To see Bill's inspiration for the headline, please see this clip.
Yes indeed, the Zebras, are coming, HOORAY HOORAY!!
After several years of hard research, debate, yellow flags, red flags, false starts, coaches' challenges, overturned calls, further reviews, controversy, not to mention illegal use of the hands and "giving him the business", the Gridiron Uniform Database is proud to add the full graphic history of game officials uniforms. We believe this to be the first sports uniform database of any kind to graphically display a detailed history of game officials attire.
This is a project that has been in the making for several years. Mainly due to Tim's constant pestering and prodding of Bill to go all in. It took awhile, but Bill, rather than punching Tim in the snoot, relented and we finally started the task during the 2013 NFL season.
The project had its aegis with Tim's research into the chronological history of Game Officials Uniforms, which is still located under the GUD's research tab page. This listed, on a timeline basis using the NFL's inception in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) as a starting point, a detailed description of changes through the years to the palette of the uniform up to 2012. Included in the narrative was any memorials for deceased officials, special Super Bowl uniforms and patches, and the like. Also included was the timelines for AFL and AAFC officials threads. Of course, since this chronology was added to the GUD, there have been many additions and changes made to the graphic renderings, which we will note later in this blog.
The first major challenge for Bill was switching gears entirely and creating a referee template from scratch. So used to using the football player templates that he perfected, this was not necessarily an easy endeavor. Going from helmets to caps (baseball and "newsboy"), jerseys to cotton shirts and pullover zip-up collar shorts, knickered pants and full length slacks, as well as baseball styled stirrups was indeed a daunting task. But after several sometimes frustrating attempts, we believe we came up with a rather versatile template that clearly depicts all of the necessary visual elements of the officials' unis.
We can present a general synopsis of the definitive "eras" of the officials' unis as follows:
1920-1937, The DIY era:
In the beginning, likely as a cost-cutting measure, the NFL employed local officials to call football games. In other words, for a contest between let's say the New York Giants at the Pottsville Maroons, the officials working the game would be from Pottsville's hard coal region. These officials as well as all others, would have to supply their own uniforms. The NFL dress code for a referee, umpire, headlinesman (and starting in 1929, a field judge) required a white dress shirt, a black bowtie, white knickers, and black knee socks. A newsboy style cap, red for referees, white for the other officials, while not required, was encouraged. Most of these items could be had from a nearby sporting goods store, or in the case of the caps, white dress shirt, black bowtie, and perhaps the socks, were bought at the local haberdasher. Because these supplies were not furnished by the NFL, there was much variance in what these guys looked like. We decided to simply use a generic template of uniform for this period.
1938-1940, A transition phase:
At this time, we don't really know when the NFL established a general roster of officials, who would work games across the land. But in these few years, the officials appeared to be more "uniform" with their clothing. In 1938, we saw some games - including the NFL Championship Game - where officials are wearing a blue shirt supplied by the NFL, with a very large NFL shield on the front and a big "NFL" monogram on the back. The newsboy cap featured soutache stripes. By 1939, the blue top looks to have disappeared, but the knicker pants were dropped in favor of full length white trousers. These pants lasted into 1940.
1941-1947, The Candy Striper Era:
The NFL followed the lead of several college conferences and adopted striped shirts for all of its officials, but put their own stamp of look by thickening the stripes and color coding the disciplines, with varying stripe combinations of black/white, red/white, orange/white and green/white. There is no doubt that the League now employed a full roster, as the uniforms were fully supplied by the NFL and for the first time, the officials wore numbers on their backs. While caps were still not a must, all that wore them wore white caps, and baseball caps were now a choice to wear along with the venerable newsboy lids.
1947-1959, The Red Numbers Era:
With the addition of a fifth on field official (the Back Judge), rather than adding another color combo to the mix, the League decided to scrap the rainbows and dress all of the refs in black and white stripes and make all the numbers a straight block red on the backs. In effect, fully ushering in the zebra look. A tiny NFL shield was sewn on the front left breast of the shirts. One notable change was that now all officials must wear a white baseball cap, although the newsboys were grandfathered in for those who preferred that look.
1960-1978, The Black Box Era:
While the change was minimal, dropping the red numbered black & white shirts in favor of striped tops with a black box in which a rounded font of white numbers were tucked inside, this change provided the NFL refs with arguably their most iconic look. Other items of note from this change was that the black socks' stirrups were now exposed over the white sanitary socks and in 1964, the officials were finally supplied with short-sleeved shirts, for those warm/hot early season and Sun Belt games.
