It’s no secret that there’s a stereotypical disjunction between die-hard American football fans and graphic designers. That’s just the type of human variety that keeps the world turning. What we didn’t realize, however, is this disjunction is more like a gaping, massive chasm when it comes to Super Bowl logos.
We don’t at all mean to offend any designer that has ever tread near a football field. We just intend to raise a pointed eyebrow at those responsible for the Super Bowl logos over the years—and we do this by first dissecting the makings of a good logo, or rather an effective logo.
- It’s unique
- It’s timeless
- It’s appropriate
- It’s simple
- It’s functional
It would be a race to the bottom if these logos were scoring touchdowns based on typography and graphic design merit.
Amidst the joking and poking fun, however, a welcome reprieve came with our discovery of the evolution of the AFC, NFC and NFL logos over the years. After 40 years, updates were made to all three not more than a decade ago.
The Evolution of the AFC, NFC, & NFL Logos
In 1959, the first Commissioner of the AFL, Joe Foss, commissioned a friend of the New York Titans owner Harry Wismer to design the original work. Design direction: incorporate the league’s official colors—red, white, and blue. Hut, hut, HIKE!
The original NFC logo design included a blue ‘N’ with three stars representing the three divisions at play in this conference from 1970-2001 (Eastern, Central and Western). The 2010 redesign of the NFC logo is largely similar to the old logo, with the addition of a fourth star, representing the four divisions that now compose the NFC (East, North, South, West).
What a relief to note the tightening up of lines all around on the NFL logo. We appreciate whoever slashed the flourish on the ‘L’, and the simplification of the number of stars. Oh, and pinstripes? Good call nixing those.
The updated NFL shield features eight stars (representing the eight AFC and NFC divisions) versus 25 on the old logo. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there’s no reason for the original use of 25 stars. It’s a design mystery!
In total violation of brand identity rules (see the “don’t do this” portion of any brand guidelines), fewer stars have been used without permission to make the 25-star logo work when reduced down to a small size on hats and t-shirts.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised to note that all three logos evolved in simplicity and functionality over the years. While the National Football Leagues’ logo—called “the envy of the sports world”—is more recognizable, we find the NFC and AFC logos a better representation of timelessness.
Super Bowl Logos: A Crapshoot
We think a classic “crap sandwich” will do—we’ll deliver the good news first, then the bad, and finish with the good.
The Good-ish News
There is, in fact, a shred of good design emerging from the long list of awful logos. Let’s start with the early years.
The third-ever Super Bowl logo is a clean, simple Rocky-Balboa-esque representation of “the highest level of professional football in the USA”, according to marketing at that time. This 1968 logo had obvious influence over the AFC and NFC logos that were designed in 1970. Fun fact: Super Bowl III was the first to feature famous celebrities during its ceremonies instead of just college bands. Enter Bob Hope.
We had to include the 1970’s Super Bowl logo, which has its special place in the hall of shame for being a direct rip-off of the 1968 Olympics logo—one of our favorite brand identity systems of all time.
The Best of the Rest
Incorporating the characters for “Super Bowl XLIII” would be a feat for any designer (who thought this roman numeral thing was a good idea, anyway?). Though, kudos to the designers at Landor & Associates for crafting a logo that is simple, clean, and colorful without being overwhelming. Pom-pom clap for you.
The perspective on the logo from 2009 is worthy of a good end-zone celebration. We dig the goal post subtly snuggled between the upright lines of the “L” and the “I”. ‘Nuff said.
The Really Bad
Digging through Super Bowl logos from 1968 to today mostly felt like digging through a shoebox of photos from our pubescent and awkward Middle School years. Yikes.
Here they are. The five worst Super Bowl logos. In all of their gaudy, weirdly-angular, musty, confused glory. Revel in it. Looking at them is worse that realizing all of the guacamole is gone.
We’ll give you a minute to recuperate from those, or take your awe to the next level and check out the whole logo lineup for yourself.
The New Look of the Super Bowl
From what we’ve gathered, the above is the new logo “template” for the Super Bowl. While some of the past logos were zany and downright ugly, they were at least memorable. The above logo for Super Bowl 50 is the NFL’s departure from the roman numerals (designers rejoice over not having to design LXXXVIII into the 88th bowl game logo). We’re not big on this thing. Design by committee, anyone? Not much to speak on behalf of its simplicity, timelessness, or functionality.
The Saving Grace
Amidst this widely commercialized awful design, there’s a shining light: that there are talented designers joining in the conversation.
Brandon Hubschman created this hypothetical logo for Super Bowl 50. So. Much. Better.
There it is: our Super Bowl soapbox delivery. What are your thoughts? Were we too harsh? Is the new Super Bowl logo really as bad as we think? Share with us on Twitter! #SuperBowl. And, go…team! (Who is playing again?)