Originally Published at Uni Watch
By Phil Hecken
No, the team you see listed above in today’s splash photo isn’t some kind of crazy “cross sport concept uniform” by one of the many tweakers who contribute to Uni Watch. What you’re looking at is an outstanding graphical representation of the 1936 Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished that season with a record of 6-6-0, good enough for Second Place in the NFL’s Eastern Division.
“Wait,” you might say, “wasn’t Pittsburgh’s football team called the Steelers?” Not in 1936, they weren’t. The Steelers were founded as the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 8, 1933, by Art Rooney. The ownership of the Steelers has remained within the Rooney family since its founding. It was actually somewhat common practice at the time for NFL teams to take on the names of their MLB counterparts. The NFL team from Pittsburgh kept the name “Pirates” for seven years, from their founding through the 1939 season.
Today, I am pleased and honored to bring you a look at the beginning of an historical research project which may only be exceeded by the incredible work of Marc Okkonen, whose seminal work “Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century” is basically the “bible” to which uniform historians turn for their reference. Many of you are familiar with Uni Watch Uniform Historian Tim Brulia, whose White at Home in the NFL and Pro Football Uniform History Project are staples of the Uni Watch “Research Projects” found in the tab bar at the top of this page.
Tim is now embarking on a much grander project in both historical importance and scope, and for this project he has enlisted the able assistance of Bill Schaefer, who is the graphical genius behind Tim’s work. Basically, what the two of these men have done is to chart the entire NFL uniform history since 1933, and put those uniforms into graphical form, a la Okkonen, or the now defunct FUPP (Football Uniforms Past & Present) project.
Today, I’m going to officially introduce the Uni Watch faithful to the second half of the “Tim & Bill” tandem, Mr. Bill Schaefer. He and Tim have made tremendous strides in this long, on-going, and immensely important project, and they’re almost ready to reveal it to the world. I’m privileged to be able to bring you a taste of what lies in store. We’ll begin today with “Bill’s Story”:
By Bill Schaefer
When I was 5 years old, my Dad became a season ticket holder for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He still is to this day at age 66. From 1977 to 1990, I attended a minimum of 5 home games per year with only college attendance in Florida and moving to South Carolina eventually breaking the string. Getting to attend the Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa with him was a first for me. It was my Dad’s fourth (XII, XIII, XXX, and XLIII).
When I moved to Florida in 2002, I got my first job that required work on a computer. This was actually my first run-in with the Internet. During some down time, I discovered “Football Uniforms: Past and Present” and began using its images as screensavers. I noticed that some of the Steelers’ images were missing anniversary logos that I knew had been worn. I was there! I found the images (and photographic proof) and sent them to Craig Wheeler. He made the appropriate corrections in short order. I was so proud of my tiny contributions!
However, soon after the completion of the 2003 season, the site ceased updating. I tried my darnedest trying to revise the 2003 images each year to suit the changes that ensued over the next half-decade to build upon my ‘screensaver cache.’ The problem that I continued to have was that Craig’s templates were asymmetrical. This made alterations extremely difficult to make, as well as getting them to simply look good, but I kept at it.
Over Spring Break in 2009, while conducting online searches for then upcoming AFL 50th Anniversary Logos, I came across Tim Brulia’s column posted on “Uni Watch” outlining the research he had done for the 20+ years previous to the decades covered on Craig Wheeler’s site. In it, Tim mentioned that if anyone would like to take up the task, for them to contact him. As a high school math teacher with the upcoming summer off, I figured I’d try my hand at it during my ‘spare vacation time.’ If I sucked at it, no one had to know.
Working with a much more user-friendly, 2-dimensional template, I began work on constructing images from Tim’s vivid descriptions. Using the color samples I found on “The Society for Sports Uniform Research,” [since renamed "ColorWerx" -- PH] I was able to achieve better matches to Tim’s words as closely as possible while utilizing the correct shades described. Over the course of the summer, I constructed several leather helmet templates and from there first drafts of almost every team and year listed from 1933-1958. I was pretty pleased with my product. As I neared completion, I emailed Tim to introduce myself and send him a small sample of what I had done.
The next several months became a whirlwind of emails sending comments, suggestions, revisions, and even more revisions back and forth between Tim and myself. When this stage was completed we decided to ‘up the ante’ and decided to tackle the renovations to the images in FUPP — additions, alterations, exclusions, etc. Now, after more than 24 months of work, nearly everything we set out to accomplish is ready to roll — and then some.
As with Craig Wheeler’s original site, Tim and I will welcome any contributions as far as corrections to errors we have made given that precise and (to borrow from NFL lingo) ‘indisputable’ photographic proof can be provided. Since we are dealing with images that are, in some cases over 70 years old, there are still a few inclusions that we know need to be fixed. We have, as yet, been unable to execute these few corrected renditions due to a lack of availability of the necessary proof. Otherwise, we are now at a point where every professional team from 1933 to 1958, including the AAFC teams of the late 1940’s and all ‘defunct’ NFL teams of the era, is represented as accurately as possible.
We are truly fortunate for the research Tim Brulia has put into this project. Without it, there would be no project. He is a stickler for detail, but that is exactly what is needed for organizing a task like this. Throughout the process our motto has been “Just get it right.” I feel fortunate that my recently discovered graphic skills are worthy enough to become an integral part of something that has never been orchestrated before. It is my hope that this site will provide the opportunity for many of the NFL’s fans who may never get the chance to visit Canton, Ohio, to not only see, in color, where the game came from in its humblest of beginnings but to also develop a true appreciation for professional football’s founding fathers, earliest warriors, and the characters of the game upon whose backs the NFL was built.
Thank you Bill. Just outstanding, outstanding work so far. But Tim and Bill’s story isn’t complete — its ending has yet to be penned. Tim & Bill still don’t have a home on the Interwebs yet. We’re hoping that will change in the near future. But for now, that’s Part I of Bill and Tim’s NFL Uniform Project. I’ll be back next weekend with Tim’s story.