Monarchs of the NFL: History of the Detroit Lions Jersey

The Detroit Lions jersey history started in 1930 when the team played as the Portsmouth Spartans. Their colors resembled that of what would later become the Minnesota Vikings of purple, gold, and white. As was the style at the time, after a year of wearing plain purple jerseys with white numbering, the Spartans opted for purple jerseys with yellow vertical stripes, along with the same white numbering. A second jersey introduced contained a white base, horizontal yellow striping at the sleeves, vertical striping at the shoulders, and yellow at the torso. For a better look at this bizarre jersey, click the link here. I mean, this thing literally looks like an optical illusion.

Anyway, in 1932 the Spartans opted only for their purple and gold vertically-striped jerseys as well as a return to their plain purple jerseys with white numbering.

 

1934-1947

Detroit Lions alternate throwback jersey

Come 1933, the Spartans returned to the plain purple jerseys for their final year in Portsmouth, Ohio before relocating to Detroit to become the Lions.

Unlike their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, the Lions’ look in the 1930s and early to mid-1940s remained consistent, with simple Honolulu blue jerseys with silver numbering. The only real change here was in the number font, which thickened in 1938.

In 1942, the team experimented with silver jerseys and blue numbering, an exact inverse of their standard look and in 1944, wore the silver jerseys alongside the primary blues.

 

1948-1955

In 1948, when Bo McMillin became head coach, the Lions switched their primary jersey color from blue to maroon with white numbering, wearing the blue jerseys only in the preseason.

It’s unclear how long the maroon jerseys lasted, with some sources stating the change was brief and only lasted for a single season, others claim the look lasted until 1955. However, in 1949, the Lions wore blue jerseys again as the primaries with white numbering before reverting back to silver.

If the maroon jerseys continued after 1948, they would be relegated to alternate or preseason only status.

 

1956-2002

Lions home jersey from 1982 to 2002
Starting in 1982, the Lions switched to white numbering.

In 1956, the maroon jerseys were dropped for good and for the first time in team history, TV numbers appeared on the sleeves, midway down from the shoulder region.

In 1957, the Lions adopted a white jersey, as was mandated by the NFL at the time. For the first time in team history, Northwestern stripes appeared on the jersey sleeves. Both the numbering and sleeves bore the Honolulu blue color.

In 1961, the Lions added silver striping to the blue jersey to match the road whites.

In 1971 and 1974, the Lions wore black over one of their Northwestern stripes on both the home and road uniforms to pay tribute to wide receiver Chuck Hughes and head coach Donald McCafferty. Hughes is the only player known to have died on the field during an NFL game while McCafferty died of a heart attack in 1974, shortly before the season began.

Lions road jersey from 1984 to 2002.
Starting in 1984, the Lions’ Northwestern sleeves were cut in half.

In 1972, the Lions added white trim to their home silver numbers and silver trim to the road numbers.

In 1975, a thicker numbering font was adopted.

From 1979 to 1981 the Lions adopted a darker, more metallic shade of silver, almost gray, for their home jerseys on both the numbers and jersey sleeves.

In 1982, the Lions switched from the gray to white numbering with silver outlines on their home jersey.

Starting in 1984, the Northwestern sleeves for both jerseys were moved to the base of the sleeves before returning to the upper portion of the sleeves in 1999.

Also in 1999, the TV numbers were moved to the top of the shoulders.

Finally, in 2001, the Lions brought back their pre-1961 throwbacks to use during select games. They brought the look back for one season in 1994 as part of the NFL’s 75th anniversary.

 

2003-2017

Lions 2003 Home Jersey
The 2009 to 2017 home jersey.

2003 brought sweeping changes to the Lions jersey with the addition of the color black now entering the sleeve stripes as well as outlining the numbers.

In 2005, along with most of the NFL at the time, the Lions adopted a black jersey to be worn as an alternate. These jerseys consisted of white and blue striping at the sleeves, blue numbering, and white outlines at the number.

In 2009, in an effort to contrast themselves from their franchise futility following an 0-16 season, the Lions further added changes to the jersey, this time adding a new numbering font while disbanding the black jerseys.

 

2017-Present

Detroit Lions Home Jersey

In 2017, the Lions made radical changes to the uniform, completely redesigning the home, road, third jersey, and Color Rush look.

Black, which had been part of the color scheme since 2003 was abandoned, replaced by a darker, metallic gray similar to what the team used in the 1980s. The home jersey consisted of a blue base, and gray Northwestern Stripes. On the middle stripe, WCF, which stands for former owner William Clay Ford, appears while on the opposite sleeve, the script ‘LIONS’ is ingrained. Silver makes up the numbering, outlined in gray.

As for the road look, white is the base color with blue Northwestern stripes, consisting of ‘LIONS’ written in white and ‘WCF,’ also in white. Numbering is blue with gray outlines.

The team has held onto their throwbacks often worn on Thanksgiving, which features a plain blue jersey, and silver numbering.

An alternate Color Rush jersey is also available, this one including a gray base, white numbering, blue outlines, blue sleeves, with both ‘LIONS’ and ‘WCF’ written in white.

 

Shop Detroit Lions gear at FansEdge!

 

My Take

Lions 2016 Color Rush
The unused 2016 Color Rush jersey, similar to the team’s 2003-2008 black alternate jerseys.

The Lions are joining the latest trend in teams returning to their older colors or variations thereof, and abandoning the additions of the color black, which started in around the late 1990s and affected all four major North American sports leagues.

For the most part, the team returned to tradition with some modern upgrades, giving the uniform a nice, hybrid look. For this, I would rank the Lions’ look lower than the most traditional ones, but they still garner a high score due to their color scheme returning to normal and no real pizzazz to the uniform.

It’s a plain, but not too plain, design that hopefully remains for years to come.

Related Article: The Detroit Lions Helmet History

 

Gallery

1984-1999

Lions 1984 to 1999 Home Jersey

 

2009-2017

Lions 2009-2017 road jersey

 

Current Color Rush

Lions Current Color Rush

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2 comments

  1. Hey Todd,

    This is so interesting thanks for sharing! I think it’s quite amazing how American Football shirts have hardly changed in such a long time. If you check out football (soccer) shirts then it’s crazy the change in this space of time.

    Something I’ve never seen before… what happens if an away team has the same colour as the home team? Do they just play in the same colours as always or do they have an away jersey?

    1. Hi, Mike, I’ve seen soccer jerseys from the Euro leagues to the MLS and have noticed that even the team colors for teams change with either the home or road kit. It’s kind of cool and unique. That actually happened once long ago when the Vikings played the Lions…I think it was the Lions…when both teams showed up in white jerseys. Eventually, one of the teams switched into their dark look. However, it’s becoming commonplace to see color on color games, which I love, as long as the team’s jerseys are contrasting enough for viewers to tell the difference. For instance, if the Lions play their division rivals, it would be tough to decipher the two looks, but if they played a team like the Arizona Cardinals, color on color would work. With teams adopting third jerseys, it’s not uncommon to see color on color, since the point of teams wearing white and the other dark came in 1957, before the age of color TV.

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