by Bill Schaefer
To begin, I want to mention how I began using a 2- dimensional template. I admit this was not my own creation. While searching online for the “50th Anniversary AFL Logos” early in the Spring of 2009, I came across the images of one man’s version of how he envisioned that upcoming season’s League uniforms. While very good efforts, under a talented eye, errors began to be uncovered.
The sleeves were too long. The collars had the 1990’s NFL Shield instead of the current “NFL Equipment” logo. Colors were not all that accurate. A dozen helmet logos were oversized. The AFL Commemorative patches were wrong. None of the images contained any manufacturer’s logos. Notwithstanding, it was a wonderful 2-D template that was to become the basis of our project.
I began using them to construct the 1933-58 variations with a great number of changes and specializations. Longer sleeves, altered collars to mostly crew necks, and the construction of leather helmet templates were just some of my own creations. Once Tim Brulia and I got going with this and we knew we were going to display these on a website at some point, I attempted to contact the original creator to assist us with some problems I was having with the helmets. I was never able to reach this man. We owe this unknown artist a great deal. He supplied us with the raw materials to create, with a tremendous amount of additional work, the images you currently see.
Below I have listed 12 different parts of the uniform. Generally speaking, we have been dealing with these 12 different aspects of every team’s uniforms. The current League teams have played a combined 1,685 seasons between 1933 and 2010. During this time, most teams had a minimum of 2 uniform combinations each year so you can easily double this figure to a minimum of 3,370 uniforms – front and back – and this does not even approach the actual number since most current teams have had at least three or more combinations per year that have been worn over the past decade. Now multiply this casual estimate of 3,370 uniforms by the 12 features we’ve mentioned. A figure of 40,440 features is still an underestimate for our project. This figure does not include the 4 years of the AAFC (which spawned teams in San Francisco, Cleveland, and the beginnings of a Baltimore franchise) nor does it include the defunct teams that are now just a wistful memory in the history of professional football. Each feature of these uniforms has a little story I’d like to share with you before you peruse our site and I’d like to begin at the top.
The helmets. The majority of the current helmets were the work of the original artist. Some changes have been made to the striping, color shades, and the size and orientation of the logos. We have also displayed any central striping pattern since a 2-dimensional image does limit the ability to see these striping patterns in all their glory. If no central striping is displayed, the helmet has no such striping.
We have made the decision not to include helmet numbers. On a 2-dimensional helmet, numbers at the front and rear would not show well due to the curvature of the helmet, especially numbers like those that adorn Pittsburgh’s current variation of helmet where some single digit players have their number located within the central stripe. We have also not included any additional decals on helmets, with only a few notable exceptions. Memorial ‘number’ decals, the ‘green radio dot,” the US Flag, and safety warning decals have all adorned helmets. However, due to their sometimes random placements, along with the fact that not all players wore them, these aspects move helmet decals well down the relevancy list for our site.
The facemasks. By the mid-1950’s, facemask usage began to out-number the players who did not use them. Our historian, Tim Brulia, has tried to pinpoint the best estimate when facemasks entered the majority for each team. We have tried to limit the early single-bar facemask from the mid-1950’s up until 1969, the last season before the AFL/NFL merger. Grey double-bar facemasks were utilized for images running from 1970 to a point usually around the late 1970’s when teams earnestly began changing to non-grey facemasks. From that point on we have kept the facemask cage the same from this time forward.
The collars. Crew-neck collars were the ‘norm’ for most teams up to the early 1980’s when the V-necks began to emerge. Some teams, like Chicago and Pittsburgh, kept their crew-necks into the 1990’s, however. Also included are some collar anomalies such as the early 1960’s Dallas and 1980’s New York cross-over collars.
The jerseys. The biggest alterations in jerseys have been sleeves lengths. As with facemasks, we began trying to pinpoint the exact time in which teams went from full, long sleeves with cuffs on the end, to non-cuffed sleeves that terminate above the wrist. Finding no specific date, we settled on making this transition uniformly at 1957. From there, we began to shorten the sleeves in incremental steps as deemed necessary by each team. Of particular note, by the time we reached the 1980’s and 1990’s, some teams like Buffalo and Detroit began the trend of cutting their sleeves in the middle of their striped pattern.
In 2002, Reebok became the sole supplier of jerseys and pants. With them came the advent of, as we call them, micro-sleeves. In 2001, however, prior to the League-wide change, several teams remained under contract with Adidas. These jerseys, for the most part, did not have the ‘micro-sleeves’ and so this difference has been maintained for that season. One lone team from the Reebok class of 2001 that has not been shown with the micro-sleeves is Indianapolis. At that time, they still wore their ‘UCLA-style’ stripes that ‘hooped’ over the shoulder and gathered in the armpit. This would be almost impossible to show while in the micro-sleeve era so their longer sleeves were kept for one last season.
