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.

Our One Year Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of launching this website.  While recently I have begun working on spinoffs of this site that showcase baseball and basketball, this football site, which is the best collection of pro football uniforms anywhere, will always be the "flagship website" of this whole venture.  It began as simply "Tim & Bill's Pro Football Uniform Project" over at Uni Watch, so now I will let Tim and Bill have the floor to celebrate our anniversary.  First up here is our head historian, the person who got it all started, Tim Brulia:

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June 12, 2011 was one of the most important days in my life, and I'm not overstating that.

With the help of my dear comrades Bill Schaefer and Rob Holecko and of course, our friends Paul Lukas and Phil Hecken at Uni Watch, the Gridiron Uniform Database (GUD) was launched. The site's intent was to pick up where the dormant Football Uniforms of the Past and Present site left off and present the most accurate historical pro football uniform database available.

I want to focus on what has transpired since we launched a year ago today and where we hope to go, at least from my eyes. The most obvious, at least from my point of view, has been the numerous changes and alterations to the uniforms on the site. Some of these changes have been from our own continuous research, but most of them has been from the generous contributions from those of you who visit our site. When we launched, we received so many contributions of revisions and corrections, that, frankly, we were overwhelmed at first. But we took much comfort in the fact that so many of you are like us, football uniform fanatics!! We estimate that as many as 200 or more changes have been made to the GUD since our launch. This is proof positive that we are as determined as always to "just getting it right" for all of the uniforms that are displayed on our database.

From my personal end, since 6/12/11, I have made five visits to the Library of Congress in Washington for additional research for the 1933-1949 years, as well as a special trip to research the 1960 AFL season. And just last month, I made a journey to Canton to research our missing era of the GUD, the humble beginnings of the National Football League, from 1920-1932. For my partners in this venture, Rob, has continually tweaked the site to make it cleaner and easier to navigate. Rob has been more than up to the task to make the updates to the findings and corrections that have been unearthed since our launch. He has also pushed for perfection from Bill and I to maintain the accuracy that makes the GUD what it is. Bill has also found a very keen sense of digging for the truth as well. Bill has made extreme use of online newspaper archives and his findings have been a major source of finds along the way. In other words, we are all intent on making and keeping the GUD as up to date and as relevant as possible.

So where do we go from here? Now you will see the GUD go all the way back to 1920. We have many other projects in the till as we speak. We hope to continue our uniform matchup research, probably our most ambitious project, going back in time to 1950. We have an ongoing project with the Pro Bowl uniform history. We hope to start up a graphic history of game officials uniforms going back to 1920. And of course, like last year, we will roll out the 2012 uniforms on a weekly basis, literally as the players take the field. Rob did such an awesome job with that in 2011.

In closing, I want to thank Bill and Rob. I truly owe every bit of gratitude that I possibly can to them in bringing the GUD to life and keeping it as healthy as possible. Thank you, gentlemen.

And I also want to thank you, the major contributors to our site. While I would like to single out a few of you individually for your contributions, I am hesitant to do so, lest I unintentionally omit someone and that would be embarrassing. The kind words and constructive criticism from the rest of you have given us at the GUD a tremendous amount of satisfaction and the incentive to be even better than we are.

Stay tuned.

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Thank you, Tim.... and now with his take on our anniversary, here's our graphics wizard, Bill Schaefer:

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A year has gone by.

When Tim and I began we went through so many changes and alterations with the hundreds of images we worked with, if you'd asked me at the time if I thought we'd missed anything I'd have probably told you that maybe viewers could find a handful of things - maybe.

Wow. I really low-balled that answer. Granted, a lot of the errors were small but they were still there. I think the thing that surprises me the most is that there are people out there that were becoming (or already were) as obsessed with the accuracy of this site as Tim and I are. That thought gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. Here I was, a high school algebra teacher, messing around with technology (MSPAINT) that I'd never used before doing something to occupy my summer break and stay out of my wife's hair.

Here I am now, three years into this project, literally working daily to refine and extend this body of work to a level of perfection that I never could have imagined with people I've never actually met. To this day, Tim and I have never stood in the same room yet I can't imagine a week going by without hearing from him several times - even more now recently with our current project extension to include the pre-1933 era. Paul Lukas and Phil Hecken helped get us in contact with Rob Holecko - a kindred spirit to Tim & I with the tech savvy to help our work see the light of day. Football fans from around the country like BigBlueLarry and BDSullivan as well as friends on the other side of the planet like Mako Mameli have become trusted comrades in this project despite no stake in it whatsoever other than an interest in the topic and as much desire to 'get it right' as Tim and I had in 2009 when we started.

