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How Super Bowl 50 became a tale of black and white

Posted Jan 26, 2016

There's a history for the Broncos in choosing to wear white -- and not just in the Super Bowl.

Broncos in white at home

Super Bowl 50 will not be the first time the Broncos have worn white jerseys when they had their choice of uniforms.

They did so for the entire 1971 season, beginning with the infamous "half a loaf is better than none" season-opening draw with the Miami Dolphins that foretold the end of Lou Saban's end after four-plus seasons as head coach and general manager. In 1972, John Ralston took the reins, and the orange jerseys came back.

But Super Bowl 50 marks the first time since the first three home games of the 1983 season -- John Elway's rookie year -- that the Broncos have opted to wear white when it was their call.

In seven previous Super Bowls, the Broncos are 0-4 in orange jerseys, 1-1 in white and 1-0 in blue. The Carolina Panthers, their Super Bowl foe, will wear their black jerseys; they've lost both playoff games they've played in them -- two years ago to San Francisco and seven years ago to Arizona.

This is not the first time a team has chosen to wear a jersey other than its primary home jersey when it had the option. In Super Bowl XL, the Steelers had the jersey choice, but opted to wear white after winning three consecutive postseason games on the road. Pittsburgh defeated Seattle, 21-10. New England, which wore white at home in 1985, opted to wear its red jerseys (its home choice for most of its history to that point) in Super Bowl XX, but fell, 46-10 to Chicago.

The Broncos are the fourth team to choose to wear white for a Super Bowl, joining the Cowboys in Super Bowls XIII and XXVII and the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII. Designated home teams that opt to wear white in the Super Bowl are 3-1; designated home teams that wear their colored jersey are 17-28 and have lost nine of the last 10 times.

But the Broncos' history in white jerseys when it's their call goes deeper than just Super Sunday.

Shannon Sharpe

In 1983, Dan Reeves' third season on the Broncos' sideline, the young head coach brought out white jerseys to open the season against the Eagles, Raiders and Bengals.

The Broncos' whites wouldn't be seen again in Denver for 20 years, and when they resurfaced, it was by league edict — to punish the Broncos for taking the wrong uniforms to San Diego for a Week 2 game in 2003 at Qualcomm Stadium.

Unfazed by the change, Denver romped, 37-8. The Broncos haven't worn white at home when they had jersey choice since then.

Reeves' brief flirtation with white jerseys stemmed from his years with the Cowboys as a player, player/coach and coach under Tom Landry. Dallas began wearing its white jerseys at home in the 1960s by edict of team president Tex Schramm, who wanted the ticket-buying public in Dallas to see a variety of looks over the course of the season, which was achieved by having the visiting teams wear their primary jersey color.

Dallas wore its blue jerseys sparingly over the years, but when they did, a reputation of bad luck began to accompany them in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, the Broncos took note and acted when they had the chance.

The Cowboys visited Mile High Stadium for the Broncos' 1980 home opener, and head coach Red Miller had the Broncos wear white jerseys in Denver for the first time in nearly nine years. The Broncos accompanied those jerseys with white pants, giving them a white-on-white look for the first time since the 1977 season. It was a winning look that day; they capitalized off three takeaways to thrash Dallas, 41-20. The Broncos wore their whites at home the following week against San Diego, but fell, 30-13.

The Cowboys are the connective tissue of this story, because the legacy of their blue jerseys is a root cause of the Panthers' current postseason preference for white.

In 1971, the Cowboys won the first NFC championship, earning the right to play the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. As the NFC winners, the Cowboys were designated as the home team, but they did not have a jersey choice; the league mandated that they wear their blue uniforms. Dallas subsequently lost 16-13 in a game so plagued with mistakes it became known as the "Blunder Bowl" or the "Blooper Bowl."

Cowboys in white against Denver and Carolina

The Cowboys also lost at Cleveland in the 1968 playoffs in their blue uniforms. So renowned was the blue jersey "jinx" that in subsequent postseasons, the Rams and Eagles opted to wear white at home, contrary to their postseason norms. It didn't help the Rams in the 1978 NFC Championship Game; they lost, 28-0. But the Eagles broke out the whites two years later and turned back the Cowboys, 20-7 to advance to Super Bowl XV -- where they went back to their kelly green jerseys and were ransacked by the Raiders, 27-10.

Dallas also wore blue in the 1982 NFC Championship Game at Washington, but the Redskins had become a white-at-home team after Joe Gibbs' 1981 arrival. Washington won that day, 31-17, and the Cowboys' postseason appearances in any uniform became scarce for a while.

Fourteen years later, a new generation of Cowboys visited Carolina to play the Panthers. At the Panthers' helm sat team president Mike McCormack, a Hall of Fame player who also coached the Colts and Seahawks. McCormack and owner Jerry Richardson trace their NFL involvement to the 1950s as players; they knew the history.

So when the Panthers made their playoff debut on Jan. 5, 1997, they roared onto the field in white, with Dallas taking the field in its blues. Carolina won, 26-17. Seven years later, the teams met again in January ... and once again, the Panthers were in white and defeated the navy-blue-clad Cowboys.

Carolina wouldn't play another home playoff game for five years. When they did, they took the field in black jerseys ... and were trounced by Arizona, 33-13. Their next home playoff game was five years later; they wore black jerseys and black pants, and fell to the 49ers.

With those results in mind, the Panthers broke out their white-on-whites for a wild-card game against Arizona last January, and won. They did it again this year, and won both tries, taking their all-time playoff record to 9-4 in white-on-white, including 5-0 at home and 4-4 in road/neutral games.

The Broncos had the choice for Super Bowl 50, and after four defeats in orange by an average of 32.25 points, opted to shake up convention.

And that is how Super Bowl 50 became a black-and-white tale.

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