In 1981, the Bengals introduced a bold new uniform which was dramatically different than the relatively conservative designs the team had used since 1968.
Perhaps the most eye-catching distinction of the complete makeover was the team's new helmet. The helmet remained orange and retained its black facemask, but replacing the block-letter "Bengals" logotype were the team's new signature tiger stripes. Six black tiger stripes were placed on the helmet, extending from one side to the other.
Paul Brown, the team's founder who then held the title of Vice President and General Manager, said the team wanted a helmet that would be instantly identifiable with the Cincinnati franchise, something akin to the Baltimore Colts' horseshoe helmet and the San Diego Chargers' lightning bolt helmet.
"You couldn't read 'Bengals' on our helmet from a distance," Brown said at the time. "When you were far away, it looked like Cleveland's helmet."
The black jersey, the white jersey and the white pants of the new uniform featured a black tiger- stripe pattern on top of a wide orange stripe. On the jerseys, the pattern appeared on the shoulders. On the pants, it extended straight down the full length of each leg.
In addition, the uniform numbers on the front and back, as well as those on sides of the sleeves, were given orange outlines. The letters on the players' nameplates, however, remained solid color — white on the black jersey, and black on the white jersey — and were not given outlines.
The new uniform was assigned orange-topped socks — white socks with an orange top from the rim to the bottom of the calf. The team's primary shoe color remained white.
Interesting facts from this uniform era:
• Sleeves became shorter over time: From when the Bengals began play in 1968 through the mid-'80s, the sleeve length of the jersey was somewhat long by today's standards, reaching to just above the elbow. In the mid-'80s, sleeves began shortening over time to the current-day length, reaching only to the lower shoulder or upper biceps. By 1991, all of the team's jerseys were made with the shorter sleeves, and the original elbow-length sleeves were never produced again.
• NFL marks were added in 1991: Not pictured here, small NFL shield logos were added to the Bengals' helmets, jerseys and pants in 1991. All NFL teams added the logos as part of a minor league-wide alteration. On the helmets, the shields appeared in the rear left area. On the jerseys, it appeared on the front center of the collar. And on the pants, it was placed on the front left area just below the waist. In 2002, the NFL Equipment logo replaced the shield logos on the jerseys and the pants, though the shield remained on the helmet. Though they are not included on these 1981-96 uniform illustrations, the shield and equipment logos are incorporated into the 1997-2003 and '04-present illustrations on the following two pages, respectively.
• The stripes did not remain entirely the same: The black tiger-stripe patterns on the shoulders of the jersey and the legs of the pants during this era did not always perfectly match those on the illustrations pictured here. Though hardly noticeable, the patterns differed slightly from one uniform manufacturer to the next. In most cases, the stripes were less wide and more numerous. At the time, minor variations of this nature were considered acceptable as long as they were negligible and did not change the overall appearance of the uniform design.