Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 9: Happy Halloween

Holiday wishes from the Green Bay Packers Uniform Database:

That's OT Ken Ruettgers, who played with the Packers from 1985 through 1996, obviously in the holiday mood for a Monday Night Football game played on Halloween 1994.

So what on Earth is he wearing? That's one of the two throwback uniforms worn in 1994 by the Packers as part of the NFL's celebration of its 75th Anniversary (I'll cover the other in a later entry). It's a throwback to 1937. Not a terribly accurate throwback - the original featured gold numbers on the white jersey, but that's about as legible as it sounds. Rather than outline the gold numbers in navy, the Packers decided to use simply navy block numbers.

Since the look hearkened back to the leather-helmet days, and therefore doesn't translate perfectly into today's form-fitting armor look, the Packers simply stripped off all decals and went with simple gold plastic shells for their throwback games (providing a nice blank canvas for Ken). They didn't bother to change out the standard green facemasks, resulting in a somewhat patchwork appearance up close.

On October 31st, 1994, the Packers journeyed south to take on the Bears at Soldier Field. Playing in a torrential downpour, with gusts of up to 36mph, the Packers crushed the Bears 33-6.

The Bears, wearing 1920s-style throwbacks, turned the ball over five times in that game (the Packers managed not to lose it even once), didn't score until the fourth quarter, when the Packers had already put it away.

That picture above tells another story - look at all the empty seats. The foul weather resulted in 19,000 hardy Chicagoans deciding to stay dry and watch the game at home.

No word on whether or not Ruettgers took his helmet trick-or-treating in Chicago before heading back north.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 8: Good Bye

No Packers game this week, so I thought that it might be a good time to discuss the various ways the Packers have paid tribute to persons associated with either the club or the National Football League.

The first uniform tribute of which I am aware came during Super Bowl XXXI, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had died the previous month, was honored with a helmet decal worn by both clubs:

The next tribute came in the 2003 season, when Tony Canadeo passed away. Tony was a mainstay in the Packers organization from the day he was picked by the Packers out of Gonzaga in the ninth round of the 1941 draft (#77 overall).

"The Gray Ghost", as he was styled on account of his prematurely gray hair, would go on to a Hall of Fame career with Green Bay. In twelve seasons with the Packers, he ran for 4,971 career rushing yards on 1,025 attempts (a 4.2 average) and passed for 1,642 yards and made 69 receptions for 579 yards. His number 3 was retired in 1952, the second number so honored by the Pack. After his retirement, Canadeo was a fixture in Green Bay, serving the club as broadcaster and member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. After stepping down, he was a Director Emeritus until his death.

Tony passed away on November 29, 2003, at the age of 84. Starting with the following game, December 17th against the Bears, the team added a memorial decal to the back of their helmets, which they wore for the rest of the season. The decal featured Candeo's number 3 in white within a black football:

The following season saw two different helmet tributes. Week Two saw a one-game tribute to Pat Tillman, the first active NFL player to be killed in combat since 1970. The League-wide decal incorporated Tillman's number 40 in a black circle bordered with a broken white line:

The decal would be worn by the Cardinals for the remainder of the season. Players on other teams, most notably Jake Plummer of the Broncos, asked for permission to wear it beyond Week Two but were denied on the grounds that some players wearing a memorial and some not wearing it would make the uniforms less, well, uniform.

Later that same season, on December 26, 2004, Packers legend Reggie White passed away at the age of 43. White was a symbol of the Packers' resurgence in the 1990s, the Packers' biggest signing since the advent of free agency. A dominant defensive presence, he helped lead the Packers to two Super Bowls and one World Championship. His on-field accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but can be read on the Packers' site.

The White tribute decal, a clear circle with his number 92 in black, was worn for the remainder of the season.

The next helmet memorial would come in 2007, after the murder of Washington safety Sean Taylor. Worn League-wide, it was similar in design to the Tillman tribute, except for the latter's broken white border:

Perhaps mindful of the controvery surrounding the denial of Plummer's tribute to Tillman, the NFL allowed players to wear it for the rest of the season, at their own discretion. I don't have any specific numbers for individual players to back this up, but I seem to recall virtually all Packers continued to wear it for the rest of the season.

Then there's the Gene Upshaw mess, which I talked about earlier this season.

It's amazing to see how commonplace these types of tributes have become in recent years. Tony Canadeo was the third of the Packers' retired-number greats to pass away, but the first to be given a memorial decal. Neither Don Hutson nor Ray Nitschke were so honored, for the sole reason that such memorials hadn't yet become standard. In early 1997, the Pete Rozelle helmet decal was a big deal; today it'd hardly be mentioned.

