Few things in the Nike archive have endured a more puzzling evolution than the Air Tailwind family. From the inaugural silhouette, released in 1979, to the most recent iterations, there is little in the way of a common thread. The shoes share a name, but little else. The Air Tailwind’s role in the development of Air—arguably the most important invention in Nike’s history—is largely overlooked. Taken together, it has made of the Tailwind a family of shoes that is misunderstood and under-appreciated, particularly when compared to other Nike models that came after it in the 1980s and ’90s.

Frank Rudy’s story is well-known. His name is often cited when the Air Max 1 origin story is told. Rudy was an aerospace technology specialist who approached Nike in 1977 with a revolutionary idea: using air as cushioning in footwear. A detail that is oft-forgotten, though, is that Rudy’s Air cushioning did not debut in 1989’s Air Max 1, or even in the Air Force 1, released in 1982. Instead, Nike Air debuted in a shoe that featured in the 1978 Honolulu marathon—the Nike Air Tailwind.

Follow Marc on Twitter here.