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Thursday Night Football’s Color Rush is rad but the NFL has been bad at executing it

The Rams wear white against the Seahawks, and other ways Nike and the league failed to visually juice up its Thursday games

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v St Louis Rams Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When the Seattle Seahawks face the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football wearing action green from shoulder to socks, it will not be quite the clash of colors you may have been told to expect by the internet.

Instead of the spectacular bright-yellow uniforms the Rams debuted for the “Color Rush” game last December 17, this Thursday Los Angeles will be in all-white kits including white Rams’ horns on the helmets like they wore back in the 1960s.

I love the white horn decals, which look marvelously clean (especially compared to hideous sedan-colored gold the Rams have rocked except for throwbacks since 2000) and they should be especially crisp with L.A.’s white road uniforms. But while the whiteout look might be appropriate at a party thrown by Truman Capote or Puff Daddy, it’s not exactly playing along with the Color Rush concept.

When Nike introduced Color Rush on a provisional basis last year, the idea seemed simple: For the first time since obsolete black-and-white television broadcasts forced pro football to adopt white road jerseys to help viewers distinguish opposing players on their archaic tube screens, the NFL would feature color-versus-color uniform matchups. However, the uniform supplier immediately took things too far by dressing each team in solid blocks of color that created the dreaded “leotard effect”—what sports uniform critics call it when a team’s pants and socks don’t contrast with its main jersey color. In the first-ever Color Rush game there was also the color-blindness issue, and the fact the New York Jets’ green and Buffalo Bills’ red ensembles paired together looked like Christmas regalia way before the designated season (actually, Christmas stuff always looks silly and everybody knows green and red together needs yellow to properly set it off).

Anyway, because of the backlash or a lack of courage, a number of teams this year chose to go all-white for their Thursday night games before Los Angeles did, including the Jets (who were somehow paired with the Bills again), Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. Cincinnati had the excuse that it was going against the Miami Dolphins’ all-orange attire, and white was better than the alternative all-black—as demonstrated by this misguided San Francisco 49ers look at Levi’s Stadium in October, which made the ever-classic Niners look rather like one of Nike’s humiliating Ohio State experiments.

The Packers’ boring white outfits were outdone only by their rival the Chicago Bears, who merely put on ordinary blue road pants to go with their home jerseys—the only thing fresh about these combinations were that the game was in Green Bay, where the fans usually see the opposite colors, but it could have been one of the most radical examples of Color Rush if both teams had simply used their accent colors as their main hues, like the Dolphins did or the Rams last year. An orange Bears squad against a lemon-yellow Packers would have been absolutely striking against the green field—instead it was just as if a Chicago home game were hologram-projected at Lambeau, only with the dumb leotard-looking pants.

That’s the dynamic we’ll be missing Thursday in Seattle too. Yes an all-yellow and action-green pairing would be garish and loud but televised sports are supposed to be loud. After the black-and-white era, early color television still transmitted analog broadcasts to little cathode ray terminals with three-color light displays, so moving images had to be vibrant and highly contrasted. Hence the bold schemes that developed in the 1960s and ’70s compared with the stolid blues and browns and maroons that went with leather helmets of the earlier radio-only era: the Pittsburgh Steelers’ bold black and bright yellow, Philadelphia Eagles’ former bright green, Miami’s day-glo sets, Kansas City Chiefs’ highly saturated red, Minnesota Vikings’ deep purple, San Diego Chargers’ original powder blue and on and on.

If you study uniform histories this isn’t always a television-initiated phenomenon: the Eagles had their original “Swedish flag” getups (which I appreciate, no matter what Danny Kelly says) way back in the 1930s and the Rams even wore gold jerseys at home for a while in the 1950s until the NFL made them switch to blue to contrast with white away looks for black-and-white TV. But the point is distinctive colors and football go together like Joseph and his storied cloak, ancient codices and their illuminated drawings, or … or mutant turtles and their identifying masks.

