Showing Your Colors with NFL Football Flags

Autumn … leaves changing beautiful colors, pumpkin spice, cooler weather, and FOOTBALL! This time of year is a favorite for all the wonderful things from hoodies to Oktoberfest beer, but perhaps the most anticipated event is the kick-off to the football season. Every fan nationwide pulls out their favorite team’s shirts, hats, bobble heads, flags, and colors to show their love for the home team.

Fans can be fanatic about their teams, whether because they grew up watching them or because of an emotional tie to the team name and colors. Some of the NFL teams have been around since the 1920s, back when the league was known as the American Football League. Rooted in history, some of these franchises have changed names, cities, and owners over time, but their logos remained a part of the fabric of the team.

image1The San Francisco 49ers are among the top ten original teams of the NFL, playing since 1946. They are one of the few teams that can claim to have never moved cities and to have kept their team name intact for over 70 years. The meaning of their name is pretty obviously a nod to the 1849 gold rush. It was meant to pay homage to the influx of pioneers who migrated to California in search of gold.

Interestingly, the massive discovery of gold occurred just days before the treaty between Mexico and the U.S. was signed, effectively ending the Mexican-American War, leaving California as part of the United States. Over 750,000 pounds of gold were found over the course of the ‘49 gold rush – probably why the 49ers have gold as one of their main colors!

image2While San Francisco might be one of the original NFL teams, certainly one of the most notorious franchises is the Dallas Cowboys. Their infamous history began in 1960 as an expansion team, and they are the only NFL team to have a record 20 straight winning seasons from 1966-1985. Jerry Jones has made them into the wealthiest team in the League, with five Super Bowl wins.

Did you know they don’t even play in Dallas? Their current stadium is in Arlington, Texas. The team boasts so many incredible players to have been a part of the alumni. Players such as Mike Ditka, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmet Smith, and many more who hold records and places in the hall of fame. The logo clearly represents their home state nickname: ‘The Lone Star.”

The oldest team in NFL history is named the Chicago Bears. They began as the Decatur Staley’s, named after their owner, and when the Chicago Cardinals (the other oldest team) moved to St. Louis (finally landing in Arizona), they became the Chicago Bears. While the city doesn’t have a bear problem, the football team played at Wrigley field, home of the Cubs. Instead of keeping the name “Staley,” they changed their name in honor of their host.

The Bears trademark “C’ logo was first worn on their helmets in 1962, then redesigned to incorporate the team’s primary colors of red and blue in 1974. The fun fact about the “C” is that it was the exact same logo that the Chicago Cardinals used from 1920-1947, but since they were such a defunct team, the Bears repatriated their logo.

image3No discussion about football can be complete without mentioning the incredible dynasty of the New England Patriots. Fans who suffered through the challenging beginnings and the devastating loss in the ‘86 Super Bowl are now savoring the legacy Bill Belichick has bestowed on New England. The Brady/Belichick power-packed combo has reigned supreme since 2001, winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Throughout every controversy, every accusation of cheating, the New England Patriots have risen above it all. Belichick has created an organization of well-disciplined players who have more sportsmanship than most franchises. No wonder fans are eager to don their #12 jerseys!

The logo has changed throughout the years, from Pat Patriot snapping the football, to a modernized Patriot head lovingly known as “The Flying Elvis.” Having a Minuteman as the logo pays homage to the deep history of the region, where the Revolutionary War began and was primarily fought.

There are many reasons that football has replaced baseball as America’s sport of choice, not the least of which is the excellent marketing by the NFL with team gear. From clothing to mugs, lanyards to blankets, and so much more, you can show your colors for your favorite NFL team all year round. Are you ready for some football?

