The Denver Broncos have one of the most unique home uniforms in the NFL. With hues of bright orange and navy blue, the team’s complementary colors create a memorable combination that is as much a part of Broncos mythology as Mile High Stadium, the “Orange Crush,” and former quarterback and current General Manager John Elway. This is why the decision to wear white – despite being the home team – at Super Bowl 50 has created fervent debate among the football community.
The team chose to wear their away uniform for superstitious reasons – and, perhaps, to unnerve the Panthers, as it was the Panthers’ right as the away team to wear white. Still, it created some condemnation among those who see the orange and blue as a link to a 56-year history. For many, the color combo represents a team that has only suffered six losing seasons in the last 40 seasons. They have won two Super Bowls, eight AFC Championships, and 15 division championships. Not to mention: They appeared in the playoffs 22 times and have seen four former players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In recognition of their 2015-2016 AFC Championship win and their berth into Super Bowl 50, Fanatics has decided to take a look at the Broncos uniform and how it has developed to the standard of today.
In the Beginning
1960: The Denver Broncos start in 1960 as a charter member of the AFL, along with the New York Titans (now the New York Jets), the Dallas Texans (now the Kansas City Chiefs), the Los Angeles Chargers (currently, the San Diego Chargers), the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans), the Boston Patriots (now the New England Patriots), the Buffalo Bills, and the Oakland Raiders. In a similar manner to older NFL teams, the Broncos take their name from a former Denver professional baseball team.
In the same vein, the founding owners of the new team opt to suit their players in second-hand uniforms to save money. The home uniform – a mustard-yellow jersey with brown numbers and no name block, brown pants with mustard-yellow double stripes, and brown and yellow vertically striped socks – is so hated that at a public bonfire held by the team to burn the uniforms, the crowd cheers. The away uniform is similar to the home uniform, but with a white jersey instead of yellow.
In 1961, the name block, with brown lettering, is added. The TV numbers, which were on the sleeves of both jerseys, are removed from the home jersey.
1962: After the 1960 uniforms met the flames, new coach Jack Faulkner purchases a different home jersey he assumed would be burnt orange, like the Cleveland Browns jersey. What he gets instead is a bright orange jersey with white chest and television numbers as well as three white sleeve cuff stripes. This is matched with white pants with a orange stripe trimmed in blue, a bright orange helmet with a white stripe and a bucking bronco logo, and bright orange socks. The bucking broncos logo switches from navy blue to white on October 14, 1962.
1965: In 1965, the AFL is arguably the dominant professional football league in the United States, despite being only 6 years old. Buoyed by very generous television contracts, the AFL is able to steal top talent from the NFL and draft the best college talent. To save face and to stop the “player raids” – where one league’s team seeks to top the contracts of another league’s team – the NFL convinces the AFL in 1966 to merge into a new organization: the modern NFL.
This year also brings about changes to the Broncos’ jerseys: The home jersey sees a white collar added to the bright orange base, blue trim on the white chest and back numbers, a wide blue stripe that is trimmed with white on the sleeves, and white television numbers nested in the stripe. The away jersey features a blue collar with a white base, an orange outline on the blue chest and back numbers, an orange stripe trimmed in blue – mirroring that of the home jersey – and white television numbers trimmed with blue in the stripe. The bright orange is also reformulated to make it redder, and the socks go from orange to blue.
1967: The Broncos’ helmet loses its logo and changes from orange to blue with a white stripe flanked by orange pinstriping. The away jersey features black chest, back, and television numbers, trimmed in orange. The home jersey sees white numbers with a blue trim on an orange background, a white name on back, and a corresponding sleeve stripe pattern like the away jersey but with the orange stripe replaced with a white one. The stripes on the pants are the inverse of the jersey’s stripe pattern.
On August 5, 1967, the Broncos become the first AFL team to beat an NFL team, the Detroit Lions.
1968: Experimentation with the sleeve stripes continues. This time, the set of three stripes become just one thin stripe – white for the home jersey, blue for away – set below the television number. The capital-D/bronco helmet logo emerges on this iteration of the uniform.
1971: Now an NFL team in the newly formed AFC, the away jersey is also changed. The sleeve stripe patterns are inverted, so that there are now two blue stripes with a thin orange stripe between them. The jersey numbers are blue with an orange border and the collar white. In 1971, this is paired with orange pants, but by 1972, white pants are used with all Broncos uniforms.
