NFL apparel has become something of a fashion statement. The Oakland Raiders, Black Hole, and Silver and Black are largely identified with a renegade culture of misfits, while the Dallas Star is often placed right next to one serving of apple pie as a symbol of America’s Team. At the same time, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and now New England Patriots paraphernalia represent strength and a winning mystique.
Still, a few hard-luck franchises are largely associated with losing ugly — both literally and figuratively. The Cleveland Browns should receive something of a pass here, because like the New Jersey Turnpike, their look is ugly, but endearingly functional and very much fitting for a Rust Belt city where the river caught fire in the late ’80s. Beyond Cleveland, five other franchises are infamous for abstract designs, clashing color schemes, and misplaced logos. The five ugliest NFL uniforms make the idea of moral victories — or losing in style — all but impossible.
5. Los Angeles Rams
The move from Los Angeles to St. Louis and back again left the Rams’ uniform situation in flux and dangerously close to being No. 1 on our list of the ugliest NFL uniforms. This ugly and confusing controversy has pitted players, ownership, league executives, and old-school fans against each other. In St. Louis, the Rams wore navy blue, old gold, and white uniforms. In Los Angeles, the Rams wore royal blue and yellow uniforms. The Rams, however, plan to keep wearing their St. Louis duds in Los Angeles through 2019. (The league office does allow teams to wear throwback uniforms for two games out of the season.)
The drab St. Louis look really has no place in sunny Southern California, so the organization still appears to have one foot back in the folksy Midwest, where Kurt Warner wore a buzz cut and threw flare passes to Marshall Faulk out in the flat. For road games, the LA Rams currently wear white jerseys and white pants with old gold piping that’s barely distinguishable on the field of play. These Rams were all but invisible on the field during Week 1, taking a 28-0 blowout loss in San Francisco.
Like the San Diego Chargers and their powder blue throwbacks, the Los Angeles Rams will break out their classic blue and yellow uniforms for big, primetime games. Eric Dickerson wore this look best, when he made one cut behind the line of scrimmage, exploded through the hole, and accelerated untouched to top speed for six.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars are something of an undercard in this part of SEC Country, where the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators reign supreme. Jacksonville does play host to the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” every year, when more than 200,000 Florida and Georgia fans descend upon the city. For years, rumor have swirled that Jaguar management would give schoolboy legend Tim Tebow a serious look, simply to sell tickets.
Against this backdrop, the Jaguars took the field wearing Space Age uniforms more so befitting of the Arena Football League. Jaguar team colors are an odd combination of teal, white, gold, and black. These clashing colors play themselves out further with a team logo featuring an angry Jaguar bearing teeth and a blue tongue. The two-toned helmets begin with black and somehow transition to gold over the crown. From there, the jerseys and pants are a hodgepodge of strange shapes and digital fonts. For this, an infamous GIF of a confused Jaguars fan will continue to make the rounds.
Like the ugliest NFL uniforms, the Jaguars franchise appeared to lack any sense of continuity, planning, and direction for several years running. The Jags took Blaine Gabbert and Justin Blackmon in back-to-back drafts. Gabbert is now trying to resurrect his career in San Francisco, after going a brutal 5-22 and being benched for good in Jacksonville. Blackmon, for his part, is already out of football after being arrested multiple times for marijuana possession and drinking while driving.
Still, there is now reason for newfound hope in Jacksonville, with the Jaguars picking up Patrick Ramsey, Myles Jack T.J. Yeldon, Allen Robinson, and Blake Bortles through the draft. Bortles is straight out of central casting to play quarterback and already throws one of the better deep balls in the league. Last year, Robinson hauled in 80 catches for 1,400 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. The Jacksonville Jaguars, despite their off-the-wall uniforms, are now one of the more intriguing sleeper teams for the 2016–17 season.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
For several years running, the Cincinnati Bengals, or Bungles, were largely associated with perennial losing, high-profile draft busts, extensive rap sheets, and the ugliest NFL uniforms. Cincinnati fans, through the down years, would often wear brown paper bags to the old Riverfront Stadium out of complete humiliation, while also shielding themselves away from the ugly product out on the field.
The black, white, and orange tiger prints appear seem more so at home at a ’70s disco club or a Jane Fonda workout video than they would be upon any NFL gridiron. Over the years, Cincinnati team gear has transitioned from a classic look eerily similar to the old Cleveland Browns (Paul Brown founded both the Browns and Bengals) into that of an avant-garde feline. To add insult to injury, tigers and exotic animals have nothing to do with the state of Ohio.
Still, Bengals versus Steelers has suddenly emerged as the fiercest rivalry in the NFL today. Cincinnati is now a perennial contender after taking five straight trips to the playoffs. Still, Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton have yet to win a postseason game between them. Last season, Pittsburgh tackle Marcus Gilbert went so far as to demand a playoff rematch against Cincinnati, “where they choke.” The Bengals, of course, granted Gilbert his Christmas wish and handed the game back to Pittsburgh after a late fumble and multiple cheap shots that set the Steelers up for the game-winning kick, while rowdy fans threw batteries onto the field through the driving rain. This wild-card bloodbath was a downright ugly game, with both teams racking up nearly $100,000 in fines.
2. Tennessee Titans
The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 and rechristened themselves as the Titans shortly thereafter. In Houston, the Oilers wore white, silver, baby blue, and red. The helmets then prominently featured an oil derrick to represent the world’s energy capital. Nearly 20 years later, the Titans franchise appears as a lazy attempt to simply slap the name Tennessee above the freewheeling East Texas and AFL culture.
Firstly, Titans is a rather generic name for a state that often plays up its frontier history. In Knoxville, the Tennessee Volunteers take the field to renditions of Rocky Top, while Davy Crockett fires off his musket and Smoky [Mountains] the dog romps around. In contrast, the Titans appear as if they were newly created out of franchise mode in Madden, with a Titans “T” that looks strangely similar to a flaming thumbtack that was shot out of a comet. As a saving grace, the Titans logo does feature three stars to pay homage to the Tennessee flag.
The Titans added navy blue to the old Oilers color scheme. Like Nike, Phil Knight, and the Oregon Ducks, Tennessee has rolled out near infinite iterations of navy, teal, silver, and red over the years. To add to the confusion , the Titans uniforms sometimes feature horizontal, two-toned shoulders and nameplates above vertical piping on the pants. Pablo Picasso and abstract art have no business on the football field — even for the ugliest NFL uniforms.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers top our list of the ugliest NFL uniforms. Their color scheme, by itself, is already off-putting enough. The Bucs take the field wearing red, orange, red, and pewter, which is a strange combination of brown and silver. In working with this color scheme, Tampa Bay has jammed multiple angular shapes onto its uniforms, as an apparent geometry lesson for kindergartners. To top things off, the Tampa numbers and nameplates are presented with large, digital fonts.
The Tampa Bay logo also appears to bite off the Oakland Raiders, but falls way short of projecting any type of bad boy, renegade image, especially in red and pewter. The Buccaneer flag on the helmet is absurdly large and presents an angry skull overseeing one pair of swords and one football. Last year, the look was made all the more complete with a fat Jameis Winston rolling out of the pocket on broken plays, before throwing the ball aimlessly downfield and taking a shot behind the line.
For special occasions, several teams — like the LA Rams, San Diego Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles, and New England Patriots — can break out classic throwback uniforms that pop more than their current gear. These Buccaneers, however, are left to reach for their bright orange, creamsicle jerseys in the locker room. In 1976, Tampa Bay once went 0-14 wearing these uniforms, while Bucco Bruce bit down on his sword and winked at fans.