The evolution of the Miami Dolphins jersey. An honest question casual observers of the NFL may ask is why do fans tend to buy jerseys for non-quarterback players, considering that the media don’t tend to promote support players? In attempting to answer this, it is worthwhile to remember that when it comes to the NFL, a fan doesn’t necessarily wear a team’s jersey because it is fashionable or hip.
Because NFL franchises are restricted in what players wear, some of the most exciting and eye-popping jerseys come from NCAA Division I FBS teams. This may be due to the fact that the NCAA is serviced by Adidas, Under Armour, Nike, and Russell Athletic, while the NFL only deals with Nike; or perhaps it is due to the conservative nature of league management and ownership. Regardless, the most colorful field progressions happen on the collegiate side of the sport.
A fan buys an NFL jersey because he or she feels a personal connection with a player, team, or area. “The colors of the Dolphins perfectly evoke the City of Miami,” said Michael MacCambridge, author of “America’s Game,” in an NFL video discussing the evolutions of the Dolphins’ team colors of aqua and orange. “The colors really do depict the area. This is how we dress, we wear these colors. Our houses are these colors; there are a lot of pink houses, blue houses. We don’t have dark colors in Miami.”
For fans of the Miami Dolphins jersey, the almost pastel jersey reflects a storied history of a relatively young team: a team founded in part by comedian Danny Thomas and coached during its infancy by Don Shula, the man with the most wins in NFL history; and a team that became only the third to have an undefeated regular season, as well as the first and only team to have a perfect season. The aqua and orange represents two Super Bowl wins, five AFC Championships, 13 AFC East Championships, and 22 playoff appearances – a remarkable tally for a team only 50 years old.
The History of the Miami Dolphins Jersey
1966: The Dolphins are founded in 1965, bought by Thomas and lawyer Joseph Robbie for $7.5 million, as an expansion team for the fourth American Football League – the first professional football team in the Deep South since the Miami Seahawks folded in 1947. The expansion is granted during the interim known as the “World Championship Period,” when the AFL and NFL – while ironing out details for the eventual 1970 merging – function as two separate leagues, sending their winners to a single championship game to determine the World Champion of American Football. The World Championship would be rebranded the Super Bowl after the merger.
The Dolphins receive their name after a “name the team” contest draws over 1,000 names from 19,843 entries. “Dolphins” is the runaway winner. For the most part, the team has made few changes over the years to the 1966 inaugural home jersey: a short-sleeved jersey aqua jersey with orange and white-outlined white number patches on the sleeves and chest as well as alternating orange and white horizontal stripes.
1969: In the four years before the arrival of Shula, the Dolphins are mediocre (15-39-2), but the team is able to assemble a solid foundation to build on. This includes quarterback Bob Griese, fullback Larry Csonka, safety Dick Anderson, running back Jim Kiick, defensive end Bill Stanfill, running back Mercury Morris, and wide receiver Paul Warfield. All these players would be essential components of the 1972 season.
The 1969 away uniform is a classic inverse of the 1969 home jersey, with a white short-sleeved jersey bearing orange and blue-trimmed aqua number patches on the chest and sleeves and white-framed orange alternating horizontal stripes.
1971: During Shula’s first full season as the Dolphin’s coach in 1970, he takes the team – which had a losing record up to that point – and amasses a 10-4 record, the first winning season in the franchise’s history. In 1971, he tops himself, taking the 10-3-1 Dolphins all the way to the Super Bowl, where they would lose to the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 24-3.
The home jersey changes: Gone are the sleeve stripes, and the number patches on the sleeves grow smaller – as the sleeve has a higher cut – and are moved closer to the shoulders.
Then, 1972 happened.
1972: This season redefines what perfection means in the NFL. In just seven years, the Dolphins go from newborn expansion team to four consecutive losing seasons to an undefeated, untied perfect regular and post-season. Only the Chicago Bears had known a perfect regular season to that point, but in the two years that they went undefeated in regular matchup, they lost the NFL Championship Game. The Dolphins, on the other hand, win Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, 14-7.
The jersey the team wears for that Super Bowl win, the 1972 away jersey, is a slightly modified version of the 1969 away jersey. The sleeves are shortened, with the negative space below the horizontal stripes cropped. The sleeve elements – the horizontal stripes and the number patches – shrink to better fit the reduced space, and the sleeve number patches are raised to below the shoulders.
1973: This season sees the Dolphins return to the Super Bowl for the third straight year – and secure their second straight win at the Big Game. The game is won on the strength of Csonka’s rushing – a Super Bowl record of 145 yards.
The 1973 home jersey sees the horizontal stripes return to the sleeve but just above the cuff – as on the away jersey.
1980: Following the 1973 season, the Dolphins remain a threat in the AFC but are not championship contenders. The 1980 jersey would not see a change in design but rather a change in materials, as the jerseys are made with meshed fabric with silk-screened numbers.
1984: In 1983, the Dolphins get lucky and draft – with the 27th pick – a quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh, Dan Marino. Marino in 1984 will lead the Dolphins to a 14-2 regular season record and another shot at the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, the Dolphins are forced to face the unstoppable San Francisco 49ers, who finish the season 18-1 and take Super Bowl XIX 38-16.
The away jersey sees minor changes – mainly regarding the sizing and placement of the number patches. Overall, the majority of the Dolphins uniform changes over the years concern their helmet logo and their belts.
1988: This year sees the Dolphins logo appear for the first time on the away jersey’s sleeve, which pushes the sleeve numbers onto the shoulders. The orange outline around the chest numbers also is loosened to reveal a white outline.
1990: This year marks the death of team owner Joe Robbie – who purchased Thomas’ share of the franchise shortly after the Dolphins’ founding and was the leading force in the management of the young team, including the fateful hiring of Shula. It also is the team’s 25th anniversary. A 25th anniversary patch is attached to the jerseys at the upper left chest area, and players wear a black armband with the initials “JR” attached to the right sleeve.
1994: This year sees the team bring back their 1969 jersey in commemoration of the league’s 75th anniversary. The NFL Shield also appears on the jersey at the collar for the first time.
1997: The 1997 away jersey is significantly altered – the first major uniform change in franchise history. The collar is changed from white to aqua, the chest and shoulder numbers are given a black drop shadow, the sleeve and helmet logos are redesigned, and the sleeve cuffs become a solid aqua bar.
The 2000 home jersey also changes: The collar remained untouched, but drop shadows are added to the numbers, as well as the logotype “Dolphins” underneath the collar. The cuffs’ stripes are compacted.
2009: An orange alternate jersey is introduced. The jersey features aqua-trimmed white number patches on the chest and shoulder, the Dolphins logo on the sleeves, and the Dolphins logotype below the NFL Shield on the collar.
The Orange and Aqua
For fans of South Florida football, the NFL is the Dolphins, and the Dolphins are the NFL. More than any other team and, perhaps, because the team opted to keep it close to its original form, the orange and aqua of the team’s jersey represents this love and the hope that the franchise has a second perfect season in its future.
“I was born and live in San Diego. I’ve been a Dolfan since 1970 when I was 9 years old,” wrote one Yelp reviewer in 2014. “The SPANKING they gave the Chargers this season was amazing! 37-0. I have bragging rights for at least the next year. From Griese to Woodstrock to Marino and now Tannehill. A real fan sticks with their team thru thick and thin, not just the good seasons. GO FINS!!!”
At this moment, you can buy the following Miami Dolphins jersey’s on Fanatics: