Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Uniform Change That Wasn't

Today, the talk on Paul Lukas' indispensable Uni Watch blog turned to mention of Ron Wolf's proposed 1994 uniform change, thanks to his Page 2 column.

I'll let Paul talk about it in his own words:
"(I) once sent a letter to the Green Bay Packers, urging them to reconsider their plans to change their uniforms and color scheme (this was in 1993, six years before the advent of Uni Watch), and was surprised to get a phone call and a note from Packers CEO Bob Harlan (who, fortunately, later changed his mind about all the uniform changes described in that letter)."
He included a scan of the letter (click to enlarge):

The uniform Harlan describes jives with a contemporaneous account published in the Packer Report, September 18, 1993:

Possible Color Change Outlined

There was a rumor Sunday the Packers would have a press conference concerning their uniforms colors during the week following the Eagle game. This, however, seemed certain: The Packers plan to change their uniforms next season, retaining the current dark green, but switching pants and helmets from the present yellow to metallic gold.

The Packers hope the changes will be approved by the NFL Properties by the beginning of next month so they can wear the new uniforms next season. Among other changes are the removal of stripes now on the helmet, jersey, and pants.

Packer President Bob Harlan told the Milwaukee Journal the gold was not the same as that worn by any other team and that it was selected by General Manager Ron Wolf and Coach Mike Holmgren. Harlan said the helmet would be switched from yellow to gold and have a large green "G" on each side and the jersey would have a smaller green "G" on each sleeve. The white numbers on the green home jerseys and the green numbers on the white road jerseys will also have a gold outline. The pants will be plain gold.

"Years and years ago, we wore a gold helmet and gold pants," Harlan said. "And I think that's what Ron wanted, a simpler uniform. They didn't want to look like New Orleans or the 49ers. They looked at different golds and picked out what they liked."

Of course, the 49ers have since changed their gold, and New Orleans wears about a dozen different shades of gold, so it's not a huge help in determining the shade Wolf and Holmgren picked out.

Here's my interpretation of what this might have looked like, based on those descriptions:

Personally, as a longtime Packer fan... I'd have been okay with this. Heck, I'd be okay with this today. Don't like the plain shell, but add a single gold stripe down the side of the pants and across the seam of the helmet, and it's beautiful. Honors Lombardi's legacy with echoes of Lambeau's. I know, I'm probably the only Packer fan who thinks so, but there you have it.

I also have a recollection of them publicly considering a switch back to Curly Lambeau's navy and gold, but that's probably my faulty memory conflating the 1994 uniform change, announced in late 1993, with the 1994 NFL 75th Anniversary throwbacks.

Again, I'd still have been okay with that. I love the gold yoke, and it would help focus attention on the Packers' glorious pre-Lombardi history, which tends to get ignored in the NFL's general amnesia surrounding the pre-Super Bowl era.

But Wolf eventually decided that he couldn't go through with it. According to an interview he gave the St Petersburg Times:
"I never liked the yellow color in the Packers scheme," Wolf said. "NFL books say it's 'green and gold' but anybody can see it's a Michigan kind of yellow, of maize, which didn't sit well with me.

"I put together a proposal to change Green Bay uniforms, replacing the yellow with a gold much like we see on Rams uniforms and helmets. There were some other changes but I wasn't messing with the "G' on Packers helmets."

Everything was approved by the seven-member executive committee that operates the Packers. All I had to do was give the go-ahead."

I repeatedly looked over drawings of the new Packers uniform, thinking I would soon be pulling the trigger on changes. But, after a little more thought, decided it just didn't fly. We needed to fix what was truly broken. What we really had to have was better people on the field."

If the Packers were ever to move away from Lombardi's uniform, this would have been the time. The Favre era was right around the corner, and Wolf's uniform would be viewed now as the one in which they won a Super Bowl, the one in which they brought glory back to Green Bay.

I'd love to see those drawings Wolf mentioned.
UPDATE: Jeff Ash, assistant online editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, mentioned this story on his excellent blog "Out of Bounds" (and was kind enough to give a hat tip). He had something new to add:

"Here's one more little detail I remember from that time:

Wolf wanted to see what the new uniform looked like on the players, but he wanted to keep it quiet. So he enlisted one of his assistants to put on the gear. You might know the guy. He used to be an NFL player. At the time, he was the Packers' director of pro personnel. It was Ted Thompson."

Outstanding. Wonder what Ted remembers of that fashion show?


Anonymous said...

My room-mate at university was the son of a Packers executive and worked for the team in the summers.

He described the gold used in the trial uniform as much more yellow they any of the 'gold' colours used by other teams; he called it by name -- 'Las Vegas Gold'.

He reported the uniforms being put on several bodies and trotted on to the field for viewing from the stands, and fully expected we'd see the change the next season;.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember the Milwaukee Journal doing a survey to get fan opinion of changing the Packer uniforms right around that time and the response was overwhelmingly against it (tradition being cited as the main reason). It didn't have a pic of the new uni so I guess it was just a general question.

I wish they would have - those Wolf unis are awesome.

Anonymous said...

I remember all this and I couldn't figure out why other than making money. Remember in the 90's when all kinds of teams (in all sports) took Teal as a color (teal/black specifically) during the expansions for baseball and football. The comment that Wolf couldn't pull the trigger and just decided to go fix what was really wrong (talent)rather than just divert people's attention. I love the packer uniforms. If they wanted to adjust the shade of gold, I could live with that. However, these uniforms represent the best period in the team's history. With a few adjustments through the years, they are Lombardi's uniforms. Look at the Bears and Packers....the uniforms represent continuity . They are the two oldest teams and the unis they wear...go back to the 60's