Likewise, a team wearing black, O'Reilly says, "gives the image of being formidable." So, in spite of the tendency of referees to penalize teams in black, he says, "we're not ready to switch to pink."
Of course, the quintessential bully team is the black-clad Raiders. "We were the most-penalized team for many years." says Ben Davidson, the former Raider defensive end who is remembered as much for fracturing Joe Na-math's cheekbone in 1967 as for his three Pro Bowl seasons. "It came to be kind of a joke. We used to put people on. We scared quarterbacks into thinking. Those people on the defensive line are crazy."
The Raider defensive backs enjoyed a similar, if sometimes undeserved, reputation. Hayes didn't even make the top five when this magazine surveyed players in 1985 to determine the "nastiest" players in the NFL; however, the Molester was right up there when the question "Who are the cockiest players?" was asked.
Did the Raiders' black uniforms contribute to the team's fearsome image? "Black does make a team look more sinister," says Davidson. And the Raider helmet has that little logo—a shield with a pirate face with a patch over the eye. "That was not the Hathaway shirt man," says Davidson.
Yet, Davidson says, the black uniform was just "part of the package." The people in control of the Raiders—particularly managing general partner Al Davis—seemed to seek out an aggressive outlaw image. "The Raiders weren't exactly a Boy Scout team," says Davidson. But do clothes make the man. Ben? "If black jerseys could do all that." he says, "they would wear them in the executive suites."
The players might believe that black uniforms only make them seem more aggressive, yet none was willing to discount color as a force in his game. Black, almost everyone seems to agree, makes a team formidable. And that might be the essence of it all. Formidability—not in the fan's eyes nor even in the referee's eyes, but in the eyes of the opposition. That is the real psychological power of the black uniform. It intimidates.
As Schultz, the forward who was penalized an astounding 1,386 minutes while with the Flyers from 1972 to 1976, puts it: "Black is more macho. If a big white car pulls up and a big black car pulls up, you'll be more aware of who is getting out of the black one."
The Hammer knows. After leaving Philadelphia, Schultz played for the Kings. That was in the Kings' pre-black livery days. Schultz says, "Everything was purple and yellow [actually it was Forum blue and gold). That uniform didn't impress me." Why. Hammer? "Blood shows up too much in yellow sweaters, and people might think it's your own."
Schultz has hit on an important point: A team cannot look like a bunch of wimps. The perception of aggression created by wearing black might be a mixed blessing because of the penalty calls it can prompt, but the perception of weakness in sports is as bad as real weakness. Perhaps that is the real reason the Kings switched to black this season. Purple and gold might be the colors of royalty, which is fine for a team named the Kings, but they are also the colors of bruises, which is not such a great image to present in the NHL.
Vachon is not admitting to anything. "We were just changing our colors," he says innocently. "There was nothing special behind it." Why black? "We just liked the color. Black is always a nice color."