Crabcakes and Football (Uniforms)
January 27, 2009 | Kevin Zdancewicz


In Week 14 of this almost-concluded gridiron season, NFL history was made – well, sort of. It’s not something you will find in the pro football record books, but on the Sunday night game on December 7th against the Washington Redskins, the Baltimore Ravens wore their black jerseys with white pants (featured above) for the first time ever. (The Skins had previously debuted a first earlier this season as well, and let’s just say, “That’s a lot of burgundy!”).

While the purple-on-white home uniform has good aesthetic composition (since there are no two consecutive colors from the helmet down to the shoes), the featured black-on-white look works as an alternate by playing up the team’s secondary color without going overboard. For a definition of overboard, look no further than the uniform set that the black alternate jersey is usually part of twice a year – the maximum number of times the NFL permits teams to wear alternate uniforms per season.

I wanted to make sure that this was indeed the first time that the Ravens had worn black jerseys with white pants and this photo really threw me for a loop. As you can see, it’s rather difficult to tell what color those jerseys are and they sure look more black than purple in my opinion. However, that photo appears in this gallery with other shots of the same game in 1997 – a couple of which clearly show that the jerseys are purple. It also appears clear from this photo that it was raining in Baltimore that day and that is probably the reason the assumedly-soaked jerseys look so dark. Looking at the photo in question again, you can kind of see a difference between Vinny Testaverde’s black long sleeves and the jersey. According to Football Uniforms Past and Present, which isn’t necessarily gospel but is almost always accurate, the Ravens didn’t wear black in 1997. Also, according to Wikipedia (a credible academic source), the Ravens didn’t introduce the black alternates until 2004.

Phew. So that saved the “first time ever” premise of my column. Looking back, the Ravens’ uniform history turned up a treasure trove of JOTW-related material. This is mostly due to the fact that Baltimore did some crazy stuff in the first couple years after the team moved from Cleveland to the Old Line State. The team’s original uniforms were a complete trainwreck. The 1996 home uniforms featured a horrid purple-on-black combination and the black pants worn for every game that year featured an indefensible solid white stripe. In 1997, things got a little better on the road when a purple stripe was added to the black pants, but a million times worse when Baltimore paired white pants with white socks! Really? Why the hell wouldn’t you wear black socks against white pants? Even purple ones would have looked better than the solid white, long johns look. The only upsides from those first few years was the striking raven that looked pretty sweet on the jersey sleeves and the old winged “B” helmet logo (but that came complete with a copyright controversy).

The mention of helmets is a good segue into the grand finale. The debut of the Ravens’ black-on-white uniforms gives me the opportunity to talk about a very interesting and unique element of the Baltimore uniform set: the current helmet logo. The standard raven head logo depicts the bird facing the right. However, on the left side of a player’s helmet, the bird is reversed to face the left. But if the logo is reversed, then the “B” within the bird head is backwards – so the Ravens reverse the “B” creating a separate logo on each side of the helmet (notice the serif on each “B”).

Aside from the Pittsburgh Steelers using a logo on only one side of the helmet, this is one of the most unique helmet situations in the NFL. Sure, most teams have to reverse their logo so that it looks right on a helmet – that is, with a specific direction. This could mean an animal head always facing forward, horns that must face a certain way, or a word mark that must be read left-to-right. But how many actually have a logo that is not identical or the mirror image? The only other example is the Kansas City Chiefs, who reverse the direction of the arrowhead to face forward on either side of the helmet, but must keep the KC legible. This interesting helmet situation is just another of the many reasons that the Baltimore Ravens make for an interesting Jersey of the Week.

Photo Courtesy of