Cuba, Revisited: The Cuban Flag Decoded

image1 The history of the Cuban flag is a bit obscure; there are two tales of its origin and design. One has it designed – apparently out of whole cloth, as the saying goes – in 1848. The banner was carried by the Venezuelan general Narsico López in his first attempt to free Cuba from Spanish rule. His wife sewed it, and the symbolism is explicit: The blue stripes are for the three original provinces, the red is for the blood of the Cuban patriots, and the red triangle is a Masonic symbol for liberty, equality, and fraternity. Continue reading

A Brief History of the Jolly Roger


One of the most common symbols we see today is The Jolly Roger, which is found on children’s toys, holiday decorations, and even sports team logos, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and which replaced the crossbones with swords and a football to represent their team in a unique way. Continue reading

The American Flag in Popular Culture


The American flag is a powerful symbol, frequently used to act as shorthand for American ideals and to reflect concepts associated with the country. It has appeared in countless movies and television shows to color one idea or another. Not all of its appearances are positive, of course; symbols work on many layers.
A brief overview of some of its more significant appearances and the methodology of its manipulations would take some time, so let’s get started.
Probably one of the easiest associations the American flag can be given is patriotism. Not jingoism – we’ll get to that – but the traditional feeling that your country is a good one, doing things as best it can. War movies are chockablock full of this sort of use.

Patton, 1970

from the IMDB

A biopic of General George S. Patton, the movie covers his military career during World War II. Obviously imagery is important in rallying the troops, and the general was a master of motivation. The speech George C. Scott delivers in front of the massive backdrop of Old Glory is amazing, but the movie is no hagiography. It is a well-regarded film, carefully researched and masterfully acted.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, 1942

from the IMDB

Another biopic, but a very different one, this is a musical about the composer of the songs “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There,” George M. Cohan. Since it’s a musical, props are vitally important in providing exposition as quickly as possible. The flag makes numerous triumphant appearances, although not in color.

Superman II, 1980


Here is a great scene featuring the flag, as Superman, self-proclaimed proponent of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” returns the White House’s flag.
We’ll come back to Superman in pop culture later; he’s associated with the flag very frequently.


The Rocketeer, 1991

from the IMDB

This movie is set just before American involvement in World War II. Hotshot pilot Cliff Secord protects an experimental rocket-pack from the Nazis who want to steal it in order to have jet-propelled Stormtroopers razing Europe and America. It contains strong iconography and great photography, although just after this frame Cliff activates his rocket-pack and accidentally ignites the flag. Though it makes for a good scene cut, it’s an odd juxtaposition.

Captain America, 2011

from the IMDB

The iconography and patriotic impact of the Stars and Stripes doesn’t get more on point than this. America’s only Super-Soldier is used as a shill for selling war bonds, using his immense physical prowess and the proud colors of the flag to do so during the USO show he’s touring with. It’s for a good cause, sure, but he feels he’s not doing enough to move the war effort along as a public relations flak. At this place in the film, though, he’s doing it and doing his best at it, because that’s what the guy who represents all the little guys who want to help would do. Nothing is more American than that.

Rocky IV, 1985

from the IMDB

This is a blatant attempt to manipulate emotions in moviegoers, and it’s pretty effective in some ways. Unfortunately, Rocky Balboa is wearing the flag’s components as shorts, which is bad enough, but is also using an actual flag as a towel, undercutting the sentiment rather sharply.

Tootsie, 1982

from the IMDB

At this point, the flag is just a backdrop to help make the red dress more visually dramatic. It’s almost an afterthought, albeit a carefully crafted one.

Easy Rider, 1969

from the IMDB

Here the flag is being used ironically, in a movie that has a very cynical view of what late 60s America had to offer. The rider of the motorcycle pictured in the poster is even nicknamed Captain America, but his search for the true freedom America represents is punctuated by violence, larceny, smuggling, and eventually disillusionment and death. The freedom to follow your own dreams clashes with what the movie depicts as typical Americans, and no one, in the end, wins.

The Stars and Stripes also feature prominently in songs. Country-western songs tend to celebrate the flag and those who love it, while other styles may lean more toward expressing the sentiments the flag stands for; that is, freedom of expression. Several protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s reference the flag in lyrics or while being performed on stage, and the tradition continues today.

Art gives the flag a prominent place, sometimes to celebrate, sometimes to question. Many famous paintings have the flag as a significant element, if not the focal point.