Because of this, in many cases the Color Rush would do well enough to just combine teams’ ordinary home jerseys together in the same game without going the monochromatic pajama-bottoms route, as Uni Watch’s Paul Lukas has suggested. But I don’t mind Nike or the teams getting creative with an opportunity to show off new attire, so long as it’s tastefully done. The Vikings would have been better off with different pants two weeks ago on Thursday Night Football, because an overdose of purple is never good, but in general the absence of white in the striping made it a solid unique look. The problem was that Dallas went all white, so it seemed less like a Color Rush affair than a simple Minnesota alternate. That’s why Color Rush games, if they’re going to be a thing, should be carefully curated to generate appealing pairings.

The Cowboys are stubborn about wearing white, and because they don’t have a contrasting secondary color they don’t particularly look good in dark blue unless the get to wear white helmets—which the league forbids in a fake public effort to pretend to care about concussions (that’s why the Seahawks don’t get to wear throwbacks; but there’s no reason substitute helmets couldn’t be conditioned and fitted to be just as safe as habitual ones, considering NFL teams’ vast resources)—so get Dallas out of the Color Rush program.

The blue issue is also one of the greatest interferences to Color Rush featuring regular home-uniform sets: Almost half the league—13 of 32 teams—currently wears blue as a main color, including nine of them with some form of navy or darker blue (many in combination with red and white). This conformism is depressing in and of itself, but it’s specifically why you can’t just pit Seattle against Los Angeles in their typical blue shirts: It would be nearly as hard for players on the field to tell who’s on their team as fans in the stands or watching at home.

So for Thursday night’s purposes I don’t object to the Seahawks wearing action green—in this case I don’t even mind the leotard effect of the green pants, since we’ve already seen how too much bright green clashes embarrassingly with dark blue bottoms, but then this green is also slightly different and that gun-metal blue never looked good in any format. I’m glad Seattle doesn’t wear such outlandish uniforms on a regular basis, but utilizing accent colors in the right way can turn almost any matchup into an exciting combination—which reiterates why it’s a shame we don’t get to see Los Angeles in bright gold this time.

Color Rush as a whole is a refreshing antidote to the NFL’s disturbing trend away from lively uniform schemes—the Rams’ adoption of pyrite-brown and the Seahawks’ move away from royal blue being just two examples (for the record, the best Seattle uniforms were the Dennis Erickson era late-’90s garb with the un-serifed ones and sevens, silver helmets, forest green, white cleats and original Coast Salish-inspired logo—I’ll fight you if you disagree). In the last 20 years, just taking the blue-colored teams as examples, the New England Patriots, Seahawks, Rams, Tennessee Titans/Houston Texans, and Denver Broncos have all darkened their shade of blue—not including the Bills which recently went back to a lighter “nautical” blue from the dark blue it used in the first decade of the 2000s. Meanwhile many other organizations have introduced ever-increasing creep of colorless black into the otherwise chromatic world of sports uniforms.

That’s a strange (and from my vantage disappointing) movement considering how the rise of hip hop, skater/surfer style and graffiti culture brought more bright primary colors, neons and other contrasting palettes into everyday street fashion since the 1980s, in the same period that sports sneakers and jerseys became consumer apparel. I mean who knows how these cycles work? Even rappers today dress in businesswear, gothic-punk black, European high fashion, or other dark, drab tones. It may also have to do with how large-screen, high-definition televisions no longer require teams to wear such dynamic colors to stand out. In any case, if executed properly, Color Rush provides an opportunity to move back into visual Candyland.

The Chargers changed from the powder blue it used in the 1960s to a bolder royal blue as early as the mid-1970s before shifting to dark navy in 1984. They’ve also gone back and forth between colored and white helmets—with the white ones they use now enabling San Diego the option to use powder blue throwbacks sometimes. But when the Chargers went Color Rush on October 13 against Denver, they opted for a variation of their 1970s royal blue colors.

The Broncos in that game, meanwhile, showed how Seattle could potentially get around the silver-helmet obstacle to generate a hybrid throwback using its old logo with the blue sublimated helmets. Denver wore solid orange jerseys, like the old days except with orange pants, and the pre-1996 “D” icon only on contemporary dark blue helmets instead of its classic baby blues. Imagine a future Seahawks Color Rush using the forest green instead of action green, helmets and shoulders decked with the old logo modified with navy to match the helmet hue, and solid white numerals—or even run it as a non-Color Rush throwback on the road incorporating blue numerals and the forest green sleeve stripe on white jerseys, with grey pants and the original symbol on the hat.

That could be pretty slick.