The ever-popular red throwback uniforms the San Francisco 49ers wore during their 1994 Super Bowl championship season are back -- a long time coming for a franchise starved to return them to the uniform rotation. As the NFL is starting to give teams the ability to bring back throwback uniforms, the 49ers went through a long process to make sure the red '94 throwbacks would be in place for the 2021 season -- the franchise's 75th anniversary.
"The reality is, it takes about two years to make this happen," 49ers chief marketing officer Alex Chang told CBS Sports on Friday. "Even with a design that has already existed, you still need 18 to 24 months to bring it to reality. We started that process in the fall of 2019 to have it ready for this coming season. It not only requires a heads-up to the league, but also a collaboration with it on what the design is.
"You have to involve Nike, get involved with their design team, make sure they are looking at samples with the actual product in hand and how it fits with the current chassis the guys are using for on field, off field and how it looks with the consumer-grade jerseys. It just takes that much time, but for us it worked nicely.
"We wanted to bring this back for our 75th anniversary celebration. We were really happy to have that all timed out."
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The 49ers were one of the teams that already had a throwback uniform and alternate helmet design in place, which allowed them to debut a popular throwback thread sooner than other franchises. Chang said San Francisco actually uses an alternate helmet design when they wear the '94 throwback uniforms, putting on a throwback oval helmet decal on the side and a "saloon font" helmet front the bumper they wore during that 1994 season.
If the 49ers were to have another alternate helmet in place for 2022, they would have to submit their proposal to the league by the end of the month. They are considering a red helmet worn by the team more than 60 years ago.
"There's really two options for us," Chang said. "Stick with the '94 helmet, which we're already using today and we love that look -- or a 1955 helmet which was a red helmet with a silver stripe and face mask. We're looking at both."
Teams with popular throwback uniforms, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will have to wait at least a year before they can debut their classic threads. Tampa Bay would have had to submit their orange Creamsicle uniforms to the league 18 to 24 months before actually debuting them, which wasn't a guarantee since the alternate helmet wasn't officially authorized by the league until last month. Chang said teams can have up to four sets of jerseys (home, away, two alternates) during a season. The Buccaneers currently have three sets of uniforms at the moment -- home (red), road (white), and alternate (pewter), so there's room for a fourth.
For many franchises, the fourth jersey could be reserved for a throwback that would debut over the next few years. The use of a second helmet has created opportunities the league wants to embrace, after seeing how popular alternate uniforms have become in the NBA and MLB.
"They are seeing that being embraced in basketball and baseball, which is a positive for us," Chang said. "The league is encouraging clubs to embrace their history. They understand this is fan-centric and how much this history means to the fans. There's that direct memory and the nostalgia factor.
"What you're seeing from the league is the ability to bring back these throwback uniforms with the alternate helmets, so the Kelly Green (Philadelphia Eagles) uniforms can come back, the orange Creamsicles (Buccaneers) can come back."
Could the 49ers lead a trend where the throwbacks become their permanent home and road uniforms? They actually tried to make it happen just for this year in honor of their 75th anniversary season.
"We actually tried to get all 17 games to be throwbacks, but we ended up with six -- which we're admittedly happy with," Chang said. "For now the plan is to maintain that closet of our standard regular home and away and the '94 reds as our alternate home and our '94 whites as our alternates on the road."
The throwback revolution is coming in the NFL. The 49ers are one of the teams showcasing the potential of how much an alternate throwback can energize a fanbase.