One of the most famous paintings depicting the flag is Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, painted in 1851.


A beautiful image, although with an inaccurate flag; the one shown here is a contemporary version that wasn’t designed at the time of the crossing. Still, there are many more artistic licenses taken with this subject, so we’ll let it slide.

The Surrender of General Cornwallis, by John Trumbull in 1820, seems to have a similar issue with its flag.


It looks like the same “Betsy Ross” style flag, but the star in the center verifies that it is actually the Cowpens flag, which was designed in 1781, before the war ended, so at least it has the advantage of being chronologically accurate.


Flagpoles are a popular way of incorporating art and a living flag.


The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia is an iconic example of this. Based on the famous photograph of the Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, this massive installation sports a sixty-foot flagpole being planted by six thirty-two-foot tall Marines. It is one of a very few sites where the flag is flown twenty-four hours a day, per special order of President John F. Kennedy.

One of the most enduring places the flag has been utilized is in that quintessential American art form, the comic book.

Early comics were not at all shy about displaying the flag, perhaps unsurprisingly since they debuted largely around the beginning of World War II. Many of the early artists and writers of the new publications were immigrants from Europe, where they had witnessed Hitler’s rise to power, and they were eager to present their insights. Superman and Batman personally made a point to sell war bonds when they weren’t punching the Axis powers back across the ocean.


Or, in this case, hitting them with baseballs.

Of course, as mentioned previously, Captain America was literally wearing the flag’s colors and using its iconography, so he would definitely leap at the chance to knock Hitler on his backside, as seen on this comic cover.


from the Grand Comics Database

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Superman has long been strongly associated with American values. He represents something of the idealized immigrant: Someone who comes to America (less specifically, Earth) to make a new life for themselves, who works hard and adopts his new country’s (planet’s) ways, and who becomes a role model for what the American Dream can be for everyone.

In recent years, this has been explored more thoroughly than in the past. Superman has delved into his prior heritage and integrated aspects of his ancestry into his life and work, reflecting the cultural diversity becoming so ubiquitous in American life today. Still, through it all, he remains a Midwestern farm boy, raised with middle-class American values of hard work and honesty.


Captain America is a different kind of American success story. A sickly youth who wanted to join the war effort, he volunteered for an experiment that transformed him into a physically perfect human specimen. The triumph of science and ingenuity was a common theme in superhero comics, but this origin explicitly placed Steve Rogers as the recipient of the greatest medical and military technology America could offer.

from Best of Marvel Comics

image19But Captain America is specifically a symbol of America, and Steve Rogers hasn’t always agreed with what he’s told that means. From time to time he has even given up the uniform to rediscover what the American spirit actually is.

Because, for Steve Rogers, the representation of America isn’t inherent in the flag, or the uniform, or the devotion to duty. America is freedom and compassion, simple and straightforward. If he has to go against what the rules say, to do the right thing, the rules are wrong. Captain America: Civil War has a great speech which clearly expresses that philosophy:

[…]”Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, *you* move’.”

An excellent sentiment to wrap up our brief overview. More specialized investigations may lie ahead.




City Flags of Note – And Why You Should Note Them

Just like countries, many cities across the world sport flags. Some of these are resplendent banners that portray an aspect of their city with dignity and clarity. Some of these are dreadful errors. A few examples of intriguing city flags follow.

We’ll start with some of the better ones, in no particular order.

Buffalo, New York


Now that’s a flag! Stars you can see on any number of flags, but lightning bolts are awesome. Throw in a pleasant old-style ship and lighthouse on the seal, and everyone in Buffalo has more to be proud of than just wings.

Nantucket, Massachusetts


Any flag with an animal on it is automatically pretty good. An animal that is also a giant whale is automatically even better, even if it is representing the city’s former reliance on the whaling industry. Clearly this whale is so over that, you guys. Look at his happy smile. Plus, the nonstandard flag shape demonstrates that Nantucket doesn’t feel they need to conform to The Man’s old-fashioned dependence on rectangles.

Jacksonville, Florida


Ordinarily, words on flags are a big design flaw, but Jacksonville makes up for it by the completely awesome Andrew Jackson on horseback in front of the rising sun. The colors are great, and very evocative of Florida, so we’ll give the “you are here” branding a pass. You do you, Jacksonville.

Baltimore, Maryland


Check that out. A great combination of colors in a fantastic pattern (the coat of arms of Baron Baltimore) with a blazon of the Battle Monument in the center. One hundred percent class; Baltimore doesn’t have to prove anything to any of you.

Easton, Pennsylvania


Fantastic! An inversion of the Stars and Stripes, this flag supposedly dates back to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was read aloud in Easton on July 8th. It may be one of the early designs of the United States flag, although it has been pointed out that those designs at the time generally had fifteen stripes and stars. Also, eight-pointed stars instead of the more common five. Still, it’s a great design.

Richmond, Virginia


Good use of the red, white, and blue; nice circle of stars; dramatic silhouette of a man poling a bateau down the James River. Simple and effective. Everyone is happy.

Wichita, Kansas


Simple and symbolic: The blue circle represents happiness and contentment, with the Hogan symbol in the center representing a permanent home. The red and white rays alternating represent the freedom to come and go as you please, reflective of Wichita’s status as the Air Capital of the World. You didn’t know that? The city hosts several aircraft design and production facilities.

St. Louis, Missouri


Strikingly different from most flags with its wavy lines (representing the joining of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers) and bold red field, plus an attractive fleur-di-lis representing the state’s French heritage. Simple and effective, like a flag ought to be. St. Louis could be giving lessons to some of the following cities.

Bridgeport, Connecticut


This is pretty nearly the laziest possible design for a flag. You already have a seal, so just throw it on a background. Done. Oh, wait, put the name of the city on there. Yes, it’s already on the seal, but trust us, no one who sees a seal on a flag is going to look at it even a little bit. May as well use some of that vast expanse of blue for something. Stitch on the name of the state, too, and you can ensure that schoolchildren who come visit the city council buildings on their field trips will be too dazed to run around and shriek at everything.

Gainesville, Florida


All right, we apologize. This is the laziest possible design. It’s even a white flag, so as little effort went into this as could be. Sorry, Bridgeport, we were lashing out.

At least it’s a pretty neat train?

Tampa, Florida


The other approach isn’t always successful, either. Clearly the Tampa Flag Commission made an effort, but after what we’re guessing were twenty-two months of debate and discussion and “donations,” they would up with this extremely busy banner.

We like the fact that it’s not rectangular … always nice, but so many colors! So many little strips of color! Stars on stripes! A seal managing to somehow break up any bit of flair the flag itself might have eked out!

Let’s see what they tried to evoke with the symbolism: hmm, well … designed by one F. Grant Whitney, so, no committee … okay, includes an “H” and a “T” for Hillsborough County and Tampa, respectively; nothing about a “K”―although there is clearly one there if we’re playing that game.

Colors and elements are derived from the various countries that helped settle and establish the area: United States (red, white, blue, stars, stripes); United Kingdom (um, red, white, blue, stars, stripes―but angled ones this time); France (red, white … some kind of pattern seems to be developing … blue); Spain (gold, red, vertical stripes); and Italy (red, white, green). Very inclusionary, Mr. Whitney, but … ugh.

Detroit, Michigan


We feel a little bad for picking on Detroit, here, because―again―so much effort clearly went into it. Maybe too much effort. Four quadrants, all with their own device, plus a seal in the center. Well, let’s sort it out.

The seal is actually a pretty nice one, representing the city’s nearly complete destruction in the fire of 1805, with the Latin inscriptions “Spearamus Meliora,” meaning “We Hope for Better Things,” and “Resurget Cineribus,” meaning “It Will Rise From the Ashes.” The figure on the left is weeping over the devastation, while the one on the right is gesturing to the rebuilt city. Powerful and meaningful, and apparently the seal was redesigned in 2000 to be less busy, so they were trying, we will give them that.

