New Nike uniforms combine flash and increased function

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Forget the flash, at least for now. When the new Nike Elite 51 NFL uniform were unveiled in Brooklyn Tuesday, it was the uniform's performance improvements that were boasted about as its hallmark feature.

As Nike and the NFL officially launched their five-year partnership to bring all game, sideline and fashion apparel to the NFL with a swoosh, Nike officials, NFL players and Roger Goodell heralded the performance aspect of the overall uniform package.

The NFL's Elite 51 uniform builds upon new uniform technology in place within the collegiate ranks, giving athletes a base layer uniform that is 22 percent cooler, eight percent lighter and five percent drier than the NFL's previous threads as well as a top layer that also offers lighter weight, all with stronger materials and more flexibility -- two aspects the players fawned over on Tuesday.

As hundreds gathered from around the world -- including all around the NFL, as each team's jersey was modeled by a member of that team -- to catch a glimpse of the new NFL look, the most innovative visual change (other than the swoosh replacing Reebok's logo, in place for a decade) came from the Pacific Northwest and the Seattle Seahawks' new deep blue color, complete with a Native American-inspired winged pattern for the helmet and throughout the uniform.

As Nike has done previously, the company used performance innovation to highlight aesthetics. Cue the Seahawks' accenting winged pattern, which runs from the neck to down the side of the pant. Using a totem pole-styled graphic, the subtle winged pattern harkens both to traditional Pacific Northwest roots and the Seahawks' franchise story. The pattern gives a pop to the helmet, but also provides a "thermal regulation" cooling zone, says Todd Van Horne, Nike's global creative director. Using 12 wings on the pant leg nods to Seattle's 12th man tradition.

Kam Chancellor, Seattle's Pro Bowl safety, says he loves the new designs, but enjoys the cut and fit even better. "The shrink-wrap fit, we can move our body around," he said. "We can move and be free."

The major performance aspects the players honed in on were the stretch fit, the breathability of the top and the strong Flywire collar.

Van Horne notes that Nike uses nine different materials in their uniform, but the Flywire neck takes what traditionally was three or four different fabrics merged together into one bulky, easy-to-grab feature and turns it into a tension system -- similar to what is used in footwear -- to reduce the amount of fabric needed while giving a "lock-down fit" opposing players can't hold onto, as it form-fits the padding.

Brian Urlacher said it will be "harder to get held, which is good since I get held on every play." Along with the uniform's ability to help Urlacher skirt past offensive players, the linebacker praised its ability to ventilate his body and provide added comfort.

The shrink-wrapped Nike Elite 51 uniform -- which Victor Cruz modeled as a uniform that provides fewer "grab points" (both offensive and defensive players want less grabbing, it appears) -- utilizes zones to add in mesh ventilation as well as high-tenacity stretch materials for a single layer of stronger and more flexible fabric. Even the numbers are made from four-way, stretch-twill fabric for full movability. Deflex padding built right into the uniform eliminates the need for a second layer of padded uniforms, said Finley, reducing weight and increasing mobility.

Ndamukong Suh has been a part of the Nike sounding board since last year, discussing ideas with Van Horne. For him, the range of motion is the change he gravitates toward. "You are able to get a custom, form fit," he says. "It is adjustable to body types and that is especially great for a guy like me."

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loves the lightness of the mesh materials. "It is not the old mesh, it breathes really well," he says.

The new uniforms start with Nike's Pro Combat base layer. Three versions of "Hyper" product offer either cooling fabric that wicks sweat away from the body, a fabric that moves sweat away and seals out the cold for added warmth and a protection version with lightweight, flexible "deflex" padding integrated into critical hit zones. Van Horne says players can opt for a carbon-fiber plate for added protection.

Even the socks and the belts have lightweight protection. The belt's D-ring is constructed from aircraft-grade aluminum and the socks include arch support and zone cushioning.

For the most out-of-the-box flash coming to every team, look no further than the "logo lock-up" gloves for all teams, which include a patented technology to improve grip. For the NFL, there is mostly function with a dash of flash.

Goodell says Seattle is just the first to create a new story, and "there will be more to come." Van Horne says other teams made subtle changes (Chicago enlarged the memorial stripe on their sleeve, for example) and Nike is always ready to listen to the desires of the clubs, leaving the look of 2013 wide open.

Green Bay's Jermichael Finley likes the Seahawks' look so much he hopes the Packers will be one of the teams changing things up in the future. "The Seahawks have crazy uniforms," he said. "Hopefully Green Bay decides to switch it up and go with the look of 2012. If you look good, you play good. If you play good, you get paid good. The Seahawks have the best uniform out there right now."