This is the second of the 4-part series that evaluates the quality of the team logos for the four major pro sports leagues and pronounces a best and worst verdict for each.
With shorter days and cooler evenings bringing the summer to a close (sorry Arizona), the nip in the air means just one thing… the NFL is back baby!
Nothing announces Autumn like a new season in the NFL. Players with their hearts pounding with exertion, sweat dripping down their foreheads, their lungs gasping for air. And I’m just talking about Fantasy Football owners frantically scouring the waiver wire for season-salvaging flex players.
But this year Sports Brand Jury has been looking at the new season through a different lens. The lens that focuses on the National Football League team logos. Just like Part One of this four-part series that analyzed the MLB logos, SBJ has reviewed all 31 NFL team logos (no that isn’t a typo thanks to a certain team from Ohio), and is ready to award touchdowns, field goals, safeties and even penalties if necessary to each NFL team based on the quality of their logo. In the end, one team will take home the title of best logo in the league, while another will end up with the first-round pick in next year’s logo draft. Please refrain from homer hate-email unless absolutely necessary. The SBJ court bailiff carries a big stick and he’s not afraid to use it.
First, a few ground rules. In most cases, the logo that will be used in the evaluation of each team will be the one featured on its helmet. Since that leaves a little room for controversy (Cincinnati, Minnesota and the LA Rams, for instance), secondary logos will be substituted in some cases. And unlike the MLB logo evaluation process, no grandfather clause will be applied. The NFL is much more visually brand-conscious than its summer counterpart. Competing in the NFL means no leniency when it comes to poor team branding. Long-tenured or not, each team logo will be evaluated based on its visual impact in 2019, not on any historical or emotional attachments.
First, The Touchdowns
Obviously, from this group will come the ultimate NFL logo champion. There are quite a few really well-designed logos in the league, so it’s a pretty large group. In no particular order, here are the best of the best:
Ever since they came into the league in 1976, their logo has been at the top of my favorites list. Simple, clean lines. Great northwest native American totem-style, and a fluid aggressive portrayal of the bird. I miss the old bright blue and green a bit, but even with a few logo tweaks and some more recent gutsy color choices it still flies.
Okay, two bird logos right off the bat? Not my fault, they’re just really well done. The Eagles logo has the same aggressive, clean design style with a bit more dimension and motion than the Seahawks has. Capturing a bird of prey in a logo design isn’t easy if you’ve ever tried it, and it can end up looking like something from a Saturday morning cartoon show. (Do they still do those?) But this one works for me any Sunday.
I loved the old Oilers logo, so it was hard to adjust to a new team name and city. But I was pleasantly surprised at the design they introduced. It incorporates blue and red flames like those trailing a comet, three red stars in a nod to the state flag, and a beautifully crafted “T” that includes a simple chiseled design to add dimension. I just wish they had kept the white helmets. Their logo works better against white.
This one seems to be a bit polarizing. People either really like it or really hate it. Maybe it depends on which side of Texas you come from. In my mind, the steer skull is a brilliant choice of imagery. The split color treatment and the small star for the eye socket epitomize the Texas flag. Houston “got r done” with this one. Almost makes me forget the Oilers altogether.
New England Patriots
Since the Broncos and the Steelers are my two teams, it’s really hard to give any credit to the Patriots. For anything. But Sports Brand Jury is fair if nothing else, so New England gets a place in the top tier of NFL logos. A great design with the flowing tri-corner hat, the stern-looking patriot, and the red tail section that adds the element of motion. It even includes the stars and stripes. A grudging SBJ thumbs up.
Even though they dropped the kitschy but fun helmet from their mascot, Miami hit the mark when they introduced their major logo update in 2013. The simplified sunburst ring, the streamlined dolphin image and the subtle shift in the angle of the tail all add up to a sleek new Fins logo. With the minor update to a darker orange color last year, it’s become one of my favorites. But boy would I like to have seen some of the sketches that didn’t make the cut. I’m sure a few of them included the helmet.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With an 0-14 inaugural season in 1976 and that wicked awful orange-faced pirate logo, you’d think the Bucs were doomed to be NFL dungeon dwellers forever. But their super cool tattered pirate flag logo with the skull and crossed swords brought them both respectability and a 2003 Super Bowl win. Great linework that creates perfect highlights and shadows without being too complex make this one of the SBJ faves.
