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Bengals Buried in Sheep’s Clothing

It’s interesting how within the testosterone-charged arenas of professional sports, the fashions of team uniforms are so widely discussed. Even some of the most gruff, fashionably-indifferent fans take these things seriously which means Market Research takes them even more so and winds up sinking lots of money and time on the unveiling of new uniforms and logos.

Jerseys have come full-circle in our culture in the past few decades.

Fans once wore jerseys strictly in support of their favorite team or player and mainly just wore them to games or team events. Our grandparents likely knew the crowd at a mid-summer’s baseball game to be dressed in fedoras and jackets! Even 30 years ago jerseys were not as massed-produced but were made upon request and were more costly than they are today. Teams realized the market potential for flimsier, more affordable “replica” jerseys and fans gobbled them up, eager to enhance an artificial sense of belonging with the team.

Eventually, consumers purchased jerseys strictly because they had become fashionable, sometimes without any knowledge of the player, team or sport. This fashion trend has resonated deepest within the urban and hip-hop communities who often wear them excessively oversized for reasons that seem to flatly contradict any form of function or comfort.

Designers of uniforms have just begun to move away from the flashier, highly-accented styles that have dominated new uniforms over the past two decades, and are reverting to the simpler, “throw-back” style of the older generations. It always seemed surprising that Market Research didn’t make this shift sooner considering how everyone agrees how nice the Raiders, Celtics and Yankees look in their classic threads.

Then again, it’s sensible business practice to change jersey’s every decade so that consumers will follow suit. Some college teams seem to change something on their uniform every year. The Oregon Ducks might someday soon change uniforms after halftime—their football team is up to five different uniforms for this upcoming season.

Which leads us to our favorite team.

Over the past 20 years the Bengals have earned themselves some dubious titles: Least Likely to Succeed, Most Inept and Biggest Laughing Stock, have, at different times, all been tossed around in various publications and conversation circles.

But recently, a list on’s “Uni-Watch” has presented the Bengals with the Worst Dressed award too, which adds a certain socially-devastating element to the collection of insults. It’s one thing to be the nerdy kid with the funny clothes—at least that guy is smart and gets good grades. It’s quite another thing to be the fat, smelly kid with the funny clothes who refuses to speak to anyone and picks his nose a lot. No team wants to be that guy within their league.

But, unlike winning-percentages and playoff droughts, the Bengals’ uniforms can be easily fixed. The first, and most general improvement, would be to simply tone down the Orange. I invite you to look at a tiger (in person and close up if possible, but an internet search will do as well), and notice how the orange does not resemble a similar shade to that of hunting gear but more of a rusty, burnt orange—gamboge, if you like.

As much as it makes me squirm in my seat to say so, the Cleveland Brown orange looks more like the appropriate coloration of a bengal than does the Bengals’ shade; that just isn’t right. When the Bengals decide to don their alternate jerseys on a bright day, the sun reflects an orange so hot and intense, that sometimes they appear pink. The team has a hard enough time finding their place in the NFL without being pink!

The next step to a reasonable uniform for the Bengals is to eliminate all the highlights and accents that are splattered upon the players’ torsos and legs. Side panels along the sides can be removed altogether. The drop-shadow to the numbers can go as well and the neck collar should be the same color as the jersey. To avoid looking like gang of Halloween-themed supervillians, the Bengals marketing department should keep in mind that less is more—a motto they no doubt have heard echoed elsewhere throughout the halls and meeting rooms of PBS.

If a more radical uniform change is called for, I say eliminate the orange altogether and become the white bengal tigers, like the ones that stalk the cages of the city’s zoo. The helmets would be white with black stripes, and silver could be added as a third color to the jerseys and pants.

This would probably cause Oakland to grumble about stealing their colors, at which point, we would remind Raider Nation that what we stole were shades and not colors and to go eat more raw meat or bludgeon things, or however it is they spend their time. The less colorful ensemble would remove the jokes about pumpkins and trick-or-treat and the like, and might actually look, as the kids say, hard.

Lastly, returning to the uniform of the 70’s would be an improvement. The basic helmets* with Bengals written on the side are hard to argue against. The jerseys are black with white block numbers and an orange stripe on the sleeve; nothing wrong with that. With Pittsburgh and Cleveland already stuck on the classic look, a permanent throwback would fit nicely in the rust-belt AFC North.

*It’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with the style of the current helmets. Just because the football world can’t adjust to horizontal stripes, doesn’t mean that it’s a poor design. Bengal tigers everywhere would be insulted if the team that represented them were to change their stripes. The helmet design is the only salvageable part to the uniform.

Yet none of this is likely to occur anytime soon since money was spent on a uniform change five years ago. Ultimately, uniforms are trivial concerns when it comes to assembling and maintaining a professional sports franchise, and fans will always care about such matters far more than anyone else involved—aside from Market Research. But purchasing a Maualuga jersey has become a bit more difficult to manage knowing that it’s the worst jersey in sports. It’s a little dismaying.

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