Matching Rivals: Browns & Bengals

We are starting a new feature here at the Gridiron Uniform Database today.  Earlier this year, you'll remember that Larry Schmitt profiled for us each of the new inductees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2012.  Beginning today Larry is back with a new feature, and he'll be taking a look at throughout the summer -- every two weeks -- instances where NFL teams have had very similar looking's Larry:

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In today's modern NFL, there are a wide variety of uniform styles and themes that serve as a treat for the eye every Sunday. Most teams see their uniform as a way to identify themselves on the field and as a means of connecting to their fanbase. From the enduring traditional looks featured by the Chicago Bears and New York Giants to the modern, trendsetting styles of the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans, to the just plain weird of the Seattle Seahawks. Throw in the occasional alternate jersey or throwback uniform, there's something for every fan to enjoy.

There have been instances in history where teams have blurred the lines as bit as to their identity. Similarity in color and striping patterns, particularly in the 1960's and '70's, at times may have left fans watching wondering just which side they were on. We'll take a look at these match-ups and try and lend a historical perspective to see just how things may have turned out this way.

First up: Ohio rivals Cleveland and Cincinnati.

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Paul Brown "The Father Of Modern Professional Football" was an NFL innovator the likes of which will never be matched. He was the first coach to introduce film study (using the All-22 high endzone view) into regular practice, invented the Screen Pass to maximize the talents of Otto Graham and Marion Motley, standardized the 40-yard dash as a measure of a football players ability to cover punts and kickoffs, and even pioneered helmet radios to get call in to his quartebacks decades before technology caught up to his genius.
One other feature he brought to the pro game that is mostly likely overlooked by most fans - Brown introduced orange (his favorite color) as a primary helmet color for two two unique franchises.
The Cleveland Browns of the AAFC wore white leather helmets for four seasons. Up[on joining the NFL, they added orange leather helmets to their ensemble for night games. Making the switch to hard plastic shells in 1952, the Browns helmets were orange forevermore. A single white center stripe was the lone feature, until brown player numbers adorned the sides from 1957 - 1960. In 1960 brown stripes were added, and 1961 the side numbers removed. The old, reliable Cleveland Brown helmet has been the same ever since, even after it's creator Paul Brown was relieved of duty following the 1962 season.
The basic uniform also saw relatively minimal changes over this period. Usually favoring white jerseys at home (while most NFL teams would wear their primary colored jerseys) Cleveland had plain, dark brown block numbers with contiguous 5-stripe sleeves and socks, alternating brown-orange-brown. Their white pants had contiguous 3-stripe pattern of orange-brown-orange.
In 1968 Paul Brown returned to Professional Football as owner and head coach of the AFL expansion franchise Cincinnati Bengals. It was no coincidence that the new team looked an awful lot like the one that had been named after the Ohio coaching legend. In fact, the substitution of black for dark brown as the primary jersey color and a stripe-free helmet were the only real differences. If one were to just glance quickly, it would be understandable to mistake them for the Browns.
Following the AFL-NFL merger, the intra-state rivals met on the field for the first time on October 11. Fans in the cheap seats of Cleveland Municipal stadium may have had a hard time telling the opponents apart. The Browns continued with their white-at-home tradition, forcing the visiting Bengals to wear their black jerseys. The Browns may have inadvertently made a move to looking like their Cincinnati counterparts the year before. In 1969 Cleveland made the first ever alteration to their sleeve and sock striping pattern when they went from the contiguous pattern to an offset one. The Bengals themselves switched back-and-forth between their 3-stripe sleeve patterns between the contiguous and offset versions during the early '70's.
The rematch in Cincinnati later that season saw the Bengals going white-at-home, meaning Cleveland's brown jerseys would make a rare appearance. The same was true for 1972, with both teams wearing their whites at home. For the 1973 and '74 match-ups, Cleveland continued with white at home whole Cincinnati returned to the traditional primary colored jersey at home, so all four meetings saw the same uniform sets displayed.
In 1975 the Browns made a drastic move that helped distinguish them from their rivals - orange pants. In 1981 the Bengals move even further in that regard, when they retired their conservative, traditional look for the tiger striped helmet still in use today. Ironically, Paul Brown himself said when asked about the design change, "you couldn't read 'BENGALS' from a distance. When you were far away it looked like Cleveland's helmet."
In two weeks we'll feature two Southern California teams with colorful uniform histories - the Chargers and Rams - who looked like near replicas of one another for a 10 year stretch in the late 70's and early 80's.

Timmy B returns from Canton

Last week, May 15th and 16th, I spent two days of research and touring the facilities at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  As reported last week in this space, my objective was to find as much information as possible regarding uniforms worn by National Football League teams from our missing uniform era of the Gridiron Uniform Database (GUD), 1920-1932.
I had said that I had no idea how (un)successful I would be.  As it turns out, I was able to track down roughly 30% of the uniforms of the era.  My most successful season was probably 1931, where it looks like I found information on 6 of the 10 teams that season.  My least successful season would have to be 1924, where I was only successful in nabbing 2 of the 18 teams.

Jon Kendle, Researcher at the Hall, was more that kind enough to assist me with the project. All day on the 15th, he dug through the photo archives of the Hall for the team photo files for the 1920-1932 years.  I had to wear a pair of white gloves as I sifted through the files in search of these ancient pictures.  The files were listed by team.  There were also negatives mixed in with the available photos.  Alas, many of the files were empty.  But still, I was able to gather a lot of information.  Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures of the material that I sifted through.  However, I was able to log descriptions of the photos as best as I could.  In due time, we hope to bring you the results on the GUD.

I also went back on the 16th to finalize my findings, and came across a couple of surprises.  We hope to include these as well in the coming days and weeks.  I thanked Jon for his help and then I did a tour of the Museum itself.  It's $21 for a tour of the facility.  I took as many uniform-themed photos as I could, most of which accompany this blog.  Two interesting items of note: One was the "Super Bowl Experience" where there was a "tease" of training camp footage from years past and the 2011 season, with some regular season footage from the 2011 season up to the Conference Championships.  Then we entered the theater for a 25 minute feature from NFL Films, exclusively for the Hall, of Super Bowl XLVI.  It was done as only the creative geniuses at NFL Films could provide.  The seating at the theater was movable.  We saw all of the stuff of the lead-in to the Big Game and when it was time for kick-off, the seating area moved from one screen to another.  The exit led us to a display of all 45 Super Bowl rings.  Talk about bling!

The other item of interest came near the end of my tour.  A couple of volunteers lugging around a large trunk happened by where I was taking a break. They said, "Are you here for the helmet presentation?" As I muttered "no," they said, "Too bad!!"  They opened the trunk and pulled out about 10 helmets, some very old, some reproduced and some that were experimental.  It was an enlightening 15 minutes of the history of the pro football helmet, from when it was just a thick woollen cap, to a projected model that was still on the drawing board, that featured safety features to deter concussions as much as possible.

The Hall is undergoing yet another expansion that will culminate next year, to coincide with the Hall's 50th anniversary.  It is worth the while of any football fan, to visit this facility.

Getting back to the task at hand.  To be honest, because of the rather ship-shod way that the NFL kept track of things before 1933, and based on my research last week, it will be a most monumental task to have a complete database of uniforms from before 1933.  I think it could be possible to have complete years back to maybe 1928 or so.  But beyond that...

Still, we think this will be a great step forward as we go backward more in time.  Again, I wish to thank the staff, volunteers and Jon Kendle at the Hall for all the courtesies extended to the GUD.

To view all of Tim's pictures from the Pro Football Hall Of Fame trip, click here.


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