Next, The Field Goals
This group includes a lot of really nice logos that fall just short of the top tier. Kind of like settling for a field goal after a long drive. It’s nice to get the three points, but you really wish you would have gotten six.
The Jags logo jumped into one of the top NFL logo levels when they made the 2013 update. Previously it wasn’t bad, but their spots looked more like black jellybeans than anything. With the update, the Jacksonville logo now has great detail, dimension and aggression. Maybe it’s just the nature of a jaguar, but it’s just a little too complex to make the SBJ top tier. But it’s probably the best of the Field Goals.
New Orleans Saints
I was a huge Saints fan when I was a kid. I learned to draw the Saints logo about the time I discovered the Crayola gold crayon. The Fleur de Lis is the quintessential symbol of the Crescent City and the team logo has changed very little since John Gilliam ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown against the Rams on their first-ever NFL play. (See, you get great trivia content in this blog.) Love the team. Love the logo. Always will.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have one of the coolest helmets in the league with the large curling rams horn design. But their logo falls just short of the SBJ top tier. It’s got a touch of throwback to it since they dropped the gold color in 2017. It’s a beautifully designed bighorn ram, but I think the extra outline element is unnecessary. Just for fun, I deleted that and I think it would have made the SBJ Touchdown level if they’d gone for something like the one shown below. SBJ Rule # 17 – KISS. That outline for outline’s sake…is a mistake.
The Bills made a major improvement when they ditched their well-loved but spindly-legged AFL logo for the much more dynamic and aggressive current one. Nothing too special, but still above average as NFL team logos go.
At first, the Lions logo was slated to be a level below this one. But closer inspection of the detailing moved them up one. Prior to 2009, their logo was more of a lion-blob, with little detail or finesse to the shape. Since then, it’s actually quite nice. From a distance, you can’t really see the details though, so the on-field impact of the update is negligible. But kudos to Detroit for at least bringing itself out of its near Rorschach-test past life. Unlike the Rams logo, I do like the silver outline in this case. It adds a nice second color accent.
Definitely positive. Almost as good as a field goal, and even better in some ways since you get the ball back after scoring a safety. This group of team logos includes most of the stalwarts. The classics. The ones whose owners would be strung up from the goalposts if they tried to change them. You know who you are.
Leading the pack of Safeties is the Chicago Bears iconic “C” logo. There’s really not much to say about it. It’s a “C”. They’re from Chicago. It’s a nice “C”. End of story. Although how its similarity to the Cincinnati Reds logo hasn’t created a trademark controversy might be a topic for a future post.
SBJ isn’t a huge fan of the Carolina logo, but it has some good qualities. The panther head is fierce enough and the turquoise and black colors are unique in the NFL. I think it’s the triangular body shape that keeps this one from being something really special. Its shape is too ambiguous and wide to be intimidating and isn’t an accurate representation of the frighteningly-ripped muscular body of a panther. Somehow it looks more like the body of an overweight black housecat. It should be an easy fix though (hint, hint).
How can you not like the Colts horseshoe logo? It’s just about the same as it was back in the days of Johnny U to John Mackey. Simple, unique and classic. Probably no need to change. Ever.
Green Bay Packers
The Georgia Bulldogs logo… um, I mean the Grambling State Tigers logo… um, I mean the Green Bay Packers logo… um… (refer to the Chicago Bears…um, I mean Cincinnati Reds logo above). Anybody have some aspirin?
I already admitted to being a Broncos fan, but that didn’t get them into the top tier with their logo. Sure, they won Super Bowls in the first two seasons after they introduced it. But hey, after you’d lost five of those big games, you’d change your logo too. In any case it worked, and it still works pretty well for me. But that orange eye… it’s a bit demonic. Kind of like Blucifer, the hellish statue that greets you as you drive into Denver International Airport. Give me Bucky over Blucifer any day.
