ESC’s Denver Broncos Uniform History

1st GENERATION: 1960 - 1961

QB Frank Tripucka (#18) gets off pass to fellow Ring of Famer Lionel Taylor (#87) in early Bronco action (vs. Houston 11/6/1960).

The story has it that, for the Broncos' inaugural season, general manager Dean Griffing purchased what were considered "compromise" uniforms, light colored jerseys and drab brown pants that could be worn at both home and away games. Reputed to be extremely frugal, Griffing reportedly bought these used uniforms from a defunct organization in Tucson, Arizona.

Research indicates differing accounts as to the exact origin of the uniforms. Some sources have indicated that the uniforms were purchased from a defunct college bowl organization (see sidebar below), while coach Jack Faulkner has suggested that the uniforms came from an Arizona semi-pro organization—the Rattlers—with whom Griffing had been previously employed.

Steve Brainerd, a minor league football historian from Tucson offers additional speculation. According to Brainerd's research, the Tucson Rattlers were organized in 1958 out of the remnants of the Tucson Cowboys who went defunct following the 1957 season. Dean Griffing, who served as the GM of the '58 Rattlers (a member team of the Pacific Football Conference), apparently, took the teams' gear as partial payment of moneys due after the team ceased operations. Brainerd further speculates that the uniforms worn by the Rattlers' might have been second-hand by the time they got them. Brainerd states, "There was also a college football allstar game in Tucson at the end of the 1957 season and it's possible that that is where Griffing got the uniforms to begin with as it (the all-star game) was a one shot deal and the committee got stuck with all (the uniforms)."

In a 1974 interview, owner Gerald Phipps commented on the early uniforms saying, "We were the only team in the league that had the same uniforms on the road and at home. He (Griffing) figured out a color halfway between a white and dark jersey and only had to buy one set (Laughter.) We played with brown pants and a yellow jersey with brown numbers on it, and, of course, those vertical striped socks. That was it at home and on the road" (Connor, 1974, p. 6).

Research suggests, however, that different uniforms were indeed worn for home and road games. It is accepted that the home jerseys were a pale yellow in color—a hue that has been referred to as "burnt gold." In spite of popular assertions that this was the only jersey color, both interviews (Tripucka, 1998; Hauser, 1999) as well as photographic evidence (Hession & Spence, 1987, p. 26; Marvez, 1999, pp. 2, 4, & 6)seem to support the fact that white/brown “road” jerseys and socks were also worn.

The jerseys were likely constructed of a cotton-nylon Durene fabric and featured a crew neck and ¾-length sleeves (Tripucka, 1997). They were solid in color with no sleeve striping. Numbering and lettering were brown tackle twill.

Pants were brown in color with one source indicating the color to be "seal" brown. Some had a satin sheen; some didn't. Trim included dual yellow stripes on the outseam, which appeared to be approximately ½" in width with about ½" spacing between. Helmets were also solid brown in color and had a single 1" white center stripe and white uniform numbers on the sides in a sans serif font. The most infamous feature of this uniform, however, was the vertically striped socks (See photo below).

While a promotional bonfire staged at a 1962 intrasquad game claimed a number of the socks, the jerseys and pants remained in use for a number of years. A photo taken at training camp in 1964 shows players wearing the brown pants as well as both white and gold jerseys (Clarkson, 1998. p. 31). While their demise in the autumn bonfire has a more dramatic connotation, truth be told, like most uniforms of the day, these most likely continued to be worn for practice until no longer serviceable (probably until replaced with the next generation’s discards after the 1964 season) and then, unceremoniously found their way into a dumpster at the team’s headquarters.

"The Most Ridiculous Things I Ever Saw"

One summer night at Bears Stadium in 1962, the Denver Broncos paraded one by one past a mock-up of the Olympic flame and dropped the team’s vertically striped socks in the fire. It was a major victory for good taste, cheered on by a crowd of 8,377.

The ceremony was new coach Jack Faulkner’s idea. He wanted everything associated with the Broncos’ dismal first two seasons gone, especially those socks. There were two sets: alternating brown and mustard yellow stripes for home games, brown and white for the road.

