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## RGB color trends in NFL team colors

I continue to be fascinated by the RGB color scheme, and extra-spectral colors in particular.  And the NFL football season starts tonight.  And so I ponder: are there any patterns/trends in the official team colors of the 32 NFL teams?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

First of all, here are the “official” colors of the teams with their exact RGB ratings.  You will notice that there are a few teams that, perversely, have more than two team colors.

I’ve already had to make a few judgement calls.  For example, most teams have three team colors: two typical colors, and then either white or black.  In most cases I’ve thrown white or black out, unless they are one of the two main colors (in my opinion).  For instance, the Cincinnati Bengals are orange and black.  I’ve only held onto three colors if I feel they are crucial to their color scheme.  The Dallas Cowboys are particularly meretricious in this regard.  They claim no less than five colors: white, blue, navy blue, royal blue, and silver.  Based on my own aesthetic color sense I have pared this down to three.

Also note that I have renamed the colors in most cases.  Many of the teams copy one another, using the exact same colors, but call those colors by different names.  The most egregious example is the color (0,34,68) which is used by four different teams.  Dallas calls this blue, Denver calls it Broncos navy, New England calls it nautical blue, and Seattle calls it college navy.  I just call it blue.

Only one team has a “pure” RGB color: the San Francisco 49’ers have red (170,0,0).  You gotta give ‘em props for going all-in on red.  I guess (255,0,0) was too “bright” so they darkened it a little, but hey.

So, is there a way to visualize this data in a graph?  The problem is displaying 3-tuples in two dimensions.  Luckily, there is a way to do this.  It’s called a chromaticity graph.  Define three new variables thus:

r = R/(R+G+B)

g = G/(R+G+B)

b = B/(R+G+B)

You can think of these variables as indicating the relative percentage of each core color, without regard to brightness.  So magenta (255,0,255) has values r = 0.5, g=0, b = 0.5, indicating that magenta is half red, half blue.  Similarly, chartreuse (128,255,0) has values r = 0.333, g=0.666, b = 0, indicating that it is 1/3 red and 2/3 green.

Now consider plotting r vs. g.  You might think you’ve “lost” information about the value of b, but that is not the case.  Since r + g + b = 1 is necessarily true, you could always recreate the value of b if you needed it.

Here is a plot of r vs. g, which is a chromaticity graph:

Where you have lost information is in the value of “brightness”.  For example, white (255,255,255), gray (128,128,128) and black (0,0,0) are all plotted at the exact same coordinate (r,g) = (0.333,0.333).  And blue (0,0,255) and dark blue (0,0,128) look very different, but again they map to the same point (r,g) = (0,0).

Note that most of the “standard” colors we have names for appear on the outer edge of the triangle (since one of the three variables R,G,B is zero).  The exceptions are the grayscale colors (white, gray, black) which are at the center of mass of the triangle, and other extra-spectral colors like tan or hot pink.

Speaking of extra-spectral colors: there are two main ways to “construct” them.  You can either:

• mix all three colors R,G,B in roughly equal measure, or
• mix R and B with very little G.

With this in mind, we see that the extra-spectrals occupy the middle portion of the triangle, as well as the bottom edge:

OK, so back to my original goal…visualizing the NFL team colors.  Here is a chromaticity plot of all the team colors in the above table:

What trends do you notice?

• There are plenty of reds, of all varieties.
• All the blues have a major element of green as well.  That is, there is a cluster of colors around azure and cyan, but no true blues.  The blue with the least green is Buffalo Bills blue, at g = 27%.
• There are no true greens.  In fact, there are few greens at all.  The maximum green is g = 57% for the Seattle Seahawks.
• There are no pinks: nothing anywhere close to magenta.
• There is almost a “main sequence” like in an H-R diagram, running from cyan to gray to yellow.  Why do so many NFL colors have g ≈ 33%?
• There is a huge cluster of colors around “gold”.