Kansas City Chiefs
It’s hard to see the Chiefs matriculating a new logo (I loved Hank Stram). It’s one of the great historic AFL logos that will likely outlive me and everyone reading this. And that’s comforting somehow.
San Diego Chargers
Yes, I said San Diego Chargers. Wanna make something of it? Sorry LA, I just can’t get over it. They tried to change the Chargers logo when the move to Los Angeles was announced and it got such negative feedback that they kept the iconic bolt logo after all. And that’s about the only good thing about the move. Do I sound bitter?
I was a huge fan of the tiger-striped helmets when the Bengals first unveiled them in 1981. So I think the orange “B” logo with the black stripes is a good translation of that concept. I’ve heard rumblings that it’s time for a change, but for SBJ, this works just fine. As an aside, I really like the alternate tiger head logo, but it’s not under review in this court case.
Three yards and a cloud of dust.
Like a run on third and long. A solid choice. A safe choice. But it usually doesn’t get you much after the dust settles. Some old school logos here, and maybe it’s not that bad to be placed in this group. It just doesn’t thrill.
The Cards blew their chance for a new identity when they moved to Arizona. Living in Arizona for over two decades, I never saw a single cardinal. How cool would it have been to embrace a new mascot like the Firebirds or the Thunderbirds? Alas, the desert fans are doomed to a life of Saturday morning cartoon logo quicksand.
Atlanta just squeaks into the SBJ Safety category. I actually prefer the Falcons’ previous logo iterations to the current one. For some reason, the talon in their current logo is grossly oversized and competes with the bird’s head for visual prominence. It has a nice degree of fierceness but the whitespace between the feathers breaks the integrity of the overall bird symbol and makes it look scraggly. Again, it could be an easy fix…
Another “untouchable” logo in this category is the Cowboy’s star symbol. Is it time to consider at least adding a second color (silver, of course), to this much-loved but long-time yawn of a logo? Something? Anybody?
The Steelers logo hasn’t changed much over the years since they “borrowed” the logo from U.S. Steel Corporation. Some small color adjustments over the years are pretty much the only change. Interestingly, the three stars are supposed to represent the three main ingredients for creating steel. Gold for coal, red for iron ore, and blue for steel scrap (… what?). Sounds like a chicken and egg thing to me.
San Francisco 49ers
Another classic logo that could really use an update. The current overlapping “S” and “F” letters might have worked okay in the sixties and seventies, but it’s meh nowadays. Throw us a bone here Niners. Time for at least a clean-up.
This group is the most disappointing. Mediocre designs, lackluster concepts and a couple just plain mailing it in. Even with brand equity allowances, all of these teams have the opportunity for at least minimal improvements. For most of these team logos, it’s a case of losing design excellence in favor of heritage. I get it, but that choice comes at a price.
I’ve always loved the Vikings helmet design, but their actual logo is short of inspiring. Something about it says Johnny Quest to me (there’s that Saturday morning cartoon thing again). But I guess my biggest question is, why is he squinting?
Ray Lewis. Terrell Suggs. Rod Woodson. And this logo? Come on man. This is probably the most benign, cartoon-like logo in the entire NFL. A complete disconnect from the toughness and hard-hitting Baltimore teams we’ve watched over the years. Way overdue for something better.
New York Giants
The current Giants logo is one of the classics, replicating the one that they had back in the early sixties and I’ve always appreciated its simple design. But a nice typography solution with no attempt to indicate anything at all about the city or the team mascot (especially something a potentially awesome as a giant) is a lost opportunity for greatness. And that’s something New Yorkers rarely shy away from.
Leaving the Redskins mascot controversy aside for the purposes of this evaluation, Washington lands in the low category based on a logo with a complete lack of finesse. The Indian head looks like it would be more at home on a vintage cigar package than a current NFL helmet. The detailing in the face, hair and feathers is downright amateurish and the clasp (or whatever you call it) that holds the feathers to the outer ring is basically an unnecessary design element. There’s so much opportunity for improvement here it’s actually sad.
