The Chicago Bears helmet history started to get really interesting in the 1940s and continues to hold one of the most iconic looks in the NFL today. From the classic plain helmets of the 1940s to the wishbone ‘C’ of today, the traditional Bears’ look continues to stand the test of time.
Whether it was Dick Butkus or Brian Urlacher or Roquan Smith, Gale Sayers or Walter Payton, or even Jim McMahon or Mitchell Trubisky, the traditional helmet links both old and new versions of the Chicago Bears.
But what about the good old before times, from 1920 to 1940?
Were the Bears just as turbulent as the other founding franchises in the NFL?
You bet, and one such bit of turbulence is making an epic return to the field in 2019, so stay tuned and enjoy this little timeline I have set forth, as things are going to get wacky.
When the Bears debuted in 1920 as the Decatur Staleys, they held quite a different look. From 1920 to 1930 the Staleys/Bears (moved to Chicago in 1921 and became the Bears in 1922) wore the prototypical dark beige leatherhead.
Not much different from teams of the past.
From 1931 to 1933, the team bore winged helmets reminiscent of the University of Michigan, except the look was blue and orange rather than blue and yellow.
Starting in 1934, the Bears wore several different helmet combinations. In 1934, they used plain white and blue leatherheads, as well as one that bore an orange and blue pattern.
In 1935, they went with only plain blue.
In 1936 and 1937, the winged look returned, which the Bears will be wearing a modernized version of this season.
1937 also saw the debut of orange leatherheads which stuck around until 1938.
Finally, the Bears would go simply with plain blue leatherheads starting in 1939 which remained until the plastic shell replaced the leather.
The Chicago Bears’ first modernized plastic shell consisted of plain navy with no markings. The helmet which lasted until 1961 is now worn today as part of the team’s alternate throwbacks, which are worn at least twice a year. Now that the NFL has allowed a third game in third uniforms, there’s now an option to wear the helmets three times throughout the season.
As mentioned previously the Bears will be resorting to a different set of throwbacks beginning in 2019, so it’s unclear whether the logoless helmet will take the field in the future or if it will be retired.
The Bears first added their wishbone ‘C’ helmet decal in 1963. This version of the ‘C’ was white, in contrast to their now-traditional orange.
The original wishone ‘C’ look was reminiscent of the Cincinnati Reds of the National League, which is shown in the corresponding image.
In 1974, the Bears added burnt orange to the interior of the ‘C’ and white was now relegated to an outline, which has remained on the team’s helmet ever since, with the only modifications being periodic upgrades to the overall helmet shell.
In 1983, the Bears, like many teams, abandoned the then-traditional gray facemasks in favor of blue. Since then, the helmet has seen zero change.
It has become one of the most recognizable helmets in the NFL with the design itself surviving over three and a half decades while the wishbone ‘C’ in its current design has remained for over four and a half decades.
As mentioned earlier, the Bears do remove the decal at least twice during the NFL season, bringing back their old, plain blue shells to pair with their classic uniforms, but will add orange striping at the crown to commemorate their throwbacks used in 2019.
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Navy and burnt orange is a look with perfect color contrast. It contains longstanding tradition and as an NFL purist, I feel the look should only change if the Bears decide to revert back to the classic white wishbone ‘C.’
There are a lot of (NFL) teams trying to get cute with their helmets and uniforms. The Bears are one of the few exceptions to this trend, and rightfully so. Paul Lukas’ Uni-Watch had repeatedly ranked the Bears’ uniforms as one of the best if not the best in the NFL.
You can’t go wrong with tradition and the Bears are one of few teams to realize if something isn’t broke, don’t bother to fix it. The Bears are right in refusing to fix their already near-perfect helmets.
May the classic wishbone ‘C’ live on.
The Chicago Bears and the entire NFC North are almost in every way as historic in their aesthetics as the NFC East, with the Bears being one of the oldest members of either conference. It’s old school tradition between teams like the Bears and their ancient brethren the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, which always sets up some entertaining aesthetics even if the games don’t always harbor the same result.
As I said, may the classic wishbone ‘C’ live on, because it has a history like perhaps no other insignia in sports.