All throwbacks are not created equal, as the Denver UPS Deliverymen, er, Broncos can attest. It's a wonder that Kyle Orton and Co. have managed to play so well—they're one of four undefeated teams entering Week 7—while looking so heinous. At their best, the Broncos' throwbacks are charming; at their worst, they are "perhaps the ugliest uniforms of all time," according to New York Times columnist Lynn Zinser.

There's a perfectly good explanation for this. Operating on a tight budget, Denver's first general manager, Dean Griffing, purchased the team's original uniforms from a defunct college football All-Star game, the Copper Bowl. The vertically striped socks, which Griffing claimed made his players look taller, were purchased for cheap from a sporting goods store and only made his players look ridiculous.

"They certainly didn't build confidence," former player Frank Bernardi told former Broncos announcer Larry Zimmer. To make matters worse, the uniforms didn't fit. "I used to cut the armpits of them so I could raise my arm to pass," Denver quarterback Frank Tripucka said. As Ed Gruver recalls in The American Football League, when Denver hired its second coach, Jack Faulkner, the Broncos declared "There's Lots New in '62!" Mercifully, that included the uniforms. Faulkner invited players to burn the vertically striped socks at the intrasquad game and designed the team's new uniforms, which introduced the orange and blue color scheme that Denver has maintained to this day. [Image credit: Eric Lars Bakke/DenverBroncos.com.]

New England Patriots (Boston Patriots)

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Tennessee Titans (Houston Oilers)

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Kansas City Chiefs (Dallas Texans)

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The Texans enjoyed two successful seasons in Dallas, winning the AFL Championship in 1962, but struggled to compete for fans with the NFL's Cowboys. Hunt began looking for a new home for his team and found a welcoming suitor in Kansas City. The Chiefs nickname is derived from the nickname of Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, who promised Hunt attendance of at least 25,000 fans per game if he moved the Texans to his city. [Image credit: DallasCowboys.com.]

Oakland Raiders

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Scotty Stirling, a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune who would later become the team's general manager, provided another reason to abandon the nickname. "That's no good," Stirling said. "We don't have the accent mark for the n in our headline type." Responding to the backlash, Soda and the team's other investors decided to change the team's nickname to Raiders, which was a finalist in the contest along with Lakers.

There's some dispute over who designed the Raiders' logo, a helmeted pirate with an eye patch and a pair of crossed swords behind him. According to former Raider Jim Otto's autobiography, a high school teacher in Oakland claimed that one of his students designed it, while a man in Hawaii claimed that he modeled the pirate after actor Randolph Scott. [Image credit: Chargers.com.]

New York Jets (New York Titans)

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The Titans' uniforms weren't exactly easy on the eyes, but they were less garish than the Broncos' original threads, which is supposedly why fullback Joe Pagliei signed with New York instead of Denver. Wismer ran the Titans into the ground financially and the team required a $40,000 bailout from the rest of the league to survive the 1962 season. An ownership group led by Sonny Werblin purchased the franchise in 1963, moved home games to Shea Stadium in 1964, and renamed the team the Jets. The team's new colors, green and white, were symbolic of Werblin's birthday—Saint Patrick's Day. [Image credit: NewYorkJets.com.]

San Diego Chargers (Los Angeles Chargers)

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Buffalo Bills

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Buffalo's original AFL uniforms were silver and blue and styled after the NFL's Detroit Lions. In 1962, the Bills underwent a makeover. The team ditched the silver and blue color scheme, as head coach Lou Saban added red and white shoulder stripes to the uniforms. The team also introduced a new logo, a standing red buffalo on a white helmet. In Rockin' the Rockpile: The Buffalo Bills of the American Football League, authors Jeffrey J. Miller and Billy Shaw describe the logo as "remarkable in its simplicity—a perfect symbol for the no-nonsense, blue-collar city the team represented." [Image credit: BuffaloBills.com.]

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