What: The powder blue and white alternate uniforms of the San Diego Chargers, worn as the dominant uniform intermittently between 1960 and 1984, here modeled by running back LaDainian Tomlinson:
Why: This year, the AFC West produced the most atrocious football this side of the Lingerie Football League. But we west coasters can take heart in the fact that the division has the best historical lineup of uniforms in football. The Oakland Raiders have the intimidating silver and black, while the Kansas City Chiefs have the arrowhead, the coolest (and only acceptable) use of Native American imagery in the NFL. The Denver Broncos’ current uniform is terrible, but back in the day, the Orange Crush lit up the field. And towering above them all are the San Diego Chargers’ throwback uniforms. In the high-flying days of coach Don “Air” Coryell, the Chargers’ collegiate blue and white literally electrified the field, with lightning bolts up the side and across the helmet. This Frankenstein effect led to the team being nicknamed “the Bolts.” The team may be a talent-squandering mess of arrogance and chuckleheadedness, but whenever they don those powder blues, I am glued to the TV.
Impact: The Chargers remain the only NFL team whose alternate jerseys are vastly more popular than their current ones. The Chargers brain trust, never particularly bright in the first place (“Coach went 14-2? Fire him!”), cannot seem to grok this, and sticks with its dullsville navy and whites. In their defense, maybe it’s like an outdoor NHL game—something you want all the time, but only because you can’t have it.
Personal Connection: Before the football gods smiled upon Seattle, the Seahawks used to be in the AFC West. So I got to see the Chargers up close. For me, the Chargers were the team that never got the breaks: deceived by the Immaculate Deception, chilled in the Freezer Bowl, spurned by Eli Manning, not spurned by Ryan Leaf, gut-punched by Ed Hochuli. I always figured that if they’d just switch to the powders full-time, they’d win a ton of Super Bowls. Can’t hurt, right?
Other Contenders: the Michigan Wolverines’ maize and blue classics, especially that dynamite claw-marked helmet; the New York Yankees’ nameless pinstripes; the vegetative explosion on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ old-time uniforms; the hats and whites worn by Australian rules football referees, who point a lot; solely for sheer self-referential value, the BRA tops on the women’s beach volleyball players from Brazil.