The Los Angeles Chargers helmet has gone through numerous changes throughout the franchise’s existence, but as with many NFL teams, the return to classic signifies the return to normalcy. And to give you a little bit of a foreshadowing, a return to the classics is indeed what the Chargers had on their mind, but more about that further on.
Despite the numerous helmet changes throughout their six-plus decades of history, the arch-shaped lightning bolt they’ve used on their helmet logo has remained the same since their 1960 debut. The color schemes, including the lightning bolt’s color, and even outline, however, have changed throughout the team’s 60-season existence, even if in a way, shape, or form, such schemes have remained somewhat similar.
The Chargers debuted with a white shell consisting of either a gold or blue lighting bolt, depending upon the year. Here’s a little bit of a rundown on how the team’s helmet looked for each season during their early years:
1960: Blue lightning bolt
1961-1965: Yellow lightning bolt
1966: Blue lightning bolt
1967-1973: Yellow lightning bolt
The player’s number appeared under the bolt in black writing.
The next helmet to debut consisted of a navy blue shell with the yellow lightning bolt outlined in navy and white. These helmets also consisted of a yellow facemask, one of the first teams in the NFL to adopt such a look other than traditional gray, which would become more prevalent as the 1970s wore on until only a handful of teams stuck with gray.
The helmet and overall uniform debut came with the hiring of coach Don Coryell, nicknamed the Air Coryell uniforms in league circles. Such helmets are also synonymous with the Dan Fouts era, arguably the greatest quarterback in team history until the arrival of Philip Rivers in 2004. This look lasted throughout Fouts’ entire 15-season career, with the next change arriving the year after his retirement following the 1987 season.
The helmet underwent yet another redesign in 1988, debuting an inverse look of the Coryell-era uniform with a white lightning bolt surrounded by navy blue and yellow outlines. The facemask was also changed to navy, which would become a fixture in the team’s look for the next thirty-one seasons until reverting back to the yellow facemask come 2019.
This has also been the Chargers’ longest look to date, lasting nineteen seasons and also saw a Super Bowl appearance in 1994. Despite the progress, these uniforms also ironically became synonymous with the worst era in Chargers’ history from 1996 until 2003 when the team failed to reach the playoffs or even put together a record greater than .500.
They bottomed out at 1-15 in 2000, and the era of these uniforms will always flashback to that of Ryan Leaf, arguably the biggest draft bust in NFL history who flamed out of San Diego after the 2000 season, despite NFL greats such as LaDanian Tomlinson and a future NFL great in Drew Brees also donning the look.
In 2007, the Chargers brought back a version of their original helmets with three exceptions. One, the outline consisted of both powder and navy blue and two, the jersey numbers did not appear on the helmet. Finally, the helmet included a navy facemask in favor of gray.
It was one of those tradition with innovation moments, or combining the present with the past.
These helmets were brought back by popular demand as the Chargers did wear identical helmets to their 1960s-70s uniform on throwback weekends, which began in 1994 when NFL teams wore throwback uniforms during league-sponsored throwback weekends to commemorate the NFL’s 75th anniversary.
Starting in 2000, the throwback look became a permanent fixture each season except in 2002 which held true until 2006, when the Chargers’ alternate look mimicked the 1960s design, prompting the team to simply wear their newly adopted helmets for all sixteen games.
When the NFL Color Rush started and the Chargers adopted their Color Rush uniform, the navy facemasks would be dropped in favor of yellow during these games, as a nod to the Air Coryell era to match the team’s Color Rush Jersey, which also resembled the 1974-1987 threads.
In 2019, the team will primarily wear the yellow facemasks as they announced a switch back to the powder blue jerseys for a primary look, something that hasn’t been permanent since 1973.
Great helmet, and great change to the yellow facemask as well. We’re looking at a new era in Los Angeles Chargers history as the team reverts back to the brighter colored uniform complete with a nice upgrade of the helmet. I’m more than happy with the change and it’s my hope that the yellow facemask stays for years to come.
It’s my hope the team takes this route and relegates the current navy threads as an alternate set while the powders become the primaries. If so, the helmet and jersey alike will resemble such a classic and timeless look for the team.
The Chargers are the latest in a trend many teams are following, reverting back to original and/or lighter color schemes in favor of the darker ones that took hold in the late-1990s, likely 1996, and went all the way until roughly 2011ish when teams began to revert back to original schemes.
While navy had been a fixture in the team’s look for over forty seasons, most fans either in LA or San Diego look back fondly on the Chargers’ powder blues, with many regarding the lighter look as one of the most unique and iconic in professional sports history.
The team made the right first moves in 2007 when the navy helmet was dropped and it seems even then the navy look was on a slippery slope back to being an accent color at best, and finally here in 2019 we see just that, with powder, yellow, and white returning to power.
Usually, colors with little contrasting elements don’t hold water well, but the Chargers are indeed an exception to that rule, like very few teams in any of the Four Major North American Professional Sports Leagues.
I think they will hold onto this look for years t come as they become more and more acclimated to their newest home in Los Angeles and do all they can to win over the LA fan base.