In 1991, all jerseys became adorned with the NFL logo at the collar. Some images exist that show players without these logos because they believed they were employed by a specific team rather than the League as a whole. Also around this time, manufacturer’s logos began to appear on all jerseys. These have been included on team’s jerseys as authentically as possible. The placement of these manufacturer’s logos varied as many as 4 different placements on team jerseys even in pictures of the same game! We decided to place these logos in their most common positions for each season.
Captaincy badges have not been included, as well, since most players do not wear them.
The sleeve stripes. Let’s just say ‘I love me some regular sleeve stripes.’ The over-the-shoulder hoop stripes were crazy with which to work in any generation of uniform. Don’t even get me started on how difficult San Diego’s lightning bolts were to manipulate! Our other challenge, from an historic standpoint, was that some uniforms have some ‘microscopic’ separations between stripes which were quite hard to confirm on aged pictures.
The fonts. Considering that no uniform website has ever managed to successfully show rear views of all uniforms all the way back to the inception of nameplates in the 1960’s AFL, I think we did well. We tried to match both jersey number fonts and lettering fonts for nameplates as closely as possible to the genuine articles. With the size and scope of our project, different numbers would have hugely multiplied the amount of work and research in order to ‘get it right.’ We chose to stay conservative with the number 11. This way we only needed to locate images of a single number for each team’s font rather than having to track down two different numbers that would have obviously doubled both the research and the graphic challenge towards accuracy. However, with the limitations that MSPaint (our graphic software of choice) puts on our graphics, our main problem was nameplate lettering that was not monotone in nature but rather outlined in one, or sometimes two, different colors. This was the one aspect of our project that I, personally, remain the most disappointed in and hope to upgrade at some point in the future. Spacing reasons, particularly with the TV numbers in several circumstances, were another reason for sticking with the number 11 on all images. It is our hope to soon be able to add a page to our site showing all numbers, and possibly even letters, in the fonts for the eras and teams they appeared.
The belts. We began with generic black belts worn for the site’s earliest decades. Some time in the 1960’s, several teams began using belts colored something other than black and we have tried to remain as accurate as possible for all teams. We have recently discovered evidence that white and brown belts have been used on occasion as far back as the 1930’s. However, we find these to be the exceptions and not the rule so until further notice the early decades will stick with the black belts.
The pants. A decision was made to stick with the same pants template for the duration of the entire website. Sure, exceptions exist especially in the early years, but, like the belts, these are still exceptions and not the rule. Thought was put towards removing thigh and knee pads from the templates for recent years giving them the dreaded ‘bicycle-pants’ look. But with the League proposing that these pads may soon get sewn into the pants due to safety concerns, we have chosen to keep the pads as they have been.
The pants stripes. With only a few exceptions, modern pants stripes cannot be seen from the front or rear. We have chosen to show these stripes between the front and rear views. In most cases, these stripes are identical on each side. However, certain teams have placed anniversary logos on one side stripe but not the other. In these situations we have shown both side stripes and labeled them accordingly.
The socks. High whites were the norm for most of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In today’s games you can see players wearing solid leggings from their knees to their ankles with little or know whites at all. You can see players showing an average amount of white. You can also see players of today trying their best to fit into the 1970’s with the high whites. As we have done before, we decided to go with the average, middle-of-the-road appearance for the teams of the last few decades.
The shoes. White shoes began to appear with the advent of artificial turf. For quite a few years some teams had players wearing both white and black shoes in the same game – players’ personal preferences. We have illustrated when the teams have had the majority of players cross the line from black shoes to white shoes. This time frame is not rigid but rather shows teams’ general tendencies before teams’ shoe colors became mandated the League. We have kept one shoe template for the entire run – either black or white. With the few exceptions being a handful of teams that wore colored shoes during the 1970’s (Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and San Diego), we have stuck with either plain white or plain black. In this current era, teams are required to declare whether their team will wear a base-black or a base-white. This is not a guarantee that the shoes will be monotone, however. On a given team nearly a dozen different styles of shoes, each with differing patterns of the teams’ colors swirled in with the basic color, can be seen. It would be impossible to illustrate all of the different models. For this reason, we have stuck with the basic white or black.
The shades of colors. Chromatic accuracy for several teams was extremely difficult. Post-World War II Detroit went through quite a few shades of blue. Pittsburgh had ‘gold’ pants that had an almost ‘orangey’ tint to them and gradually transitioned to nearly a lemon-yellow. Miami seems to change their version of aqua every decade or so. The best thing we could do was to try to use the most common shade of the color for the year(s) in question as they appeared in photographic evidence. All within one game, pictures showed Chicago’s orange appear to vary from a neon-orange all the way to red while their navy blue in many cases looked as black as night. We attempted to use some online resources that claimed to have exact color swatches for all teams throughout League history but this was simply not the case. In some cases their accuracy wasn’t even close to what we uncovered in multiple photos.
It is my hope that these guides through our templates will help you better understand the great detail we have put into this effort and what it is we have done to represent these historical images of teams that go back in some cases nearly a century and how team uniforms, and the football uniform itself, have evolved to what we see today.