The San Francisco 49ers helmet history looks traditional on the outside but in reality, the team went through several helmet changes throughout its existence, including the infamous one-day logo.
The iconic SF interlocked within an oval is familiar to all NFL fans, but it wasn’t until 1964 did the team decide on and keep a look, one they nearly abandoned in 1991.
1940s and 1950s
When the 49ers were founded in 1946 as members of the All America Football Conference (AAFC), their leatherhead helmets were plain white before adding in a gold leatherhead in 1947. In 1948, they dropped both gold and white, instead opting for silver. Finally in 1950 upon joining the NFL the Niners added read leatherheads.
The team stuck with red when the NFL switched from leather plastictic shells while also maintaining a silver helmet.
Here’s a brief timeline.
By 1953, silver was phased out in favor of red.
In 1956, the color reverted to white.
In 1957, the 49ers moved to a similar shade of gold we’re accustomed to today.
By the turn of the decade in 1959, gold switched to silver.
The silver helmet was the first to incorporate a logo in 1962 and remained so until the end of the 1963 season.
By 1964, the 49ers changed back to the now-familiar gold shell along with the interlocking SF. By this time, changes to the helmet were subtle and it remained so well into the 1990s.
It was with this iconic helmet did the team see five Super Bowl appearances, and five victories, throughout the 1980s and another to conclude the 1994 season.
1991: The “One-Day” Logo
The 49ers announced a prototype for a new helmet design, with which a new logo accompanied the helmet. The traditional interlocking SF would be scrapped in favor of a stylized 49ers script in white with a red outline and black drop shadow.
The look was panned by so many fans and media that the team scrapped the idea the following week, despite many at the time believing the logo was erased from team history the following day, hence the name “One-Day Logo.”
Despite fan backlash to the 1991 redesign, the 49ers, as with many in pro sports at the time, embraced the color black and darker colors in general.
As a result in 1996, the team switched from their usual cherry red to a black cherry red, along with a red facemask and an updated SF logo, which now held a double outline in both gold and black, rather than just black as had formerly been the case.
It was with this updated helmet and logo did the franchise begin to see turbulence, beginning in 1999. After some resurgence in the early-2000s, the Niners sunk to newer lows come the mid-2000s and remained near the bottom of the league until a resurgence in 2011.
In 2009 the 49ers reverted to their original shades of cherry red and gold but retained the updated logo design, called the ‘Championship Colors’ by some within the organization.
The team also reverted back to the gray facemask in doing so and have since made a Super Bowl appearance and multiple NFC Championship appearances wearing the look in the early 2010s.
As one can see in both the featured image and in the one below, the 49ers retained the ‘updated’ logo they adopted back in 1996, simply lightening the shade of red.
In the team’s latest Color Rush look that featured white jerseys reminiscent of the team’s 1994 throwbacks, also featured the 1964-1995 helmet and logo, something that is hard to tell unless a close up is involved.
As you can see with each link, the current double-outline accompanies the left-hand link, while the right-hand link shows a helmet that lacks the double outline, opting only for the single black outline seen on the 1964-1995 helmet.
Yes, one of the best moves the Niners made was ditching the darkened, now-dated black cherry look in favor of the original red. While I’d love to see the team revert the logo back to pre-1996 status as well and remove all the remaining black within it, I can most definitely live with this color scheme. The championship colors should be here to stay for the long haul.
That said, I dug the awesome throwback Color Rush that revived the pre-1996 helmet. While the two logos are very similar and tough to tell apart from one another, us uni-enthusiasts know that the current logo just sticks out in all the wrong ways. A minor setback to an otherwise iconic helmet.
If the Seahawks and Cardinals revert to their oldies, the NFC West might just become the best-dressed division in football. It’s a start, though back when the Rams decided to retire the gold horns and opted for yellow and white back in 2016, joining the Niners in a rather classic look.
Old school, timeless, and classic, and it’s something I’d love to see the Cards and Hawks follow suit in the near future. As usual, time will ultimately tell, but there was a nice refresher in the Rams and Niners Color Rush game back in 2018.