Even if officials blew a crucial call that helped the Los Angeles Rams advance to Super Bowl LIII, casual NFL fans could still give a sigh of relief after the NFC championship game. The Rams announced they’d take the field for the Super Bowl wearing their beloved royal blue and gold throwback uniforms.
The Rams, as the Super Bowl’s designated home team, were able to choose which uniforms they wanted to wear. And the NFL granted the team special dispensation to spare the viewing public from the atrocities that are Los Angeles’s other uniform options. The Rams will become the first team to wear different helmet designs between the conference championship game and the Super Bowl.
That will bring a classic look to Sunday’s Super Bowl, a look the Rams used for most of their regular season home games this season, which also required special permission from the NFL. Rams COO Kevin Demoff announced the throwback uniforms' increased use before the season, saying the team had heard from fans “about their love for these iconic uniforms, and that “I’m excited for our fans because their voice was heard.”
The Rams sometimes wear white horns on their navy helmets instead of gold. Either way, they clash with their navy jerseys, which still have champagne numbers and lining. The white jerseys are less offensive, with navy numbers and champagne details, but still not all that great.
But the throwbacks: “Everyone seems to love the Rams’ throwbacks,” said Paul Lukas, the founder and editor of sports design blog Uni Watch.
The Rams wore some variation of the iconic royal and gold or white look from 1939 until 2000, then started using them again in 2009 as an alternate. When the team moved back to the West Coast in 2016, fans clamored for more of the classic design, linking the midcentury Fred Gehrke era of the franchise to Roman Gabriel’s 1960s L.A. Rams to Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis teams.
Instead, the team responded by announcing they’d keep the 2000-era navy and champagne look, but drop the gold helmet horns in favor of white. When the Rams move into a new stadium in Inglewood in 2020, they’ll do so with an entirely redesigned brand identity, including new uniforms, franchise leadership has said.
“It has left them with this weird hybrid design where it feels like they’re in purgatory,” Lukas said. “They’re not fully the old thing or the new thing.”
The old thing was pioneered by Gehrke, a running back who signed with the team in 1940, when it was located in Cleveland. He played one season, then left to work in airplane factories in Los Angeles during World War II and rejoined the team after the fighting. By then, the Rams had moved out west, too, and Coach Bob Snyder encouraged Gehrke, a gifted artist, to draw a design on the team’s helmet to help distinguish the franchise in its new city, Pro Football Hall of Fame archivist Jon Kendle said.
In 1948 Gehrke painted horns onto a leather helmet — plastic helmets were considered too brittle and dangerous to wear on the field — and presented the design to team owner Dan Reeves, who commissioned the tailback to paint 75 more for the team at $1 apiece.
A year later, Riddell modified its plastic helmet to make it safer and figured out a way to bake the horns design into its mold. Even as other teams had various stripes and patterns on their helmets, the Rams were the only team with something resembling a logo, and already it was wildly popular.
“In any kind of design or architecture or music, simple is hard to do. And the Rams helmet design is an exercise in elegance and simplicity,” said Todd Radom, a professional sports designer and brand consultant. “It doesn’t need any outlines. It doesn’t need any fussy details. The simplicity of the Rams horns — it’s timeless.”
In 1954, Riddell released another version of the plastic helmet that was widely adopted around pro football, Kendle said. The Philadelphia Eagles added wings to their helmets, following the Rams' lead. The Baltimore Colts the next year added a horseshoe to their headgear. The Washington Redskins in 1959 added a feather down the middle of their helmet.
By the ’60s, most NFL teams adopted helmet logos. The Hall of Fame awarded Gehrke the inaugural Daniel F. Reeves Pioneer Award in 1972 for his work on helmet design.
“It was the first designed helmet and it still seems like the best one,” Lukas said. “No one’s really improved on them.”
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