1974: The reddish orange first introduced in 1965 is reverted back to the original formulation. In 1975, the Colorado Statehood Centennial patch is worn on the left shoulder of the home jersey for the last home game of the season.
1976 sees the introduction of the “Orange Crush,” a 3-4 defense that the Broncos use to dominate against the rush for the 13 years it is utilized. This defense helps the Broncos to make their first playoff appearance and – ultimately – their first Super Bowl in 1977.
1977: With the Broncos making it to the Super Bowl, the home jersey is changed once again. The jersey’s orange base is reformulated for a third time to create a darker orange, the sleeve stripes are changed again, and the collar is made white. The Broncos lose this Super Bowl to the Dallas Cowboys, 10-27.
Playing Mile High
1986: In 1983, John Elway is traded to the Broncos from the then Baltimore Colts. The Colts have been responsible for the Broncos receiving their two most popular quarterbacks to date: Elway and current starting quarterback Peyton Manning. Elway’s trade is engineered on the threat that Elway would play baseball instead of playing one game with the Colts – the worst team in the league at the time – or with Colts coach Frank Kush, which his father warns him about.
In 1987, Elway leads the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI, ultimately losing 20-39 to the New York Giants. He leads the Broncos to the Super Bowl in the succeeding year too, losing to the Washington Redskins 10-42, and again to the 1989-1990 Super Bowl, losing to the San Francisco 49ers 10-55. Despite these losses, Elway is instrumental in creating a culture of winning that has seen only six losing seasons in the last 40 years.
There are two John Elway jerseys for sale from this period on SportsMemorabilia.com. Signed by Elway himself:
- John Elway Denver Broncos Autographed Navy Pro-Line Jersey With “SB XXXII-XXXIII CHAMPS” Inscription
- John Elway Denver Broncos Autographed Orange Throwback Pro-Line Jersey With “Captain Comeback” Inscription
Leading up to 1986, the Broncos wear two jersey patches: a memorial patch for assistant coach Rich McCabe for the first game of the 1983 season and an AFL 25th Season Patch in 1984.
1989: Once again, the sleeve stripes are changed on the jerseys. For the away jersey, an orange stripe with thin blue trim is substituted for the three separate stripes of the previous jersey. For the home jersey, a white stripe trimmed in blue is used.
1994: The sleeve stripes for both uniforms are changed again, and they become smaller. The name on the back receives an outline to match the number patches, the mini NFL Shield is added to the collar, and the NFL 75th-season patch is worn on the left collarbone. Additionally, the Broncos introduced a throwback uniform resembling their 1965-1966 reddish-orange uniform. The throwback is only worn once, despite there being both a home and away throwback uniform.
1997: In 1998, Elway finally gets his first Super Bowl win with the help of running back Terrell Davis. Beating the Green Bay Packers 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII, the win brings an end to 11 years of frustration in Denver.
The 1997 season also sees a radical redesign of the Broncos’ uniforms. The away jersey features a navy collar on a white base; navy front, back, and shoulder numbers trimmed in orange; navy name on the back; and Broncos wordmark below the NFL Shield. The jersey also has navy side panels with a thin orange outline that comes to a point outside the collar. The home jersey is a navy base with an orange collar, white numbers trimmed in orange, and white name on the back. The Broncos wordmark is white on this jersey and the side panels are orange and shaped similarly to the away jersey. The Super Bowl XXXII patch is worn on the left collarbone of the home jersey for the Super Bowl win. The Broncos wear a Super Bowl XXXIII patch the following year on the away jersey as the Broncos win their second league championship.
2001: A throwback to the 1980-1988 jersey is introduced, with the television numbers moved to the shoulder. An orange alternative with a navy collar and white numbers is added in 2002. The orange alternative sees a return in 2004.
2009: The Broncos wears a 50th-season patch on the left collarbone. The team also introduces a throwback to the infamous first uniform from 1960. In 2010, the addition of the “International Series” patch commemorates the team’s game against the 49ers in London. In 2012, the orange alternative becomes the primary home jersey.
The Orange and Blue
With Peyton Manning likely to retire at the end of this season, the Broncos are facing another transition into the unknown. However, considering the unorthodox start of this storied franchise and its many ups and downs, it is very likely that the next chapter of the Broncos legacy is waiting to begin. When it does, the devoted Broncos fans – those who have professed their “Orange Fever” louder and with more pride than any fans of any other franchise – will be waiting, eager to cheer on their beloved Orange and Blue.
Fanatics carries a full line of Broncos gear for the discriminating fan: