NFL Uniform Breakdown – What Do All The Things Mean?

Image of the decals and stickers on an NFL uniform the captain C, the flags, and man of the year

We can’t tell you what the meaning of life is but we can at least tell you what all the little things on an NFL jersey, particularly the helmets, stand for.

There are so many branding design elements at work on the current NFL uniform that it is difficult to keep up.

This piece aims to break down all elements of the NFL uniform from head to toe.

Helmets – NFL Decals and Stickers Explained

The Green Sticker on the Back of The Helmet and its Meaning

This little green circle worn on the back of the helmet near the top of the head indicates the player that has a radio communication device in his helmet. The radio only works one way; so the coaches talk and the players listen, unlike how they behave on social media.

The green sticker player was an offense only tool that started in 1994. You will only ever see the quarterback with the sticker on his helmet because he is calling the plays and making adjustments – it would make no sense to waste it on a player who barely sees the field in every sense.

In 2008, the league allowed defenses to assign the radio to one defensive player on the field. As of 2024 the defense can have three players with the green dot, because the nature of defense is more fluid. But, only one can be on the field at a time.

Cleveland Browns coach and NFL icon Paul Brown is credited with this invention in the 1950s during his dynastic run as NFL champions.

The Different Country Flags Decals on Back of Helmet and What They Mean

This started in 2022 as part of the NFL’s effort to “celebrate the growing number of nationalities and cultures that make up the fabric of the League with an initiative that will see players take the field with international flags on their helmets.”

Today, fans will see over 50 nations and territories represented. Here are the stipulations (in a league run by lawyers you know there have to be some):

Players can choose to wear alongside the American flag, the flag of an international country or territory if:

– They lived there for two years or more, or
– Have a parent or grandparent who were born there.

The league started its’ globalization efforts back in the early 1990’s during NFL Europe – which was awesome, YouTube it, kids. With international games now a fixture of regular scheduling, you will see a continued rise in international awareness to grow the audience.

The NFL Shield Stickers on Helmets

The first appearance of the NFL shield on a uniform was in 1969 as a celebration of the league’s 50th anniversary. But it was just on the uniforms as a patch and not a decal on the helmets.

Believe it or not the NFL shield on the helmets did not start until 1991. From Paul Lukas’ wonderful blog Uni Watch:

“The league logo didn’t reappear on NFL uniforms until the start of the 1991 season, when it was added to the base of the jersey collar, the upper-left pant leg, and the back-left base of the helmet.

This means, among other things, that the last NFL game without the league logo on the uniforms was Super Bowl XXV, and that the last play without the league logo on the uniforms was Scott Norwood’s infamous missed field goal attempt.

Memorial Decals on NFL Helmets

When important historic figures associated with the league, or individual teams passes away, the NFL lets them honor a person with a memorial decal.

I am not a fan of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and neither should any NFL fan be, as he undercut the American Football League and usurped the title of “commissioner” during a negotiating session to merge the AFL and NFL from the Raiders” AL Davis while he was using the restroom. But his memorial decal was one of my favorites. The NFL actually allows the designers some creative freedom in the design.

My favorite all-time “memorial decal” was courtesy of the 1989 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles QB Coach Doug Scovil passed away midseason one day before a game with the hated Cowboys aka Bounty Bowl II. The Eagles would don a black strip of electrical tape over their helmet wings in honor of their fallen coach for the rest of the season.

The most recent example or variation of this was the black background, white typeface “MLK” stickers worn to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his eponymous day.

NFL Man of The Year Sticker on Helmets

The brown sticker of a man wearing a cap that looks like John Bender from The Breakfast Club is actually the logo for the NFL Man of the Year award. Talk about a LOAD of pressure; man of the year?!

Each team nominates a player at the beginning of the NFL season. That sticker is given to each team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and they wear it on their helmet for the duration of the season.

The artwork is pretty cool. From the Internet:

“The NFL Man of the Year trophy was created in 1969 by artist Daniel Bennett Schwartz, depicting a nondescript caped lineman standing alone on the sidelines, outside of game action; it symbolizes that the award is intended to recognize any player, including one who may perform in a lower-profile playing position outside of the spotlight, whose humanitarian contributions and efforts are worthy.”

NFL Uniforms – Patches Explained

What Is The C on NFL Jerseys and What Does It Mean?

The “C” stands for Captain. The “C” patch (not to be confused with c-pap) on NFL players’ jerseys signifies their role as team captains. 

The team captain designation is a team-appointed position that designates certain players as leaders on and off the field. The NFL started allowing teams to add the C to their uniforms in 2007.

What do the Stars Mean Under the C on NFL Jerseys?

The number of gold stars on the patch represents the number of years that player has been named captain by a team. If he has been named captain for longer than four years, the “C” on the patch is gold.

The white stars represent an empty placeholder for the gold stars. For example, if a player has two gold stars and two white stars, that represents that player has been a captain for that team for two years.

How Many Captains are on an NFL Team?

No more than 6 can go out to midfield for the coin toss. The maximum number of captains the NFL allows to dress and wear the C on their jersey during a game is 8. In 2023, the Giants had 10 captains which seems like a boatload. And means they had one less captain than they did losses (11). By comparison, the 2023 Steelers had 4.

What do NFL Team Captains do?

Not much other than “morale” and being a “leader on and off the field.” Captain’s duties take place before the coin toss. The NFL spells this out in the rulebook, under Rule 18.

Coin toss procedures – Each team can send as many as six team captains to the center of the field. On each team, one captain is designated the “speaking captain” of the delegation. The visiting team or the team designated “visitor” by the referee (if no team is declared ‘visitor’) shall choose “heads or tails” or in the case of a special ceremony coin, the options on the face and rear of that coin.

Seems simple enough, but it can get sticky and really screw the team if a captain isn’t paying attention or doesn’t know what they are doing. Case in point: the Packers Jaire Alexander during the 2023 season.

Alexander was suspended for one game because he went out for coin toss on Sunday even though he was not a captain, and then nearly botched the call.

From the Internet:

“For people that didn’t know Jaire went out as a captain when he wasn’t supposed to, and after the Packers won the toss he said they wanted to play defense. Luckily the ref was chill and let him change his answer or else the Panthers would’ve gotten the ball to start both halves! Suspension is absolutely valid as he’s purposely defying what the coach wants.”

What Is The Brown Cape on NFL Jerseys and What Does it Mean?

One of my favorite questions I’ve heard about the NFL Man of the Year patch on NFL uniforms is, “Why is Darth Vader on NFL jerseys?”

While it make look like Lord Vader, it is actually a patch that signifies the player wearing it has been named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.

As long as that player is active he will wear that on his jersey. The NFL started adding this patch to jerseys in 2017.


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