Monday, September 8, 2014

Volume 9, Number 4: Fun With Uniform Concepts, World Football League Style

Here we go again with another couple of uniform design concepts I made for a Uni-Watch contest.  On August 21, Phil Hecken, Uni-Watch's Vice Grand Poobah, announced a uniform design contest based on the following premise: If the World Football League never folded and was still operating today, what would their uniforms look like?  (The WFL was a professional football league founded in 1974 whose aim was to place American football on a global stage, but many of its teams encountered financial and/or attendance problems--many teams either folded or relocated during the 1974 season, which was otherwise unheard-of in professional sports--and the league itself folded in the middle of the 1975 season.)

Below is a series of questions I imagined you might ask me, and my answers.

1. Let's start with the Charlotte Hornets design. Why did you pick that team?
One thing that stood out for me, when looking at all the WFL's uniform designs, is the simplicity of the logo the Hornets used in '75.  You could draw the outline of the hornet by drawing one continuous line, meaning you can do so without lifting the writing instrument from the page.  Not surprisingly, that logo is dated by today's standards.  The hornet was too stiff and upright and showed no sign of aggression.

The 2014 Charlotte Hornets (WFL) helmet and uniforms. Click on this picture to see it full size.

2. Explain what you did to modernize the Hornets' logo.
Time for a short history lesson.  For the first 26 years of their existence, the NFL's Seattle Seahawks had a really glum-looking seahawk head logo on their helmets.  Like the 1975 Hornets, the 1976 Seahawks' logo was modern for its time.  By the turn of the 21st century, however, that franchise, which didn't have much to show for those 26 years, clearly needed a better logo.  What amazed me was how simple the solution turned out to be--they gave it movement and aggression without making a lot of changes.  They made the face look mad and there's an indication of forward movement when you see the logo on the helmet.  I thought the Hornets' logo would do well with a similar approach.  I slanted the whole logo by 45 degrees to give it movement, changed the wing to make it look more like how a real hornet's wings look when it's flying, and changed the eye to make it look more aggressive.  I tweaked the antenna to make it look more like it does in the real world, too--real antennae don't stick straight up like you see in the 1975 logo.  I also made sure to make it so that you could still recreate the logo's outline with one continuous line (in order to stay true to the franchise's 1970s roots).

A closer look at the modernized Hornets logo. Click on this picture to see it full size.

3. What's up with the pants on that alternate uni?
Just hear me out: A hornet, like any other insect, has three distinct sections (a head, a thorax and an abdomen).  A football uniform also has three main parts: the helmet, the jersey and the pants.  Now, if you look at the Hornets' logo, you can imagine that the head and thorax are yellow, the abdomen is black, and where the thorax ends and the abdomen begins, you have four stripes--black, yellow, black, yellow.  I had this idea of making a uniform that matched the logo--yellow helmet, yellow jersey, and black pants with a couple of yellow stripes.  (I considered putting the stripes on the jersey, except that football players usually tuck their jerseys in--it's hockey players who don't tuck theirs in.)  And besides, I had never seen _horizontal_ stripes on pants before.  Pants have traditional vertical stripes, all sorts of swooshy (but still vertical) stripes, but not straight across.

4. Those numerals look familiar.  Did you rip those off the Boston College Eagles and/or the old Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA?
Yep--I ripped those off.  After I finished modifying the hornet logo, the hornet's head reminded me of those numerals Boston College used ten years ago--the same combination of contours and sharp points as the reworked Hornets logo itself has.  Finding the right font wasn't easy, but in the end, if you think it will help your design, it's always worth it to "go that extra mile.".

5. I see that you don't have any yellow-on-yellow or black-on-black sets.
Correct.  I hate unitards (the name I derisively give to any color-on-color football uniform).  I'm proud of my Detroit Lions, along with a few other NFL teams, for never doing that, and I'm disappointed that the Michigan Wolverines will be wearing blue-on-blue for their game against Penn State this fall.  When college teams like Oregon and Northwestern started doing that back in the '90s, it was a gimmick that I just assumed would be short-lived.  Next thing you know, NFL teams are doing it--even the Chicago Bears, one of the NFL's oldest teams, are guilty of doing it (2002, 2006).  Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

6. Let's move on to the Detroit Wheels.  Why did you pick this team?
I picked them because they were my hometown team, and also in spite of the fact that they were arguably the worst team in WFL history (more details about the crap they went through can be found here).  Above all, I did this redesign for fun.

My Detroit Wheels design. Click on this picture to see it full size.

7. Explain your Wheels design.
I wanted freeway markings, signage and lettering to dominate this design, to pay tribute to the influence the automobile has had on our society over the last century or so.  You'll see it on the striping (which is styled like two-lane highways), the font I used on the NOBs and numbers (Freeway Gothic, a font you usually only see on freeway signs) and the uniform numbers inscribed in warning signs near the top of the pants stripes.  I also wanted to change the color scheme--a few WFL teams wore black and gold (the New York Stars/Charlotte Hornets, the Wheels and the Jacksonville Express), and the Hawaiians were brown and gold.  I went with red for two reasons: It was part of the Wheels' original color scheme, and I couldn't use green because a few other WFL teams (Portland Thunder, Chicago Winds, Shreveport Steamer) were already using that color.  I replaced the black with a dark gray (for asphalt) and scaled the gold way back.  One more thing--if the Wheels existed today, then next year, I'd love to change their name to the Cruisers (in tribute to the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, in which more than 30,000 classic cars cruise up and down Woodward Avenue from Ferndale to Pontiac).

8. Where did you get that uniform template?
I don't actually have a template.  My football uniform designs are usually based on graphics I download from The Gridiron Uniform Database. I download them and modify them as I see fit.  The Hornets' home and road designs are based on the current home and road uniforms of the Green Bay Packers.  The Wheels' concept has its roots in the Kansas City Chiefs' uniform.  With all that said, I'd love to find out where Tim Brulia and Bill Schaefer (the guys who do the research for The Gridiron Uniform Database) got this template--it would be 100 times easier to use that instead of having to download one of their pictures and alter it.  Making those "TV numbers" is a pain in the neck, too.

9. What software did you use?  What you've got there looks kind of rough and primitive compared to what the "pros" churn out.
Yep, I admit it, my work looks anything but "polished".  I might be the only guy in all of the amateur uniform design community who uses Microsoft Windows Paint to do what I do.  Just about all of my other work has been created that way--use a rigid, two-dimensional uniform graphic as the base and go from there (another example is my 2012 concept for the Houston Astros, which got published on  On one hand, it puts me ahead of where I'd be if I used pencils, markers and crayons.  On the other, I'd love to learn how to use PhotoShop so I can use the more three-dimensional templates out there.