"They were the most ridiculous things I ever saw in my life," says defensive tackle Bud McFadin.

The man responsible for them was Dean Griffing, the club’s first general manager. He was a legendary tightwad—"the kind of guy who took off his glasses when he wasn’t looking at anything," says broadcaster Bob Martin—and outfitted the Broncos with used uniforms purchased from the Copper Bowl College All-Star Game in Tucson, Arizona. The bizarre socks, he insisted, made the players appear taller.

"They made you look like a peg is what they did," says safety Goose Gonsoulin. "You had these real broad shoulders because of the pads, and then you had these up-and-down striped socks.... It was unique, put it that way."

Owner Bob Housman sold the club to Cal Kunz in 1961. Kunz got rid of Griffing and Filchock (head coach) after the season and hired Faulkner, who launched a campaign that promised: "There’s Lots New in ’62." He started with the uniforms. The hated socks were torched before an intrasquad game.

A handful did escape the flames. One is on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Faulkner has a set hidden in a drawer somewhere. And several players are said to be holding a few. The cursed things are now worth $500.

    Daly, Dan & O’Donnell, Bob. The Pro Football Chronicle, 1990. pp. 179-180.

2nd GENERATION: 1962 - 1964

The first original uniform designed specifically for the team was the creation of Bob Bowie of The Denver Post. Additionally, Bowie is credited with design of the Broncos' 1962 logo as well as having provided numerous game program cover illustrations during the teams' early years. According to Coach Jack Faulkner, Bowie's involvement was solicited in an attempt to gain the press' interest and attention in the team.

Faulkner also noted that the color selection for the uniform style was somewhat of an accident. A student of Paul Brown and a fan of the Cleveland Browns, Faulkner intended the jerseys to be "Texas Orange" a brownish color which, according to Brown, made the ball difficult to spot against the similar colored field of the ball carrier's jersey. An undetermined mix-up somewhere in the order fulfillment process resulted in delivery of Wilson jerseys that were the much brighter "Tennessee Orange".

Broncos' 1962 road uniform (G. Mingo).

According to former team equipment manager Larry Elliott (1966-1982), jerseys from this period were manufactured by Wilson. The home jerseys were a solid Tennessee Orange with white triple sleeve stripes, numbers and letters. Road jerseys were a white mirror image of their home counterpart. Examination of an orange, home jersey from this era (circa 1962) revealed that the jerseys were constructed of Durene fabric and featured a V-neck collar, ¾-length sleeves and knit stripes which are imbedded into the sleeve. All numbering and lettering were sewn-on tackle twill with the orange home jerseys featuring a serif font numbering and the white road jerseys having sans serif numbering.

The new helmet was orange and included a bucking, "star-eyed" horse logo and white center stripe. The original helmet logo was brown in color, the only carryover from the 1960-'61 era uniforms. The brown logo showed poorly, however, lacking contrast against the orange helmet. The brown logo was used though at least the September 30th game (at NY Titans). By the October 14th game at Oakland, the helmets had been refitted with white logos.

Pants were white and featured triple outseam stripes comprised of an orange center stripe bordered by thinner blue outer stripes. The 1962-'64 era uniforms were finished off with solid orange colored stockings.

3rd GENERATION: 1965 - 1966

While the basic colors (orange home jerseys; white away) were retained, the single color, triple-stripe on the sleeve was replaced by a sleeve insert which was bordered by stripes above and below. Sleeve numbers were affixed atop this field. Additionally, this 3rd generation jersey was the first to include royal blue as a trim color. Aside from the general change in style, several specific distinctions can be noted between the 2nd and 3rd generation jerseys.

Broncos' 1965-'66 home and road uniforms (A. Denson & C. Gilchrist)

Foremost was the switch in manufacturers from Wilson to Rawlings resulting in a number of basic design changes. The 3rd generation jerseys of 1965-'66 utilized a crew-neck design rather that Wilson's V-neck construction. Secondly, it would also appear that the color of the orange Durene material used in 1965-'66 appears to be considerably darker than Wilson's "Tennessee" orange.

Sans serif uniform numbers and nameplate lettering were sewn-on tackle twill with letters and sleeve numbers being solid in color. The numbers on the front and rear featured a feathered edge of contrasting color.