I’m sure you can find other patterns.  Here is a map of the “under utilized” colors for NFL teams:

The pink/magenta thing makes sense.  For some reason, people think these are not masculine colors.  (This was not always the case.  Pink used to be associated with boys.)  But what about the lack of green?  And the lack of true blue without green?  I have no idea.  Maybe someone can enlighten me.

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## Extra spectral colors, or, why I hate beige.

I don’t want this shirt for my birthday.

What do the colors pink, gray, and beige have in common?

For one thing, they’re all annoying.  I mean, come on…this isn’t rocket science.

But why are they annoying?  Why is lilac (RGB = [220, 208, 255]) so insipid?  Why does jasmine (RGB = [248, 222, 126]) make one vaguely nauseated?  Why is Crayola fuchsia (RGB = [193, 84, 193]) worse than a bout of the common cold?  (Use this applet to investigate these combinations.)

My thesis is this: that these colors are so annoying because they’re extra spectral colors.  And on some primal, instinctual level, humans don’t like extra spectral colors very much.

In a previous post, I talked about how humans have 3 kinds of cones in their retinas.  Roughly speaking, these cones react most strongly with light in the red, green, and blue parts of the visible spectrum.  Now, as I mentioned, “color” is a word we give to the sensations that we perceive.  Light that has a wavelength of 570 nm, for example, stimulates “red” and “green” cones about equally, and we “see” yellow.  That’s why we say that R+G=Y.  That’s why we also say that 570 nm light is “yellow” light.

Extra spectral colors are colors that don’t correspond to any one single wavelength of light.  They are “real” colors, in the sense that retinal cones get stimulated and our brains perceive something.  However, extra spectral colors don’t appear in any rainbow.  To make an extra spectral color, more than one wavelength of light must hit our retinas.  Our brains then take this data and “create” the color we perceive.

In terms of the RGB color code, extra spectral colors are those in which both R and B (corresponding to the cones at either end of the visible spectrum) are non-zero.  And I don’t know about you, but I have a very heavy preference against extra spectral colors.

Now, admittedly, white (RGB = [255,255,255]) is about as extra spectral as you can get.  Does white annoy me?  Not really; but as a color, it’s also pretty dull.  Does anyone paint their bedroom pure white on purpose?  Does anyone really want an entirely white car?

But the other extra spectral colors I mentioned earlier are a who’s who of mediocrity.  Does anyone older than 16 actually like pink?  Has anyone in the history of the world every uttered the sentence, “Gray is my favorite color”?  And beige—ugh.  Just, ugh.

Standard pink has an RGB code of [255, 192, 203].  Surprisingly, there are combinations that are much, much worse.  Hot pink [255, 105, 180] disturbs me.  Champagne pink [241, 221, 207] bothers me.  Congo pink [248, 131, 121] doesn’t actually make your eyes bleed, but I had to check a mirror to verify this for myself.

Beiges are less offensive, but that’s like saying cauliflower tastes better than broccoli.   Of particular note are “mode beige” [150, 113, 23] which used to be called “drab” but was re-branded in Orwellian fashion, and feldgrau [77, 93, 83] which was used in World War II by the German army, in an apparent attempt to win the war by losing the fashion battle.

This is speculation, but I’ve often wondered if these colors bother me because they are stimulating all three kinds of cones in my retina.  Maybe in some deep part of the reptilian complex portion of my brain, I know (on an intuitive level) that these colors don’t correspond to any particular wavelength.  These colors don’t appear in the rainbow.  You can’t make a laser pointer with one of these colors.  You can’t have a magenta, or a beige, or a gray photon.  And somehow, my aesthetic sense knows this.  So when I see the color “dust storm” [229, 204, 201] my limbic system tells me to wince, and I’m saved from even having to know why.

Anyway, I’d be interested in seeing which color(s) bother you the most.  I’m going to guess the color(s) are extra spectral.

[Note: my book Why Is There Anything? is now available for download on the Kindle!]

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