The man behind the Seahawks' new look

Posted Apr 3, 2012

When the Seahawks decided they wanted to change the look of their uniforms with Nike taking over as the supplier to the NFL, Todd Van Horne took that not only literally but to the max.

NEW YORK – Todd Van Horne’s title with Nike is global creative director. So it’s not surprising that when the Seahawks decided to expand the horizon when it came to their new-look uniforms, Van Horne’s creative mind warped into overdrive.

The two-year efforts of Van Horne and his staff were on display Tuesday, when the NFL and Nike unveiled new uniforms for the league’s 32 teams during a presentation at a warehouse in Brooklyn. While the other 31 teams will benefit from the innovations developed by Nike, the Seahawks are the only team with a totally new look – from the top of their college-navy blue helmets to the tips of their state-of-the-art cleats, and everything else in between.

Van Horne’s inspiration for the Seahawks’ first new look since 2002 was a totem, in general; and the thunderbird prominently displayed on many Pacific Northwest totems, specifically.

“That’s our inspiration,” Van Horne said after the presentation. “Living in the Northwest, you see a lot of that native style. So we just thought the most powerful image of that are the totems, and the most treasured of those totems is typically the thunderbird totem.

“Thunderbird. Seahawks. You have that obvious relationship. It’s the symbol of supernatural power and strength. So we thought this is a great inspiration. Let’s bring that into the design.”

At the team’s request, Van Horne and crew also paid their respects to the team’s fans – the 12th Man. The feathers that run down each side of the pants and on each side of the neck of the jersey come in rows of 12.

“They are feathers for that exact same reason: That Northwest style,” Van Horne said. “It’s collaborative. They said, ‘Here are the stories we’d like to tell.’ For the Seahawks, it was the 12th Man and honoring their fans. They love that relationship and they described it. And we just said, ‘Wow, let’s do something with this. We can add some subtle coding and nuance to that 12th Man that make the fan feel part of it.”

The new uniform is about more than a new look, however. A lot more. The jersey is 20 percent lighter and 50 percent stronger than what teams have been wearing the past 10 seasons. The hydrophobic material also repels water while maintaining what Pro Bowl strong safety turned model Kam Chancellor called “a clean look.”

Because the jerseys are more form fitting, they won’t allow other players to grab them as easily. But they still allow for freedom of movement. The pants can be tweaked to accommodate a specific request from a player – like more padding here, or less there.

“We’re an innovation brand, and that’s what we really like to talk about and that’s what we get really excited about,” Van Horne said.

Former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox was fond of saying that football is not exactly rocket science whenever someone would try to make things too complicated. But listening to Van Horne explain the innovations involved in the Seahawks’ new uniforms during his time on the stage definitely veered toward rocket scientist-like lingo at times.

Van Horne just laughed, several times, when presented with that analogy. But someone who knows just how much the uniforms have changed from the last time Nike was the league supplier is Brain Urlacher, the Pro Bowl linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He has been in the NFL long enough that he wore the old Nike uniforms, as well as those supplied by Reebok the past 10 seasons.

“It’s just the evolution, and everything they’ve done with the uniform and the gear,” Urlacher said. “I wore Nike my first two years in the league, and it was good back then. But they’ve had 10 years to improve on everything.

“What we’re wearing today isn’t close to anything that’s ever been available before.”

Erik Kennedy, the Seahawks’ equipment manager, and Chancellor worked closely with Van Horne and his staff at the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., on the nuances of the uniform.

“When Nike came to fit me for my jersey, I just told them we would like the arms to be cut right so we can get the range of motion,” Chancellor said. “And with the socks, how we wanted them real light, but still able to keep them up so they won’t fall down.

“So E.K. and I were just very involved.”

As cornerback Walter Thurmond put it, “I think Paul Allen wanted an upgrade as far as the jerseys are concerned. I think the Nike team did a great job. They came out with a bunch of different combinations. Just out the combinations, it was, ‘Oh, we like this; we don’t like this.’ The ones they did pick, I like them. They stayed with the traditional colors. And they’ve incorporated the Native American feel on the side of the pants and the jersey as well. So they’re keeping it real traditional from that aspect.

“The Nike technology really went into it.”

And that was long before Chancellor finally slipped into it.

So, when Kam Chancellor took to the stage at Steiner Studios on Tuesday to display Van Horne’s labor of love, did he see a totem pole or a 6-foot-3, 232-pound Pro Bowl strong safety?

“Oh man, I see a strong safety, definitely,” Van Horne said, sounding more than just a little like a proud father. “But he looked fantastic, didn’t he? That was a real exciting moment.”

All was not lost, as Chancellor offered with a smile, “I did feel a little like a totem pole up there. Just a little.”