1979-1981, The Nameplate Era:
Not drastic, but important and groundbreaking, for the first time since the 1930's, the head official, the referee, now wore a different cap (black) to distinguish him from his crewmates (white). Also, notable was that the officials each wore a nameplate, not of his surname, but rather his officiating position. All positions were spelled out across his back in white over a strip of black. The roster number was also based on position as opposed to the previous practice of being numbered by the general roster.
1982-2005, The Big Numbers Era:
Apparently not totally satisfied with the changes that were made in 1979, the NFL tweaked these elements with dropping the nameplate idea and went with a simple initial or initials to identify the officials' positions. The NFL also returned to the general roster method of numbering its officials. The other notable tweak was to significantly increase the size of the back numbers. Memorial armbands for active officials who passed away were used in several seasons during this era. Other items of note for this lengthy era was a reversal of cap colors in 1988, the NFL shield - though tiny - returning to the shirts in 1991, a nostalgic return of the newsboy caps for several throwback games in 1994 (in celebration of the NFL's 75th season), a commemorative patch for former Commissioner Pete Rozelle worn for Super Bowl XXXI, the addition of the American flag patch following the 9/11 attacks, and adding The Shield to the front of the caps starting with Super Bowl XXXIX.
2006-present: The Black Slacks Era:
After a generation of relative stability with the officials uniform, the NFL made a drastic overhaul of the garb, impacting the shirts and perhaps controversially, the pants. The shirt's striping pattern was tricked up a bit and limited to the torso, with the sleeves in black complimented with a white stripe extending from the neck to sleeve edge. In addition, the back position ID/back number was altered by being reduced in size and being black in a white field as opposed to the other way around. While the white knickers were basically the same as before (though black side stripes would be added in 2008), a new set of full length black pants were added to the wardrobe. The first time since 1940 that full length pants were worn and the first time EVER that non-white trousers were worn. The long pants were added specifically for cold weather games so that the officials could hide the additional layers of clothing under the pants. However, by 2012, the black pants would be worn for all games, regardless of the conditions. Speaking of 2012, there were no less than three phases of shirts worn; positionless shirts for replacement officials as the regular refs were locked out, the standard shirts as worn from 2006-2011, and then a new set of shirts with a new font just a few weeks later. Another twist to the equation which added to the numerous combinations seen in recent years was the inclusion of pink festooned uniforms for October being designated as "Breast Cancer Awareness Month."
The GUD has left no stone unturned with regards to the American Football League and the All-America Football Conference either.
We have displayed all known combinations of the orange/red and white striped officials of the AFL (and yes, the black and white ones, too) for its full 10 year run and the thinly stripe shirted officials of the AAFC's four year history.
And last, but definitely, not least, we have even added the World Football League game officials uniforms here, and the United States Football League here to our respective sister sites, including those nifty USFL black shorts combos when things got hot on those hotter mid-summer Astroturf fields!
As mentioned earlier, here are the more notable changes from the original text chronology on the GUD:
1920-1937: Changed black cap to red cap.
1932-1937: Added white sanitaries to the template.
1938: Narrowed down the wearing of the blue shirt as a shirt as opposed to a jacket and the use of soutache striped caps with further research.
1939-1940: Noted the wearing of full length white pants.
1941-1946: Deleted the note of "mackinaw coat" being worn as their design mirrored that of the normal shirt.
1960: Deleted the notation of the "slicker" being worn for rainy games. Though they were worn during the 60-78 era, we did not feel the need was there to include this accessory.
2002: Added Super Bowl XXXVII patch to left sleeve, which was not noted in the description.
2007-2013: Added Breast Cancer Awareness Month accessories to the graphics, which were not in the descriptions.
2010: Added Bill Lawing memorial patch to caps, which had not been noted in the description.
2011: Added Bill Lovett memorial patch to caps, which had not been noted in the description.
2012: Added more detail to the changes in shirts that occurred during the season.
1960 (AFL): Added the preseason only uniforms.
1961 (AFL): Changed the uniforms to the correct fashion worn. Was previously lumped in with the 1962-64 uniforms, which was incorrect.
1965-1967: Changed the stripes to a more reddish orange tint. Description listed stripes as red.
Of course as always, we would appreciate any additional alerts to any errors or omissions you may find in the officials pages or the usual uniform pages on the GUD.
We are thrilled to bring you this latest and most unique addition to the GUD. It's also a "gud" way to pay tribute to those unsung gentlemen who keep law and order on the field!
The Zebras Are HERE! Hooray! Hooray!!