The pant style remained mostly unchanged from the previous design aside from an apparent widening of the orange center stripe. Stockings were solid royal blue in color and this style remained in use through about 1973. The helmet remained unchanged for 1965, but in 1966, the single white center stripe was replaced with a 2-color, 3-stripe pattern that consisted of a blue center stripe bordered by two thinner white stripes.

In 1994, Wilson replicated the 1965-style uniform as a "Throwback" style used to commemorate the NFL's 75th Anniversary.

4th GENERATION: 1967 - 1996

Coinciding with the start of inter-league play in 1967, the Broncos introduced the longest running jersey style to date. Like the 2nd and 3rd generation jerseys that preceded this style, the colors orange (home) and white (road) were retained. Updating the 4th generation style shirt was accomplished using a two-color, sleeve striping pattern. With only minor variations, this style would remain mostly unchanged for nearly three decades.

The uniform's pants were little changed and remained white with a two-color, 3-stripe pattern on the outseam of each leg. During some years (as early as 1968 and as late as 1979), orange pants were worn with road uniforms. The helmet of this era was also updated and was Royal blue in color and had a single orange stripe bordered by two orange stripes at the centerline. In 1968, a new logo was added which featured the front half of a white horse rearing from the center of an orange "D". Generally, jerseys of this style can be divided into three sub-categories as follows:

c1967 "Dureen" home jersey (F. Little)

1967 - c1971 Durene - Characterized by a 3-color sleeve striping pattern, the earliest jerseys of the style were constructed of a nylon-cotton Durene material. From 1967 through 1988, the three sleeve stripes were separated with the underlying base material visible (shown in the 1972 photo below). The home, orange fabric itself also appeared lighter in color starting in 1967, more of a true orange as opposed to the somewhat "reddish" hue used for the 1965 and '66 Rawlings jerseys.

The origins of the style took a bit of time to develop as the 1967 and '68 versions appeared to be a bit crude from an aesthetics standpoint and share indistinguishable characteristics. Manufactured by Wilson, the first of the 4th generation style utilized a crew-neck collar with the seam separating the shoulder yoke from the jersey’s front intersecting well into the collar. Also in 1967, a shortening of the sleeves to a ½-length can be noted (Note: References to sleeve lengths are as follows: ¾-length-extends below elbow to mid forearm; ½-length-extends to "break" in elbow; ¼-length-extends to mid point between shoulder and elbow). Sleeve striping appears to be a screened application rather than being knit into the fabric as was done in 1962-'64. Also, as in the past, tackle twill numbering is used throughout, however, the style of the numbering is possibly the most distinguishing characteristic of the 1967-'68 era jerseys. Spacing within and between the serif-style numbers seems to exaggerate a more "open" appearance that is most noticeable on the sleeve numbering.

With the introduction of the 1969 uniforms came a much "cleaner" appearance. Like the first of the 4th generation jerseys, the 1969 jerseys were also constructed of Durene fabric. The somewhat tattered look that was common with the prior years' tackle twill numbering was replaced with a screened application beginning in 1969. Attributable to this change in application process and/or a change in font styles, the numbing appears somewhat bolder than that used in 1967-'68. Again, this difference is most noticeable in the sleeve numbering. While these jerseys also appear to utilize a crew-style neck, the position of the yoke seam is shifted downward as compared to the previous style. Whereas this seam cuts through the neck of the 1967-'68 jerseys, in 1969, it appears to intersect at the front of the neck.

The jerseys for 1970 appear to share many similar characteristics with the '69 issue. Constructed of Durene, the tops feature a crew-style neck and ½-length sleeves. With both the sleeve striping and uniform numbers screened, the most noticeable change for 1970 is the numbering style on the white, road jerseys. With a much heavier background feather, the font style appears much bolder. This is especially apparent on the sleeve numbers where the void spaces within the blue numbers are completely filled by the orange background.