The quadrants are for France (lower-left corner), England (upper-right corner), and the United States (upper-left and lower-right), all representing countries that controlled the fort that became Detroit in the past. A good sentiment, but more a coat of arms than a flag, really.

We’re feeling generous after breaking it down; feel free to copy and paste this section back into the top part under the better examples. But, let that be a lesson to future city flag designers: If you need to have a guide explain each part of your flag to onlookers, you might want to pare it down a bit.

Something Different, Perhaps?

Flags are easy, right? A couple of colors on a rectangle, maybe a quick symbol … call it a day and hit the links. Sure, if all you’re looking for is to disappoint everyone in your entire country. Why not shake things up a little, like these visionaries did?

We’re actually going to limit this a bit to just the most unique symbols on flags, rather than the most striking designs, like, say, Nepal’s.


(That’s the whole thing, by the way. There’s no white beyond the blue. It’s the only non-quadrilateral flag of a country in the world.)

Instead, we’ll just take a look at a few flags sporting unique symbols. We’ll start with Albania, because, well, look at it:


A two-headed eagle? Yeah, nobody’s going to kick Albania around the schoolyard with that for a flag. Technically, it’s not quite unique―it’s a common heraldry motif denoting an empire, Ivan the Terrible had it on his coat of arms, the Principality of Montenegro has it on its flag―but it’s so awesome we’ll allow it here.

How about Bhutan?


Druk the thunder dragon! Yeah! Note, the dragon is holding a jewel in each of its claws. These symbolize the wealth and security of its people. The orange is for the Buddhist founders, and the yellow is civil and temporal authority as embodied by the Dragon King. Druk is technically supposed to be green in early renditions, but it was apparently a very pale green; he’s now white, symbolizing purity of thought.

Kenya also celebrates its heritage with its flag:


Very striking and a great use of iconography. The black is for the people of Kenya, the red for the blood spilled in their battles for independence, and the green is for the country’s natural wealth and beauty. Weaponry is not uncommon on flags, but the traditional Maasai weapons of short spear and cowhide shield are seen nowhere else.

Weaponry, as mentioned, is on other flags. Here’s a very distinct use on Mozambique’s flag:


Here the colors are similar in use to Kenya’s, with the addition of yellow for the country’s mineral wealth. The Marxist star is for, well, Marxism, but also internationalism. The book is to signify the importance of education, and the hoe symbolizes the country’s agriculture. The AK-47 signifies defense and vigilance.

Gibraltar is really more of a state flag, but despite our getting all technical with Albania, we’re going to include it and the next one purely on the strength of the design. We don’t think you’ll be too upset.


Pretty boss, right? Two-thirds white bar, one-third red bar, red castle, and a gold key overlapping the bottom red bar. Signifying, naturally, the British territory’s status as the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. The castle is a symbolic representation of a fortress, but doesn’t actually resemble any in the area.

Not quite a British territory―the term is Crown Dependency, which means it’s basically self-ruling, but the British government is ultimately responsible for them―the Isle of Man:


Now, that’s how you do a flag. Giant swath of color so as to not distract from the triskelion running across it. An old, old symbol used by the Norse, Celts, and Mycenaeans, among others, it’s not entirely clear why it’s on the Isle of Man’s flag. But, while it’s there, the three legs represent the Sun, the Seat of Power, and Life.

The island nation of Sri Lanka didn’t have any hesitation when it came to deciding what goes on their flag: Pure Awesomeness in the form of a lion wielding a sword.


Easy choice. There’s more symbolism here, naturally: the two stripes to the lion’s left represent the Muslim population (green) and the Buddhist population (orange), while the four leaves surrounding the lion represent the four Buddhist concepts of benevolence, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

We’ll finish off here with a thematically related flag, even though we’re sort of backsliding into non-country flags. An Orblast is an area in Russia sort of equivalent to a province or region: larger than a state, but not independent. This flag is for Yaroslavl Orblast:


And it just doesn’t get any better than that. We like to think of this bear and Sri Lanka’s lion as being best friends.