COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — Denver Broncos general manager and former quarterback John Elway knows about jersey curses. His franchise suffered four horrific Super Bowl bludgeonings while wearing orange, so when the Broncos had their choice of jersey for last year’s title game, he avoided the team’s home orange duds.
“We’ve had Super Bowl success in our white uniforms,” Elway told the media that week.
So have a lot of other teams, especially recently. When Elway’s Broncos upset the Carolina Panthers, they became the 11th team wearing white in the last 12 years to win the Super Bowl. Overall, teams in white have won 32 of 50 Super Bowls over their colored-jersey-sporting counterparts, a statistical anomaly.
The Atlanta Falcons got to decide whether to wear white or not this year — it alternates between the AFC and NFC champion each season — and the team chose to wear red on Sunday. Teams in white have won the last five Super Bowls, meaning the New England Patriots will take their fifth title if the trend continues.
The Falcons choice also meant the Patriots will avoid wearing their blue home jerseys, which could help the team avoid some bad mojo. A Capital News Service analysis found that teams in blue jerseys are 5-13 overall in the Super Bowl, getting outscored 25.8 to 18.8. The Patriots are 2-2 in blue, with both losses coming to the New York Giants, one of which ruined New England’s quest for an undefeated season in 2007. They’re 2-1 wearing white, winning in 2004 and 2014. The two purple losses in the graphic below represent the Minnesota Vikings; the Baltimore Ravens wore white in both of their Super Bowl appearances, which the won.
Patriots fans should not put too much stock in the power of the white jersey. The number of championships awarded to teams in white has been unusually high, and likely influenced by the small sample size of 50 Super Bowls. If one assumes that wearing white does not give a team a real advantage — and there’s no reason to think it does — then there is only a 3.2 percent chance that the squad wearing white jerseys would win 32 or more Super Bowls.
Against the odds, that’s exactly what has happened. Over time, as the number of Super Bowls grows, we should expect the win-loss record of white jersey teams to get closer to .500.
So, why have white jersey teams lifted the Lombardi trophy more often than colored jersey teams? Because they are, by some measures, simply better than their opponents.
The team wearing white entered 24 Super Bowls with a better regular season record than their opponent, making them the so-called “favorite” based only on record. They won 14 of those Super Bowls. But those wearing white jerseys were also 8-2 when they had the same record as the team in colored jerseys and 10-6 in situations in which they were “underdogs” with fewer wins than the team in color.
On average, Super Bowl-bound teams matched up almost equally on offense and defense, as measured by yardage. The squads suiting up in white were much more likely to replicate their regular season performance on both sides of the ball.
On average, the team wearing white on Super Bowl Sunday gained 342 yards, 10 fewer than they normally would in the regular season. Teams in colored jerseys gained 30 fewer yards than their season average.
Defenses in white also performed better in the Super Bowl than defenses in color, compared to their regular season average. White teams gave up 20 more yards, while teams in color surrendered 50 more.
In their 32 wins, the teams in white outscored the opposition 29.3 to 14.3. In all 50 matchups, the average score was 25.4 to 20.5 in favor of the white side.
Remember: past results do not predict future success. The outcomes of the past 12 Super Bowls, even if 11 were won by teams in white, have no bearing on Sunday’s game. White jerseys do not confer any known athletic advantage.
Yet bookmakers say the Patriots are three point favorites. That’s because of their talented players and coaches — not because of the color of their jerseys.