For 1971, little change was apparent as Durene jerseys with ½-length sleeves continued to be utilized. Also continued was the heavier background feather which is again most noticeable on the sleeve numbers of the white, road jerseys. Differing from the previous year, the uniform numbers on the front of the jersey appear to be somewhat smaller than in 1970.

c1972 nylon mesh home jersey (T. Graham)

c1972 - 1988 Nylon - The next significant change in the 4th generation jerseys occurred about 1972 when a 100% nylon mesh material began to replace the Durene blend of fabric that was predominately used since the early 60s. It should be noted, however, that there is no definitive year separating the usage of the Durene and nylon-mesh jerseys. While the earliest known sample of the nylon mesh appears in a 1972 team photograph of safety Steve Preece, it is generally accepted that, in many cases, jersyes constructed of Durene fabric continued to be worn for cold weather games for several years. Some evidence suggests that they continued to be used possibly as late as 1974.

It is possible that the change in fabric type may have coincided with the change in manufacturers as well since, according to Larry Elliott, team equipment manager from 1965-'83, Russell Southern/Athletic took over as the team's uniform supplier in the early 70s. While maybe only coincidental, it has also been noted that photos of jerseys from 1972 appear to be a much darker orange than in years either previous or subsequent. Other features of the new V-neck nylon jerseys include ½-length hemmed sleeves and a shoulder yoke design which would again suggest Russell Athletic as the jersey's manufacturer-with the horizontal seam attaching the yoke to the front of the garment passed immediately below the opening of the collar. Uniform numbers were affixed with a screened application and the sleeve numbers again exhibited the heavier feather as in 1970-'71.

For 1973-'74, it appears that Sand-Knit may have supplied the teams' home, orange jerseys as photos from this period depict a style consistent with Sand-Knit jerseys of the era—a horizontal seam attaching the body front to shoulder cowl which passes well below the front of the collar. This would seem to be supported by information provided by Larry Elliott who recalled that, "Sand-Knit may have been used for one or two years in the early '70s." It would appear that there are some minor distinctions that may differentiate between the two vintages as the sleeve lengths appeared to have shortened from one year to the next and it also appears that both “pro” and “collegiate” style sizing were utilized. The white road jerseys from these two years, however, are consistent with Russell/Southern Athletic styling where the cowl seam intersects the collar at the front of the neck. Both styles utilize a V-neck design with ½-length sleeves and screened numbers with the heavier orange feather again apparent on the sleeve numbers.

According to Elliott, it is not inconceivable that the team would have used home and road jerseys from different manufacturers. Though not recalling the specific reasoning behind this, Elliott suggested two possible scenarios. First, with a limited budget, the team often purchased a set of dark jerseys one year and white jerseys the next, alternating every other year. Secondly, different manufacturers may have been utilized intentionally as the team was seeking to evaluate multiple suppliers as an alternate to Wilson, who reportedly had been the teams’ uniform supplier prior to this period, according to Elliott.

1973 Sand-Knit style home jersey (L. Alzado) and 1974 Russel style road jersey (J. Grant)

In 1975, it would appear that Russell Athletic became the team's jersey supplier as this has been confirmed for the orange home jerseys and the white road jerseys exhibit the typical Russell shoulder yoke design as well. For the last of what appears to be a six-year run, the numbers had a heavy background feather on the white road jerseys. This was not apparent on the 1976 road whites.

The emergence of a circa-1976 home jersey of Jim Kiick would seem to indicate that Sand-Knit also supplied the home jerseys for this year as well. While it cannot be proven without doubt that the sample was from 1976, it is presumed to be the case as the 1977 jerseys were made by Russell Athletic (Kiick played only two years in Denver—1976 & 1977).

Another hiccup in Russell's two-decade reign came in 1978-'79. Research seems to indicate that Wilson was the predominate supplier for both 1978 and 1979. Exceptions have been noted as at least one example of a Russell jersey was observed in 1978 (Craig Morton at Oakland, Dec 3). Likewise, Wilson-style jerseys have been observed being worn in 1980 and later. It is suspected that these exceptions are due to players retaining jerseys issued in prior years. Affecting both home and road uniforms, the Wilson jerseys can be easily identified by the shoulder yoke design which, unlike Russell's horizontal seam, attaches to the jerseys' front with a diagonal seam See 1978-'79 detail page for image).