I'm interested in earlier Packer memorials - did they ever wear black armbands for anyone back in the day? If you have any information, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Week 6: Stripes!

Watching the Packers roll the Seahawks in Seattle this weekend, I was reminded of what I really dislike about the Packers' road uniforms.

It's the stripes.

Part of the essential beauty of the Packer uniform lies in its repetition of themes - the pants match the helmet's colors and striping. White stripe between two green stripes against gold. The same pattern is repeated all over the Packers' uniform.

But on the road jerseys, the stripes are a mismatch.

I don't know why they made that choice - I'm presuming that the team thought gold against white didn't provide enough contrast, so the outer stripes were changed to green, and everything else flowed from that.

This could have been easily solved by putting thin green stripes around the outer gold stripes, similar to what the Steelers do with their gold stripes:

See? A touch of black, and they can keep the standard striping. Not so hard.

This Packer sleeve stripe pattern is one of the last vestiges of Forrest Gregg's 1984 overhaul (the subject of a future post, no doubt). It's also terribly ugly, as were most of Gregg's uniform "improvements." I really can't stand those little white stripes around gold.

Personally, I prefer the classic Lombardi look for the road whites:

It's not trying to be a photo-negative of the home jerseys, but finds a balance that works well on its own. No little white stripes needed.

For Thanksgiving 2003, the Packers wore a modified version of this jersey as part of a 1960s throwback:

I think those were a huge improvement over the regular road jerseys, and would love to see this brought back full-time. Not so sure that the "glory years" of 1984-87 are particularly worth enshrining in nylon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Week 5: Anything to avoid talking about the game

Okay, I could post on yet another really painful loss (and at Lambeau, no less), but I'd rather talk about my pet peeve. That stupid "NFL EQUIPMENT" tag.

The NFL unveiled a new logo this past off-season:

A big upgrade, to my eye. It took a lot of random elements and gave them meaning - the football now echoes the Lombardi Trophy, one star for each division (unlike the random 25 stars). I've never been a big fan of the flourish on the "L" so the simplified text works for me, although I do wish the designer could have lined them up better with the bottom of the shield.

I was really hoping that the NFL would use this new logo as an excuse to get rid of the awful "NFL EQUIPMENT" tag on the throats of jerseys.Once upon a time (that is to say, from 1991 through 2001) all teams wore an NFL logo at the throat. Unlike the batter logo on the backs of MLB clubs' jerseys and caps, this was never in team colors but always in the League's standard blue and red.

Authentic merchandised jerseys had this patch, replicas (lower price point, usually with screened numbers instead of tackle twill) didn't.

Then, one year after Reebok took over the uniform contract for the League, the shield was replaced with a large white patch, featuring a smaller shield under the word "EQUIPMENT".

This logo, which I can only presume was designed to imbue lots of merchandise with the sheen of authenticity, was then slapped on all jerseys for sale, not to mention plenty of other (non-field) items, such as this womens' jacket:

I hate it.

First of all, the overall effect of reducing the size of the NFL shield, surrounding it with a white field and subordinating it to big block letters is to diminish its impact. It's illegible at any distance.

Secondly, it has the smell of the old "PROPERTY OF THE GREEN BAY PACKERS" t-shirts, which I always found silly at best. I see somebody walking down the street with one of those things, and want to shake him and yell "No, it isn't. The closest that shirt ever got to the Packers is the NFL online shop's warehouse." But maybe that's just me.

Long story short, this season it's a new tiny logo on the same ugly patch.

A Modest Proposal

Been thinking about this one for a while, but it may be time for a slight change to the Packers' uniforms.

The NFL is currently testing a new skin-tight uniform, to be spread throughout the league soon (as the NHL did a couple years ago).

Looking at the new protoptypes, and considering the slowly-developing problem of disappearing sleeves, you can see the problem. There's barely enough room for even the Packers' downsized stripes as it is; once the new jersey cuts are unveiled they might be banished from the sleeves altogether.

And that actually might be a good thing.

Here's my proposal: Remove the stripes from the jersey sleeves altogether, and place them on the compression shirts players wear under the jerseys.

Okay, my Photoshop skills aren't the best. But you get the general idea.

Players could then crop their sleeves as short as they like (well, within reason), and maybe we could even create enough real estate on the arms to restore the proper Lombardi stripe pattern:
Plus, the NFL could actually start selling the compression shirts branded as "Authentics."

I smell a win-win.

UPDATE 9/1/2010: Looks like Nike agrees, introducing these Oregon State throwback uniforms to be worn in the 2010 Civil War game with Oregon:

UPDATE 10/17/2010: Now that Nike will be taking over the NFL uniform contract beginning in 2012, this seems more possible now than ever.