It's funny. After the initial maelstrom of corrections sent our way last summer I was thinking 'It's gonna slow down now. We got it all set.' Then came a steady diet of thread postings for miscolored belts, misplaced manufacturer's logos, different nameplate fonts, and wrong colored shoes. For a while I dreaded turning on my computer in the morning to find out what errors needed to be corrected today. It got to the point where my wife was asking me who I was talking to when I was muttering to myself "Really BBL? Another Giants font? Really?" But that all came with the understanding that what this project is, beyond a tremendous labor of love, is a way for fans of the game to bond together in an effort to do something that truly has never been done before. Anyone can throw a site together to trace the history of the game by posting the scores and the championships and the memories of their favorite teams and individual games. What we have done and are doing is organizing the most obvious aspect of the sport. The laundry.

I'm remiss in not knowing who first coined the expression 'rooting for laundry,' (I know I first heard that phrase in a Jerry Seinfeld stand up bit. -RH) but nothing could better explain what being a fan, of any sport, means. I got my first Walter Payton football in 1979 at seven years old. Despite being born into a Steelers household with Bills fans to my east and Browns fans to my west, I was a Bears fans and continue to be 30+ years later. But if the Bears pulled a man-for-man swap of the entire roster, even with the Indy Colts (sorry, Colts fans), I'd still be a Bears fan.

Even though some no longer fit the way they used to 20 years ago, I still have my first Bears jersey (#21 Donnell Woolford), a #52 Bryan Cox, a Payton throwback, and jerseys for Hester, Urlacher, Peppers and Cutler. Of all of them, though, my favorite remains one my wife got made for me a few years ago for Father's Day. My lucky #13 with SCHAEFER on the back. (This was the year before Johnny Knox was drafted and took to wearing #13.) I'm not ever going to play for the Bears, but, for 16 Sundays each autumn - and hopefully 3 or 4 more this coming year - I'm a part of the team. No one can tell me I'm not.  The players will come and go but my connection to the team, their laundry, endures season after season.

This site documents the history of these uniforms. Some of our fathers rooted for the same colors we do now. Maybe it was a slightly different shade worn in a different configuration. Maybe a man could wake up from a coma after 30 years and instantly recognize his team because their look has changed so little.  I root for my team, but without the 31 others, my team is nothing. I believe I have put in as much effort and love into crafting images for the other 31 as for my own team. Each team has fans each believing they are the most loyal, most rabid, and most knowledgeable. Here's hoping this site has added to your knowledge, your love, and your passion for the game the way these last three years have added to mine.

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Awesome, Bill.  I don't know what else I can add.  This blog entry has gone on long enough, so wanting to not completely bore our readers, I will simply say that it has been my pleasure to bring this website -- Tim & Bill's awesome work -- to the public.  As I said last year in the Uni Watch article launching us, I initially got involved because I wanted there to be a website that I could go to see the information...  When I couldn't find one (at least that had been updated since 2003) but learned that the information was being compiled just was in need of being put on the web, I felt I had to help.

So here we are, our partnership now a year old.  And our website stronger than ever.

Eventually we will be "complete" -- all the weekly pages, all the yearly team's week-by-week pages, all the head-to-head matchups.  But first we need to add the 1920-1932 yearly research, and as we told you in Uni Watch on Saturday, today we will be adding the 1920 graphics to our site, it will go live around 6 PM Eastern time tonight, and then each Tuesday we will add another year. Here again to tell us a little more about the pre-1933 graphics, is Bill:

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As we roll out the first offerings from the 1920s, I need to go through a few ground rules that Tim & I have set for these earliest 13 years. Despite variations in the pants during this time, we are (no pun intended) uniformly sticking with one model. We are sticking with the black belts even though we have observed nearly as many brown belts in extremely close-up photos. Sanitary socks have been noticed as early as 1925, however, they didn't become a regular part of the wardrobe until 1932 so they will not be included any earlier. Many shades of khaki/canvas for pants and helmets are based on whether they appeared darker or lighter than other clearly shown aspects of the uniform.

What I'd like to see is the GUD universe pull together and fill in the blanks. We've all but exhausted Google newspapers. Tim's dug through the Library of Congress and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, there is still a lot that is missing. Those readers and contributors, especially throughout the northeast and midwest, dig into your local newspaper archives and locate traces of those teams and seasons where we are lacking. Post some dated photos on the Forum. Let's finish this project at the back end so we are no longer fighting the battle on two fronts.

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So check with us later today and throughout the summer as we continue to build this website, now into our second year of existence.

Here in the blog, Larry Schmitt will be back Wednesday with another installment of "Matching Rivals" as he looks at the Chargers and Rams.


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