Here's the real reason behind the Dallas Cowboys’ mismatched uniform colors
In the past six years, we’ve seen eight NFL teams make changes to their uniforms. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers overhauled their looks with fresh outfittings from Nike – albeit, the Bucs’ came with much criticism. Others, like the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, made subtle and welcomed changes that fans were pleased about.
One team you haven’t seen change its look is the Dallas Cowboys, and you may never see it happen. The Cowboys have one of the most iconic uniforms in all of football: The white jerseys with royal blue stripes and numbers, and turquoise-gray pants. Strangely enough, they wear that combination at home. Dallas is one of the only teams in the league to primarily wear white on its home turf, which raises a lot of questions.
What made Dallas want to wear plain, white uniforms in front of the home crowd? Cowboys equipment director Mike McCord, who’s been with the team since 1989, shed light on that very notion by phone on Monday to explain the quirks of Dallas’ unique look.
“Originally, the white at home started with the heat, especially at Texas Stadium,” McCord told FOX Sports. “As hot as it could be for our late-August, early-September games, I think the heat was a big factor, and one of those things was making the other teams wear darker jerseys on the road, as well as standing in the sun on the sidelines in the old stadium was a huge factor in that. So any time you’re wearing darker colors, it tends to retain the heat. So that was a big part of why the Cowboys wore white jerseys at home.”
It makes sense. Texas is hot, and at the old Texas Stadium, there was no retractable roof. It was just a gaping hole in the middle of the building, allowing for the sun to beat down. You can imagine how hot it’d get on the field, which retained heat as if it were a sauna.
There’s no question Dallas’ home jersey is highly recognizable and can be plucked out of a lineup by even the most casual NFL fan, but few people know why it is that the Cowboys use royal blue and a strange tint of gray in the pants when their helmets feature a darker blue star on a silver background. The pants, for one, came about when the original team president and GM Tex Schramm saw that color on the interior of a car.
“The ‘Cowboys Star Blue,’ which is the pants you see with the home white jerseys now, actually originated with Tex Schramm. Apparently, he had a car that he had seen – I’m not sure if he owned the car or if he just saw it – but he saw a car with that color interior and fell in love with it. So we had dye lots. That fabric is a dye-lotted color, so we have to order certain number of yards to produce it in that dye lot. So that pant color has become the color of the Cowboys for their home games.”
That color has evolved over the years, although only subtly. When the NFL switched to Nike, the color popped even more as a turquoise, blueish gray. It was a completely different color during the Cowboys’ infant years, appearing more like a pure gray.
“Back in the old days, we had a company called Red Fox that designed the uniforms, and that was more of a true gray,” McCord said. “It was more of a solid, flat color on the back and then a shinier color on the front. Totally two different materials and colors. That went all the way through most of the '70s.
“In the late '70s, early '80s, that’s when this color was found, so we started dye lotting the fabrication of that. Russell was making the uniforms quite a bit in that timeframe in the early '80s, so they were able to match this color that was come up by Tex Schramm.”
What you see on TV is almost an exact representation of what the Cowboys are wearing on the field. Granted, nothing on TV is ever perfect because of the different settings on each television, but it’s close to the same color as what you’d see in person. But before high-definition TV came along, that wasn’t the case.
Years ago, what you saw on television and in photos was far off from what the Cowboys were actually wearing. That’s part of the reason so many people now notice how green the Cowboys’ pants really are.
“Obviously, with the introduction of HD, the color is more true to what you see on TV to what you hold in your hands. In the old days, they would be wearing that pant color, but in photos – especially at Texas Stadium with the way you’d go from the shade to the sun – the pant never really looked that color on TV or in photos,” McCord explained. “As the highlights of the TV became more clear and the pictures became clearer, now it’s really a true representation of what you’re seeing on TV and in photos – that turquoise, greenish color with the royal and white striping on the side panel.”
On the road, the Cowboys wear a different color silver. It looks nothing like the greenish pants Dallas wears at home, which is something that annoys a number of fans. The silver simply matches the helmet and the navy jerseys far better than “Cowboys Star Blue” would, which is part of the reason Dallas has stuck with that color on the road.
The road jerseys, on the other hand, have evolved over time. Originally, they were a solid royal blue color. However, as time has gone on, the Cowboys realized the power of navy.
When shopping for Cowboys gear, all you see is navy, white and silver. No royal blue. There’s a reason for that, and it directly impacted Dallas’ decision to shift from royal to navy.
“Navy has been more popular in retail, and for us when we do so much of our sideline products, whether it’s polos or hats or T-shirts, a lot of that royal color – which is what the Cowboys used to be – has kind of transitioned to navy just because it does so much better at retail,” McCord said.
The home uniform, however, has remained unchanged. You can credit (or blame) owner Jerry Jones for that -- he wants the Cowboys’ look to be iconic like the Yankees’ pinstripes.
“Over the years, the away jersey has had the tendency of changing. That’s because Mr. [Jerry] Jones has always thought of our home uniform as the Yankee pinstripes of baseball,” McCord continued. “You just don’t want to change a whole lot of what that home uniform is, so it’s stayed pretty generic and vanilla with just the white jerseys: one color royal number, simple sleeve stripe, and everything else has stayed pretty basic.
"With the navy jerseys, we added Cowboys underneath the neck insert several years ago, we moved the stars to sleeves a little bit. So those uniforms have changed over the years, whereas with the home uniform, we’ve always kept it kind of plain and simple like the Yankees style. We have a lot of history in the home uniform, so we play a lot of games in the white.”
McCord said players actually prefer the navy uniforms, but that has to do with the fact that they’re so rarely worn. As a result, the white “becomes lethargic,” which almost bores players after a while.
A lot of fans prefer the navy jerseys, too, which is why they sell so fast in retail. The Cowboys are always listening and paying attention to feedback from their supporters, and changes are being made. McCord said the team is going to wear its navy jerseys at home more often, adding a game or two in that regard each season.
“We’ll incorporate navy a little bit more. You’ve already seen the last couple of years where we started wearing navy at home on Thanksgiving, and that’s all kind of in relation to the Color Rush uniform. We’ve had some success wearing that uniform at home, so I think we’ll see a little more of it.”
Just don’t expect to see the Cowboys wearing navy jerseys at AT&T Stadium on a regular basis any time soon … or ever.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go to wearing the dark jersey at home completely, but I think we might add a game or two, possibly – especially high-profile games or national TV games at home that might be the navy jersey or another new jersey down the road if something’s approved by the NFL to do that,” McCord said.
One uniform the Cowboys have essentially done away with is the throwback Thanksgiving set. It featured the navy body with white shoulders. It paired nicely with the white pants and a white helmet, but the NFL instituted a new rule in the CBA a few years ago that limits each player to just one helmet per season for safety reasons. That prevents a lot of teams from wearing throwback uniforms, the Cowboys included.
McCord believes one day the NFL may allow a secondary helmet, which would pave the way for many teams to go back to iconic uniforms from years past.
“I think there’s always a possibility (of adding a secondary helmet),” he said. “Obviously, a lot of it was thought of to be protective for the players. I think the NFL had good intentions, but I think if it’s done the right way it can happen. Especially for us, wearing that uniform late in the year, it gave us plenty of time to break another helmet in. I think the NFL is a little weary of what the college ranks are doing with guys changing helmets on a weekly basis and the level of inventory it requires when you have to deal multiple helmets.”
So perhaps in the future we’ll see the Cowboys once again go back to the iconic look from the '60s, and potentially wear more navy at home. Just don’t bet any money on Jones doing away with his quirky white uniforms.