How ’bout them Cowboys jerseys of the ’90s?

Common letter .jpgDallas Cowboys jerseys have become ubiquitous in the game-used uniforms marketplace, especially those worn by players during the 1990s. I’m partially to blame for that, as the result of a bulk-acquisition made from the Cowpokes organization, I sold nearly 600 of these 1990s jerseys from 2002 through 2005.

When one thinks of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys, images of Troy Aikman firing bombs to Michael Irvin will certainly come to mind, as will memories of Emmitt Smith busting off long touchdown runs. Deion Sanders also created some memorable moments during his brief stint as a Cowboys defensive back. Other notable players came and went through Texas Stadium, as well as a plethora of other less-notable players, but Cowboys nonetheless. 

Throughout the greater part of their history, the Dallas Cowboys have worn white jerseys at home. This practice is contrary to what the majority of NFL teams do. The Cowboys will don blue jerseys during that handful of times each season when they play a road game against a team who also prefers to buck the system and wear its white at home. This would be versus NFC East rival the Washington Redskins and sometimes in Philadelphia when the Eagles choose to wear white at home. Basically, the number of times the road blues are worn would depend on who is on the schedule during a given season. The Cowboys also wear special “Double-Star” jerseys for Thanksgiving Day games. This practice began in earnest during the mid-1990s.

Concentrating solely on the decade of the ’90s, the Cowboys wore jerseys supplied by Russell Athletic through 1992. The numbering on these Russell supplied shirts was a screened-on, common “block” variety.  The player’s names were generally screened on the nameplate, however, I have encountered some names that were a heavier “heat-pressed” vinyl material. The letter font used was a narrow, serif style, though the heat-pressed letters were a tad bit wider, due to the thicker, heavier material. The home-white jersey featured the familiar blue numbers and letters with no trim. The less frequently worn blue uniform tops sported silver numbers with offset white trim. The player names were white with no trim.

Heavier font.jpgThe Russell Athletic jerseys were constructed of mesh bodies with satin shoulders and sleeves. Spandex side panels were commonly used. I have always found the mesh used by Russell Athletic during this time period to be especially notable due to its softness. The Russell-supplied jerseys bore no year tagging.

The Russell reign over the Dallas Cowboys ended in 1993, when Apex became the contracted supplier of the team’s game uniforms. The Apex arrangement was fraught with peril, and the company was out of the NFL uniforms business in 1995. It is not unusual to see Russell Athletic supplied Cowboys jerseys that were recycled and used in 1993 with Apex sleeve logos replacing the Russell icons. In some of these instances, the Russell Athletic tail tagging remained. In 1994, the number of recycled early 1990s Russell Athletic jerseys bearing Apex sleeve logos was reduced to just a handful, and those were worn by a select few lineman who preferred the cut and feel of the Russell jerseys. It must have been that “soft” mesh I described earlier. In 1995, no Russell-supplied jerseys were recycled for use.

The year 1995 saw trouble for Apex in supplying uniforms to the Cowpokes. So many 1994 Apex jerseys that were either unused or remained in serviceable condition were recruited for another mission in ’95. The Apex jerseys that stepped out for an encore performance in 1995 had to have the 1994 NFL 75th Anniversary patch removed. The Apex sleeve logos were also stripped off.

Nike would officially become the contracted supplier for the team in 1996, although there was a Jason Garrett jersey in the bulk purchase I made that bore Nike sleeve logos and a “95” year tag. I simply can’t explain that anomaly. To fill the void that Apex could not fill in 1995, some jerseys come directly from the Ripon headquarters in Berlin, Wis., bearing that company’s tail tagging.

The lettering and numbering style remained the same from Russell Athletic to Apex, which allowed for the easy recycling from one season to the next. Unlike the Russell Athletic jerseys, the Apex uniform tops did possess tail tagging denoting the year.

The Double-Star jerseys worn during the Apex era featured tackle-twill numbers with trim screened on.  The star logos on the sleeves were also tackle-twill with screened trim. The player’s name was sewn to a plate.

The Nike era officially began in 1996 and continued into 2001. The jersey’s letter and number fonts remained the same. The team continued to wear screened letters, numbers and sleeve trim but the sometimes used heavier material making up the lettering of the player’s name was gone. With Nike came the trend toward longer and tighter jerseys that often had to be hemmed shorter to a player’s particular specifications. The Nike jerseys also featured the year/size strip tag inside of the cowl, which by 1996 was becoming the policy utilized by most NFL teams.

Nike also ushered in a new road/blue Dallas Cowboys jersey. The jersey was a dark navy in color, noticeably darker than the Russell and Apex jerseys, and featured white numbers with offset white trim. White lettering continued to spell out the player’s names. Two new features on the road/blue were a tackle-twill “star” sleeve logo and an embroidered “Cowboys” crest on the chest, just below the point of the collar. The Cowboys chest crest also appeared on the 1997 white jerseys. The late 1990s Nike jerseys came in two varieties. One variety featured the horizontal shoulder/body seam, while the second version was what is referred to as the “Batwing” style, in which the spandex side panels extend up into the front of the shoulder, coming to a point near the upper collar. Some players would wear both styles during a single season.

So, have there been any questionable, potentially fraudulent 1990s Dallas Cowboys jerseys on the game-used uniforms market? Don’t be silly, of course there have. Sanders appears to be the favorite among those who have no qualms about the creation and subsequent passing of Dallas Cowboys fakes. Several years ago, a small number of Sanders Russell Athletic blue jerseys appeared in the hobby and sold for hefty sums. It must have been because of the eruditely written LOA from a respected authenticator that accompanied them?  Sanders played his first game as a Dallas Cowboy in 1995.

If you have carefully read the preceding paragraphs, you would now be hip to the fact that the Cowboys did not wear Russell jerseys in 1995, not even with all of the recycling employed due to the troubles with Apex. I was of course questioned by collectors as to whether I believed that Sanders could have worn Russell jerseys. I made a telephone call to Cowboys equipment manager Mike McCord, and he confirmed that no Russell jerseys were reused after the 1994 season. I have also seen Sanders Cowboys jerseys bearing the 1994 NFL 75th Anniversary patch. A quick bit of research by any collector would reveal that “Neon Deion” was a member of the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.

The Cowboys are among the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. The jerseys worn by the team during the 1990s are not difficult to find, and adding some to will add an air of history and prestige to your collection.

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