Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Robert Alexander Smith got a big kick out of modeling the Buffalo Bills' new uniforms with five other servicemen Friday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"It felt 10 times better, even though I didn't get to play, than at any high school game," said Smith, a 2008 graduate of Maple Grove High School, where he played football. "Everybody was cheering for you. I was really excited. To have all the different services there, it was an honor to stand up there with everybody."
Smith liked the Bills' new duds, too: "I love 'em," he said. "They're like old school. I love the white helmet, it's very cool."
The Bills couldn't put any of their current players into their new uniforms because of the NFL labor impasse, so they let servicemen from Western New York get the cheers from a crowd of about 4,000 that showed up for the unveiling.
The new uniforms are reminiscent of the team's throwback outfits. The new home uniform has royal blue jerseys and white pants. The new road uniform is a return to the all-white look worn during the 1960s and in the Jim Kelly era. The team has ditched dark, navy blue as a primary color, which it has been since 2002. It also has ditched the blue pants that were part of the uniform the past nine years and from 1973 to '85. (Many expected blue pants to be part of the new uniform due to a preview that ran on a Madden video game promotion this spring.)
The fans in the stadium seemed happy, which was the point behind the uniform change (along with better jersey sales, of course).
"I like they brought back the old color, and I like the white helmets," said North Tonawanda's Steve Stroh, who was sporting a Jim Kelly Super Bowl XXV replica jersey. "It's a change, and that's good after about 10 years."
"I like [that] they kept the charging buffalo versus the standing buffalo," said Rochester's Dave Menz, wearing an Aaron Schobel jersey. "That was the one thing I was worried about. I like everything about them."
The Bills' helmets will be white for the first time since 1983.
"What I like more than anything is the helmets," said Kelly. "The buffalo stands out more on the white helmets."
Kelly was joined at the event by fellow ex-Bills Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker, Booker Edgerson and Charley Ferguson.
"The best part was hearing the roar and hearing the appreciation for the military guys who were a part of it tonight," said Russ Brandon, Bills chief executive officer. "I think it really pops our past. Really highlighting and illuminating the logo, the charging buffalo, which is the highlight of our mark and our brand. It's time to get back to a new era and back to a winning tradition."
There are numerous other new features on the uniforms: The charging buffalo is above the name on the back of the jersey. The "Bills" wordmark is on the front of the jersey, above the number. (Arizona and Minnesota are the only other teams with their name logo on that spot.) The facemask is gray, not white. The red stripe on the helmet (between two blue stripes) widens as it goes to the back of the helmet, similar to the way the streak on the side of the charging buffalo widens. The buffalo logo is on the side of the pants. The stripes on the side of the sleeves are sort of a combination of the '60s and '70s styles. On the road jersey, there are two royal blue stripes, bordered by thin navy and red stripes.
Besides Maple Grove's Smith, the other military men who were part of the ceremony were Army Spc. Nick Stone of Hamburg, National Guard Staff Sgt. Greg Price of Amherst, Army Reserve Sgt. Anthony Kuhn of North Tonawanda, National Guard Sgt. Kevin Reynolds of Westfield and Marines Staff Sgt. James McClendon of Buffalo. Stone received the Purple Heart after losing his leg in Afghanistan in 2010.