A week before the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers revealed a logo redesign, the team’s first since its inception in 1995. The new Carolina Panther, according to the team’s press release, is more “streamlined” and “aggressive,” while fans shrugged and said, “Sure, I guess.”
This is what almost every NFL team with an animal mascot has done in the last 15 years: discarded the traditional logo for something more streamlined and pissed-off-looking. Long before Angry Birds became a smartphone phenomenon, it was a trend on NFL helmets. Let’s take a walk through design history.
1996: Philadelphia Eagles
For most of the franchise’s history, the logo has been a green eagle clutching a football in its talons. This changed in the mid-’90s, when someone decided that the face of the franchise should be more pissed off, and not have wings or talons. “Zoom in on that eagle’s face! I want an angry, disembodied head!” The team’s traditional kelly green was also dumped for a darker green and more black highlights, because GRRRR DARKER colours.
Side note: The design implemented in 1969 lasted only three years, at which point the team went back to a variation of the 1948 logo. Probably because it looked a hell of a lot like Nazi propaganda.
1997: Denver Broncos
For decades, the Broncos had worn bright orange jerseys at home, with a secondary colour of royal blue and a helmet logo that featured a poorly drawn horse firing some sort of steam laser (?) from its nose. There was, to say the least, room for improvement. I always felt the old bronco was a unicorn drawing gone awry — like his horn of soft-serve ice cream just ended up in the wrong place.
Enter the navy blue stallion head with a flame-like mane and angry orange eyes. He needs no steam puff from his nose to let you know that he is racing wild-eyed into his enemies, ready to stamp and bite his way to victory.
FACT: the Broncos won the Super Bowl the first two seasons they had the new logo and uniforms, and the graphic designers are widely believed to be the main reason for this. It had nothing to do with Terrell Davis.
1997: Miami Dolphins
Miami’s helmet-wearing aquatic mammal was barely more than a silhouette since the team’s inception, but that changed in 1997, when the dolphin gained distinct features in front of a simpler (and, once again, darker) sunburst. Let’s zoom in:
The dolphin’s brow is furrowed, and the mouth has a slight but definite downward turn. Sorry, children: Flipper is scowling. And why not? The Dolphins logo is already riddled with nonsense, it may as well look mad about wearing a helmet that covers its blowhole — a helmet without a facemask that is NOT EVEN A DOLPHINS HELMET. C’mon, the dolphin should be wearing a Dolphins helmet.
Much better. Now let’s animate it!
1999: Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens used the shield with wings for the first two years of their existence, but they dropped it because it was stolen without credit from a security guard/amateur artist who sued the team and won three dollars in damages. Yes, three dollars. That’s when they turned to the NFL’s go-to Plan B: Pissed-Off Bird Head.
2000: St. Louis Rams
The Rams adopted a new logo and colour scheme immediately after winning the Super Bowl, which is the worst idea since stealing a security guard’s idea for a logo. The Greatest Show on Turf would never match that championship over the Titans, and the Rams have now missed the playoffs for seven straight years. But hey, at least the new ram looks mad.
2002: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks got a makeover when they moved into Seahawks Stadium, later re-named for various telecommunications companies. The original logo was a fair representation of an eagle totem of the Pacific Northwest’s indigenous tribes. It was somber, perhaps even grim, with an air of stoic sadness — a strikingly accurate representation of Seattle fandom, actually. It could only have been improved by a single tear:
Instead, the Seahawks went the same way as the rest of the NFL: more aggressive with darker colours. And if the furrowed bird-brow and sharpened beak weren’t enough to make this clear, NFL Properties’ in-house design team also gave him a nice forward lean — like the designer made a few tweaks, then hit “control+i” to italicize it.
2003: Atlanta Falcons
The first two iterations of the Falcons logo was a stupid bird: tiny dead eye, mouth slack. The most recent iteration gives us most of the tweaks we’ve seen in other modern redesigns: sharper beak and talons, squinting eyes, the italicized lean. Also, in what may be the only hint of clever subtlety in this entire article, the light grey outline highlights that the new falcon is a stylised F.
2005: Arizona Cardinals
By the year 2005, four of the NFL’s five bird-mascot franchises had redesigned their logos to make their token birds look angrier. “Sure, us too” said the Cardinals. Boom! Darker colours, furrowed brow, frownier beak, et cetera et cetera.
HISTORIC TREND: The Cardinals and Seahawks, the NFC West’s two bird teams, both lost their first Super Bowl appearance to the Steelers four years after their logo redesign. Coincidence? Absolutely.
2009: Detroit Lions
The Lions logo had been a blue silhouette of a Lion since 1970. Following their infamous 0-16 season in 2008, the Lions gave their lion teeth and a squinty eye — the eye of the tiger, perhaps? — which resulted in a leap to 2-14. The organisation has since turned it around, though, with a high-powered offence and fearsome defensive line. In fact, if trends continue, they’ll lose the Super Bowl to the Steelers next year 🙁
Fourteen of the NFL’s 32 teams are represented by an animal: the Cardinals, Falcons, Ravens, Panthers, Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Lions, Colts, Jaguars, Dolphins, Eagles, Seahawks, and Rams. (The Chargers don’t count because they chose to shift away from horses and towards electricity; the Bills‘ animal mascot is actually the name of its city; and Texans are technically humans, although barely.) Since 1996, 10 of those 14 have redesigned their logos, and in each case the result has been a more aggressive animal. So who’s left, and what’s next?
I went to the NFL’s headquarters to learn more about the logo design process — and to pitch my ideas to their creative team.
It made for a fun video:
I still haven’t heard back from them, though. They probably just misplaced my card.