Timmy B goes to Canton

On May 15th, I will be on the road before the crack of dawn to make a 6 hour drive to the mecca of Pro Football, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Once I arrive at the shrine, I will be getting right to work to document as much as possible over a two day stretch as many uniforms as possible of the teams that played between our missing years on the Gridiron Uniform Database between 1920 and 1932.

To be honest, I have no idea how (un)successful I will be in this endeavor.  The research that I have done from 1933 through roughly 2003 has come from on-line newspaper archives, on-line photography databases like gettyimages, AP images, and of course, frequent journeys to the Pennsylvania State Library in Harrisburg and the Library of Congress in Washington.  However, the research for the "B.C." era of the National Football League will have to come from such a place as the Hall of Fame.  As I researched the 1933-1940 years, photographs from game action shots became more of a hit or miss thing.  They were there, but not in the quantity or quality of 1940 to date newspapers.  Without question, pro football game action photographs in newspapers prior to 1933 will be minimal, if not altogether lacking.  Add to the fact that so many small cities dotted the NFL landscape in the '20-'32 years, like Pottsville, Rock Island, Portsmouth, Duluth, Hammond, Dayton, etc.  And access to newspapers that served these smaller cities would be - apart from travelling to these communities in person - virtually impossible.

So, the best alternative is to make the trip to Canton and make use of the Hall's research facilities.  I have used them once before.  It was in May of 2006 when I was on a similar mission to unearth the TV commentator crews for NFL games from the 1968 - 1982 era, after the TV team specific commentators era (e.g. Ray Scott and Tony Canadeo doing Packers games for CBS) and before the debut of the USA Today newspaper, which immediately began to chronicle all of the week's TV crews.  I was moderately successful with the key sources for that information coming from the teams' game notes distributed to the working media.  This assignment though, will make exclusive use of visuals.  It is said that the Hall has the most extensive collection of pro football photographs in the world.

Without question, all of the photographs I will find will be black and white.  Fortunately, through Wikipedia ("always with a grain of salt") and ColorWerx, a very reputable website specializing in team/college colors, I have been able to track colors for all of the pre-1933 squads, except for the Louisville entries.  My plan is to hone in on the team group photographs that are in the Hall's collection.  I will try to document as much info as I can find on whatever I come across.  One item of personal relief is that in probably 90%+ of the time, I will not have to worry about helmet colors or pants colors.  The earliest instance that I (currently) know of a team coloring its helmets would be the c.1931 Chicago Bears, who used a Michigan "wing" style of helmet with their familiar navy and orange colors.  As for pants, the move from a natural canvas khaki-type color to team specific colors didn't start to trend until the early-mid 1930's.

From the limited number of pre-1933 team photographs I have seen, a typical photo will show the great majority of players in matching uniforms, but then several players will be wearing something different. Normal these variations might include friction (or grip) strips on the front, or some type of contrasting color material that is stitch into the ribcage portion on the jersey.  While I will document this in my research, I am not fully certain that we will list these variations in the Gridiron Uniform Database.  It must be noted that the NFL and their teams were very much on a limited budget and thus could only have enough money to outfit maybe a dozen or so players in one style, and then shop the Salvation Army or other surplus stores for spares. 

Whatever my findings, I will report in a follow up blog later in the week.  Hopefully the venture will be a success. I can't really say at this point what I consider a "success", but usually if even just one morsel of knowledge is gained from the journey, than I personally will think the trip worthwhile.

Stay tuned and wish me luck!!


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