Matching Rivals: Chargers & Rams

Royal blue and yellow, perfect colors to represent southern California, evoking images of the Pacific Ocean and abundant sunshine. It's not surprising that the professional football team residing in Los Angeles and San Diego chose to adorn their teams in these colors for significant portions of their respective histories. For 11 seasons spanning 1974 - 1984 the two teams looked remarkably alike.

The Rams were born in Cleveland, and moved west in 1946, bringing their royal blue and yellow uniforms with them. Yellow was the color of their primary jersey through most of the 1950's. However, they were difficult to distinguish from opponents wearing white on black-and-white TV's, so they made the switch to blue jerseys with yellow numbers and Northwestern stripes on the sleeves. Yellow was nearly absent on the white away uniforms, only being seen on the famous horns on the helmet and center pants stripe. That trend continued to the extreme in 1964 when yellow was abandoned altogether during the Fearsome foursome era of Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen.

In 1973, following an ownership change, the Rams completely redesigned their uniforms. Not only did yellow return to prominence, but the entire design was ingenious. The iconic Ram horn from the helmet was incorporated onto the shoulder of the jersey. The effect from the front view was similar to the over-the-shoulder UCLA stripe, but the horn continued around the back of the sleeve, encircling the TV number. On the white jersey the horn was blue and the sleeve was yellow. The Rams wore this jersey in their near upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.

The Chargers are most well known for their white helmet and powder blue jersey from their AFL years. However, for fans of the Air Coryell era of the late 70's and early 80's, the images of Dan Fouts carving up secondaries are somewhat different. They got there in part by drawing inspiration from a longtime NFL franchise.

Sid Gillman (who played for the Rams while they were in Cleveland and coached them when they were in Los Angeles) was an admirer of Vince Lombardi and the success he achieved in Green Bay with the Packers. Given that yellow was already in the Chargers color scheme (seen in the Air Force Acadamy inspired arced lightning bolts on the helmet and inside the UCLA stripe-like jersey stripes over the shoulder), Gillman's changing the Chargers white pants to yellow in 1966 was easy. In 1973 the numbers on the blue jersey changed from white to yellow.

The first major change to the Chargers uniforms occurred in 1974, and it included an alteration to their familiar color scheme. Gone were the powder blue jerseys and white helmets, replaced by the royal blue worn by their neighbors to the north. Creating even more synergy with the Rams was the absence of the lightning bolt on the Chargers pants. They instead featured a basic blue-white-blue stripe pattern, which was identical to Los Angeles. The Chargers also sparked a revolution of sorts with their new uniforms - they were the first team to paint their facemasks in a team color instead of going with the manufacturer's stock grey. By the turn of the decade most teams followed suit, which included the Rams changing theirs to blue in 1981.

Though they played regularly during the pre-season, because the two teams played in different conferences, they only met on the field twice between 1974 and 1984 during the regular season.  They met in 1975 in San Diego, and then again in 1979 in Los Angeles in a game in which the Rams wore white at home, so both times the Rams wore their white jerseys and the Chargers royal blue. Confusion among fans in the cheap seats of the Los Angeles Coliseum or Jack Murphy Stadium trying to distinguish the two teams would certainly been understandable.  That 1979 Rams team went on to Super Bowl XIV, while the following years the Chargers made it all of the way to hosting the AFC Championship Game, where they lost to the eventual Super Bowl XV Champion Oakland Raiders.

San Diego made slight diversions when they switched from solid blue socks to blue stripes on white in '78, and reintroducing the lightning bolt returned to the pants in '79. In 1984 the lightning bolt was set inside a solid blue stripe.

While the Rams uniform remained unchanged for the duration of their stay in Southern California, the Chargers continued their journey away from their powder blue roots. In 1985 they returned to white pants, but darkened their tone of blue to navy. The next season yellow took a further step back when the numbers on the blue jerseys became white. Two seasons later San Diego was outfitted in their starkest contrast ever: an even darker tone of navy with white lighting bolts on the helmet and jerseys, and plain striped pants. No one could ever confuse the Chargers for the Rams again.

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In our next installment we'll take a look at two silver and blue teams who crossed paths several times during the late 60's and early 70's, including a postseason contest in which neither team scored a touchdown.

1 comment:

  1. That one was a treat, as those are two of my favorite uniform designs of all time, including the facemasks. Those Chargers unis are my all-time favorites.



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