Some Thoughts On The 1920-1932 Era


As most of you may know, the Gridiron Uniform Database (the GUD) has been undertaking the task this summer of posting as many uniforms as possible from the BC era of the NFL, 1920-1932.  Our webmaster Rob Holecko has been posting them on a year-by-year basis every week.  1920 through 1926 have already been added to the website and 1927 will join them this coming Tuesday.  You'll note that many teams have a blank canvas, meaning that we currently have absolutely no idea of what those teams wore.

The task started when I made a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Mid-May to do some extensive research of the Hall's research facilities and possibly find some nuggets along the way in the museum.  We decided that enough information was gathered so we could share our findings on the GUD's database.

From here, I shot all of my findings to Bill Schaefer, our graphical engineer, both by email and US Mail.  Bill then worked his magic, creating the uniforms.  We conferred frequently by email to make sure we were on the same page with the designs, colors, trimwork, etc. to be able to then ship off to Rob for his weekly additions to the GUD.  In the meantime, Bill has been diligently digging through any online archives he can find to make additions to the 1920-32 years.  He has been a very good trooper in finding some interesting items.

So far, the main issues in making the finds from this era as opposed to the 1933-current era are vast.  Here's a few things that I have found:

1) Lack of photographs.  Newspapers in the 1920's, while plentiful, had few photographs of game action.  They were very rare.  Even pictures of players in poses with their uniforms are hard to find.  In addition, there simply weren't that many photographers at the games.  Plus the cameras that were in use in those days were large and cumbersome.  Maybe a few fans snapped a couple of shots with their Kodak Brownies, but  we haven't uncovered any of those yet!

2) Difficulty with colors/designs.  With 100% of the available pictures in black & white, it is very difficult to find and determine the proper colors for many teams.  Sometimes the "colors" tend to mesh  - or "bleed" - so well with the basic colors of the jerseys and socks that it may take Bill and/or I several different glances till we either agree or disagree with what one or the other sees.  We are fortunate enough to have documentation of almost every team's colors during this era, but that doesn't always mean we get the combinations right.  Knowing what I know of the tricks certain colors can play under certain light conditions is helpful, but I have been proven wrong more than once. 

3) Random photographs/generic jerseys.  Occasionally we come across pics where the one team in the photograph is known, by way of their distinctive styling or a monogram on the front of the jersey, like the "C" of the Canton Bulldogs, or the "CC" monogram on the sleeve cuff of the Chicago Cardinals, or also the unique "YFJ" emblazoned on the front of the Frankford Yellow Jackets, but their opponent is wearing a totally plain jersey with just a number on the back.  Sometimes we will wrack our brains over that!  Also, we may come across random shots where both teams are wearing generic unis.  Then we ask, is this a pro game or is it a college game?  And what year is it?  Once we get into the 1930's we pretty much have a working knowledge of what we are dealing and can readily tell the difference of the teams shown in a given photo.  But in the 20's where teams are a dime a dozen, and where - frankly - our uniform expertise isn't as strong, we do struggle to look for unique branding that can help us some.

4) The actual team names.  We see that there is some debate about what some of the teams were known as popularly and what they were called versus their actual team name.  For example the Racine Cardinals were  perhaps the only team in NFL history to use their place name as the street on which their football field was located!  When exactly did they begin going by the moniker, the Chicago Cardinals?  Likewise for the Akron Pros, when did they become the Akron Indians?  In fact, a very old Pro Football Encyclopedia, the one written by Roger Treat, listed the Pros/Indians as the "Steels!"  We have to decide whether to list these teams by what they were actually referred to in game accounts of the day, or do we go by the "official" name that might be listed by today's NFL standards?   Another example, the Staten Island Stapletons - or "Stapes" - were frequently listed as simply, Stapleton.
There are more issues to deal with when Bill and I do go back deep into pro football's stone age, but as we become more acclimated to the era, we should be able to gain a little more knowledge and confidence that we can uncover those ancient riddles and hopefully solve more of those puzzles as time quickly separates us more and more from the Roaring 20's, NFL style.

Special thanks go out to Larry Schmitt, Jeff Miller and John Steffenhagen for their generous 1920's/early 1930's help.

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