The Evolution of the Chicago Bears Jersey

The evolution of the Chicago Bears jersey

The Chicago Bears are one of the NFL’s most storied teams, and their uniform, the Chicago Bears Jersey, tells the history of the team’s struggles and triumphs. During the team’s 96-year history, the Bears have won eight pre–Super Bowl NFL Championships, four conference championships, 18 division championships, and 26 playoff appearances. Despite this, the team has not appeared in the Super Bowl since 2007 and has not been in contention since 2010.

For members of Bears Nation, it is the diverse, rich history that encourages them to withstand freezing weather to faithfully head to Soldier Field to watch their beloved team play. This history is represented by the Bears jersey – the most visible, identifiable symbol of the brand.

For a team that will always be “Da Bears,” the name on the front of the jersey—or lack thereof— means everything. While Chicago has had flashier and more successful teams elsewhere (namely, the 1990–1998 Chicago Bulls under Michael Jordan), no team embodies the hard-working, tough-as-nails Midwestern ethics of the Windy City quite like its weather-beaten blue-and-orange.

The History of the Chicago Bears Jersey

The Evolution of the Chicago Bears Jersey

1919–1921: The Chicago Bears started in 1919 as the Decatur Staleys, the company club of the A.E. Staley food starch company. In 1920, the team joined the newly formed American Professional Football Association (APFA) – and later that same year, team manager George Halas purchases the rights to the team. Halas moves his team to Chicago in 1921, and in 1922, the team changes its name to the Bears – a play, as was the style at that time, on the Chicago Cubs MLB team whose field they shared (Wrigley Field). The APFA will eventually become the NFL.

Halas – an alumnus of the University of Illinois and a fan of the school’s blue-and-orange team colors – adopts a darker shade of these colors for his new team: navy blue rather than Illinois Blue and orange (Pantone 1665) instead of Illinois Orange.

The 1920 jersey – raised orange felt vertical stripes on a navy blue long-sleeve sweater – was the Decatur Staleys’ original jersey. It was designed to help the ball carrier maintain control of frequently slippery or wet game balls by wicking away moisture and creating friction. The Staleys/Bears will use this jersey for 12 years.

1932: Due to inclement weather in Illinois, the NFL and the Bears participate in professional football’s first indoor game. This game – on December 18, 1932, at Chicago Stadium – is memorable: It is the very first NFL Championship Game – and Chicago wins. This period marks the beginning of the Bears dominance over the league; in 1934, the franchise achieves the league’s first undefeated and untied regular season, but will lose the championship game to the New York Giants.

The jersey worn at this time was a white sweater with navy blue chest number patches, a blue collar and blue and orange pinstripes at the elbows.

1935: The orange version of the 1932 jersey – with black chest number patches with a white outline and black elbow pinstripes – is so hated they are reportedly booed by crowds in New York upon seeing it. The jersey is considered to be in bad taste, as the colors are seen as “loud.”

1943: After a second undefeated regular season in 1942, the surging team changes its jerseys again to black and white jerseys, with either orange or white number patches, and matching horizontal sleeve stripes. The league will not have another undefeated season until 1972, when the Miami Dolphins secure the only perfect season in professional football history.

The “Monsters of the Midway” era (1940–1947) – during which the Bears won four out of the five championship games they appeared in and secured the most one-sided victory in NFL history (73-0 against the Washington Redskins) – is marked with a “Bears Blue” jersey, with orange horizontal stripes and chest number patches. (In 2010, the Bears will bring back this jersey as a throwback.)

1958: The team’s road uniform – a white jersey with white pants – emerges at this time. Additionally, “Bears Blue” (a variation of navy blue that is nearly black in hue) becomes the team’s jersey color, and sleeve number patches – featuring rounded font – first appear. This jersey corresponds with a lull in the team’s performance – despite having a majority of winning seasons, the team only makes one playoff appearance during this period – in 1956.

1969: This season was made famous by 1971’s “Brian’s Song”: a movie about Bears running back Brian Piccolo (who was diagnosed with cancer after playing the first nine games of the 1968 season) and his friendship with running back Gale Sayers in his last year of life. The Bears home jersey makes simple but well-received changes in appearance: First, the white number patches take on an orange border, and the orange sleeve stripes receive a white border. Second, the NFL Shield is added to the left shoulder in recognition of the league’s 50th birthday. The jersey gets short sleeves and, finally, a high-collar cut, raising the neckline to the tight fit associated with the Dick Butkus era.

1977: The team returns to the playoff for the first time in 13 years, and the away jersey receives some alterations, including larger chest numbers that nearly cover the whole front of the jersey and thicker, more widely spaced blue-and-orange horizontal sleeve stripes. The blue number patches on the chest and the sleeves receive an orange outline, and the NFL Shield is removed from the jersey.

1985: This is the era of “Da Bears.” Fueled by the coaching of former Bears tight end Mike Ditka (1961–1966), the Bears and their revolutionary “46” defense put the league on notice.The highlight? When defensive tackle Walter “Refrigerator” Perry, at 315 pounds, successfully substitutes as a running back and scores a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. After losing only one game this season, the Bears win the Super Bowl – their ninth league championship but the only championship won since the AFL-NFL merger. This team will forever be known for their over-the-top cast of characters – their larger-than-life coach, Refrigerator Perry, quarterback Jim McMahon, running back Walter “Sweetness” Payton, defensive end Richard Dent – the franchise’s mentions on Saturday Night Live, and for the novelty rap “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” which hit No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

The franchise adds a “GSH” crest to the left-arm stripes on the home jersey in honor of George Halas, who died in 1983. Besides being the team’s first non-company owner, he was also the team’s first coach – serving from 1920 to 1960 and racking up a .667 winning percentage record.

1994: This year sees the introduction of the controversial throwback to the 1920 jersey – which, with the exception of being orange on a blue jersey – looks nothing like the original jersey. After 1991’s incorporation of the NFL Shield to the collar of league regular jerseys, 1994 sees the addition of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary patch.

1999: The “34” patch is worn to honor Walter Payton after his death.

2001: The “Salute to Soldier Field” patch is added to home jerseys.

2012: The Bears switch to a Nike “Elite 51” jersey with sleeve number patches raised to the shoulders.

The Orange and Blue

The Bears have not been able to find the right formula for success since “Da Bears.” Despite being the league’s overall victories leader and having a majority of winning seasons for most of its post-Ditka history, the team has been in a virtual drought in regards to playoff appearances, appearing only six times in the playoffs with the last appearance being five years ago.

Despite this, the legend of one of the only two NFL charter member teams still playing is enough to keep Bears’ fans coming back, year after year, to cheer for the Orange and Blue.

“As a child, I spent my neighborhood days moving around the north suburbs of Illinois dangerously close to Packers territory,” wrote Bleacher Report correspondent Justin Goldman. “But it was the Bears who stole my heart and have been my first love since before I could walk.

“There are a lot of reasons that one would/should/could be a Bears fan, and frankly, there are not a lot of teams that can say that. I’ve been a Chicago Bears fan for as long as I can remember, and I plan to keep it that way until my time is done on this Earth.”

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