By 1981, it would appear that, for the most part, the team had reverted to utilizing Russell Athletic attire and continued to do so through 1988.

c1989 three-stripe nylon home jersey (J. Elway)

1989 - 1996 Three-stripe - Beginning in 1989, Wilson replaced Russell Athletic as the teams jersey supplier. The Broncos were wearing Russell Athletic jerseys with Wilson pants until the late 80s when the team switched exclusively to Wilson for both pants and jerseys (Elliott, 1998). With the change of manufacturers came a change in the sleeve striping pattern. From 1989 through 1996, a 2-color, 3-stripe pattern replaced the 3-color, 5-stripe pattern used from 1967 until 1988. Wilson remained the teams exclusive apparel supplier until 1995. For the 1996 season, Nike replaced Wilson as the teams’ uniform supplier. In spite of this change in manufacturers, the 1996 uniforms remained nearly identical to the ‘95 Wilson design.

5th GENERATION: 1997 - Present

Although Nike provided uniforms for the team in 1996 utilizing a design nearly identical to Wilson’s 1995 uniforms, their "swoosh" logo influenced a completely new design introduced in 1997. For the first time since 1962, orange was replaced as the uniform's predominate color by a dark blue (standard athletic colors being Broncos Navy Blue, Orange, and White).

Broncos' 1997 home and road uniforms (S. Atwater & H. Griffith)

Home jerseys were blue with an orange stripe on either side which started at a tapered point next to the collar and curved around to form the jerseys’ side vent panel. White remained the primary color of road jerseys utilizing blue striping. The stripe from the jersey was continued down the outseam of the pants as well, matching the width of the jersey at the top and tapering to a point which curved inward to a point at about the knee. This formed a continuous stripe extending from the collar, outward to the waist, and back in to the knee. These jerseys featured a deep V-neck with contrasting color neckband (orange on home jersey; blue on road). A NFL shield patch is sewn onto triangular spandex insert behind the neckband and above the collar's apex. Below the apex of the collar is "BRONCOS" in swiss embroidered stitch (white on home jersey; blue on road). Additionally, in 2002, an alternate third jersey was introduced for the home game versus the Patriots. Predominately orange, with blue stripes, the alternate jerseys were again donned for the home game versus the Raiders in 2004.

Also, for the first time since the late 70s, more than one style of pants were worn. A white version with blue striping was worn with the "road" jersey, while "home" uniforms incorporated orange striping. Additionally, an "alternate home" uniform featured Navy Blue pants with orange striping. The "alternate" pants saw limited use in two 1997 pre-season games and they were not worn again until the 2003 season when they were worn for home games on Sep. 22nd and Nov. 3rd.

Included in the design change was a new helmet as well. The new design is dark blue with triple orange stripes which taper to a point at the front and features a white and orange "Cyber-Horse" logo.

In December of 2000, the National Football League signed an agreement with Reebok International, Ltd. making Reebok the exclusive supplier for all 32 NFL teams' on-field uniforms and sideline apparel beginning in 2002 with the 10-year agreement running through the 2011 season. In advance of the league-wide change, the Broncos were among 20 NFL teams who made the transition in 2001. As both licensees Nike and Reebok contracted with Ripon Athletic of Berlin, WI to actually manufacture their jerseys, the only substancial change for the uniforms was the Nike "Swoosh" logo, which previously appeared on the jerseys' sleeves below the numbers, being replaced by Reebok's logo.

In 2001, the NFL allowed the four teams playing in the “Thanksgiving Classic” games—the Dallas Cowboys, the Detroit Lions and their respective guest teams—to don a “throwback” uniform for the occasion. To commemorate “The Drive”, the Broncos chose to reproduce their 1986-’87 uniforms for the occasion

For 2002, an alternate home jersey was introduced for the November 24th game vs. the Indianapolis Colts. For the most part, it was a mirror image of the home jersey, with an orange body and blue collar and striping. Like the regular home jersey the numbering and lettering remained white. This jersey was worn with the standard road uniforms’ pants (with blue striping, matching the alternate jersey). This uniform was again worn for the November 28th home game versus the Raiders in 2004 (see Fig. 19).

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