Full disclosure, as a Broncos fan it gives me great pleasure to place the Raiders logo in one of the lowest tiers. But it’s not because I’m a Raider Hater. It gets there all on its own merit. Again, this is another one of those historic AFL team logos that has long endured even though it really needs at least a tweaking. Some of the same criticisms that SBJ laid on the Redskins logo apply here. Detailing in the face and helmet (especially the chin strap) is primitive and head-scratching. And for goodness sake, why is this supposedly terrifying and intimidating marauder smirking? SBJ is more afraid of the Raider fans who dress up in the stands every week than we are of the logo. Food for thought as you move to a new city Raiders.
The 15-Yard Penalties
Thankfully, just two teams end up in this category, one mostly because it technically has no logo.
New York Jets
I don’t like to hate on New York. As a kid living in northern New Jersey, the Jets were an awesome team to root for, especially in the Joe Willie Namath era. Seeing him play in those white shoes is one of my favorite sports memories. But the jets have never had, and it seems never will come close to having a good logo. Pity.
So, what you’re saying is, your logo is a helmet with no logo on it. It’s hard to evaluate nothing, but they leave SBJ no choice but to throw the flag on the Browns. Move back 15 yards and try again. However, there is something noble about being the only team to eschew an actual team logo. Having your NFL team named after a real person might make the process of designing one a bit more difficult, but I’m convinced this one has intriguing possibilities. And it would be a really fun challenge to tackle some time. (See what I did there?)
And the winner (and loser) is…
The best team logo award was harder than I thought it would be, but in the end, it came down to choosing between a handful of really nice ones. After a thorough examination of the evidence, Sports Brand Jury finds in favor of the Seattle Seahawks in the case of the NFL’s finest team logo. And here’s why. It’s a unique and striking image of the Seahawk bird that doesn’t rely on gimmicky design elements like dimensional layers or trendy styles, and it captures a perfect degree of fierceness that supports the team’s style of play. But it was something else that put them over the top. Seattle’s logo was designed in a style completely indicative of the team’s geographic heritage. That is something no other current NFL team has done. Congrats Seattle, you sit at the top of the Sports Brand Jury NFL team logo totem pole. You’ve earned it.
Filling out the top three, the Philadelphia Eagles were a close second place, with the Houston Texans earning the final podium spot. These two runners up can probably be debated, especially if one of them is your home team. Talk amongst yourselves…
So, who is the basement dweller? The team that has fumbled their opportunity for NFL team branding greatness? In what may be a surprising SBJ verdict, the loser is not the Cleveland Browns, but the New York Jets. The easy choice would have been to select Cleveland because, well… they don’t really have a logo. But SBJ has a branding soft spot for a team that sticks to its guns, bucks the trend and continues to honor its founder by proudly waving orange and brown flags (with helmets with no logo on them). In a twisted, it-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way, it does make sense.
The Jets, on the other hand, have a lousy logo, (a football inside a football?) with clunky typography and not a wisp of vapor trails to be found. At least the Browns have a difficult and ambiguous team mascot to deal with. The Jets, however, have no such excuse. Decade after decade they continue to miss the mark and shun jet-themed logo designs (the lame version they used from 1978-1997 was at least an attempt at it, but it ultimately failed to endure or capture long-term fan allegiance). Think of how cool a well-designed jet logo could be (think NHL Winnipeg). Sorry Jets fans, somebody had to finish last. But with all that branding potential left stashed in the hangar, maybe someday you’ll be cleared for takeoff and can claim a spot in a higher elevation.
Agree? Disagree? SBJ would love to hear from you. Next up… Part 3. The SBJ Best & Worst Logos of the National Hockey League.
An ongoing special thanks to Chris Creamer’s sportslogos.net, whose amazing site continues to make posts like this one easier and more fun to write.