This Sunday, two football teams will go head-to-head in the most anticipated game of the year, Super Bowl 49. During this time, fans from across the US will be supporting their team by wearing the logos of the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks. Just like big corporate logos, these two teams have been branded over time to what we see today. Unless you’re an avid fan of either team, you may not know what humble beginnings these logos have come from.
The logo that most Patriots’ fans associate with the team is the eponymous ‘Pat Patriot’ which was used for 30 years before it was retired in 1992. But the logo still stands as a fan favorite today. Pat was a reflection of a mascot-friendly time that was soon to become outdated as team logo styles progressed. The New England Minute man was dressed in garb circa 1776, complete with a tri-corner, hunched over, about to hike a ball to an invisible QB.
Phil Bissell, who at the time was a cartoonist for the Boston Globe, designed Pat in 1960. He drew Pat after a popular vote christened the team to be the ‘Boston Patriots.’ At that point the team didn’t have any official materials, so the team owner Billy Sullican paid Phil $100 to use the drawing for a year on their stationery. After that year, the Patriots took the tri-corner hat as their logo, but then in 1961, the Pat mascot made the jump from paper to the player helmets where he was well received. Pat then adorned jerseys, pendants and other Patriots merchandise pretty much as Bissell drew him. When Bissell designed Pat he mentioned, “ He’s got to be tough. He’s got to be in the trenches and dig. That’s why, if you notice, his hands are all grimey, because he’s been digging. He doesn’t have nice little white gloves on like Elvis.”
Since Pat was drawn in the newspaper style of cartoon, Pat had to get a makeover in order to continue forward with the team. The logo was brought in house, redrawn to feature a little more detail, and had his flesh colored in. The more humanist iteration of Pat carried the team for 28 years and was never contested. In 1979, to celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary , they “rechristened” the New England Patriots as well as designed a new prototype helmet logo to let the fans vote on whether to keep Pat or go with the new look.
The fans overwhelmingly voted to keep Pat Patriot, but the truth of the matter was, the team was starting to sour on poor Pat. From a sentimental perspective, he was well loved by the team, management and fans, but from a design perspective, he was complicated to reproduce in different mediums. In 1979, there was a logo that contested with Pat, which is a close replica to today’s standing logo. But the logo couldn’t gain traction in house so Pat stayed.
In 1993, the Patriots sadly let Pat go and curiously favored a design that was a more streamline look of the logo that never took off back in 1979. Regardless of whether or not the new logo looks close to the rejected logo, the 1993 logo has lasted quite some time, about 22 years and counting. But what is unique about all the logos is that they were designed by amateurs and refined over time. They might be one of the biggest franchises in the league but each and every one of their logos has had humble beginnings.
Just like the Patriot’s logo, the Seahawks logo has humble beginnings as well. But they didn’t start with a cartoonist; it started with the Native Americans. Before Washington was settled, the Native American tribes, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian and Kwakwaka’wakw inhabited the land. They spread out as far up as Alaska with design aesthetics that continue to have impact to this day.
The Seahawks name was also decided by popular vote of its fans. The Seattleites submitted 1,741 different names for their new NFL team including “Cool Dudes, the “Bumber Shoots,” and the “Space Needlers.” When the Seahawks name was decided, the NFL turned to the history of the land to help tell their story. The designer settled on the look of the Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask, which depicts a heavy-lidded eagle with the same exact profile as the current Seahawks logo. When the mask was opened during a ceremonial dance, you could see a human face inside. Quite fitting don’t you think?
Even though the design of the mask was based on a drawing that was hundreds of years old, it worked incredibly well on the side of the helmet. But what’s interesting about the logo is that when it’s compared to the Patriots logo, they are both literal interpretations of their team names in profile. Both are on horizontal planes and use minimum colors to make them easy to reproduce on multiple mediums. Another interesting thing to note is that both logos also use flat design, and have been using this look way before it was coined flat design by Google and Apple. Both are incredibly dynamic and almost arrows the player on towards the end zone. The links having been well designed haven’t changed since, on the exception of the Seahawks logo, which was tweaked in 2002. The logo became leaner, fiercer and an even flatter version of their previous version.