Friday, June 26, 2009

Now THAT's a Room

The Green Bay Press-Gazette has a great story about a Packers fan named Scott Schwartz, who has taken his love of the Green and Gold to some pretty interesting heights.

I'd love to talk to him. If anybody out there can help, please leave a comment (I keep any comments private if requested).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hell Bent for Leather

This is an amazing find - a 1940s Rawlings VM1 leather helmet, size 7¼, worn by Charley Brock.

It's a real beaut, painted in Packers gold.

Brock's number 29 is stenciled on the back in green.

The Rawlings style is emblematic of the Packers in the 1940s. Here we see legend Tony Canadeo wearing one of these helmets in action:

It's suprisingly solid. Like many, I've always thought of the idea of a leather helmet as scant protection against collision. But this is really strong and firm. The same difference, I suppose, between a real horsehide motorcycle jacket and the cheap fashion version.

Charley Brock was a center who played 90 games for the Packers, from 1939-1947. He was selected out of Nebraska by the Packers with the 24th pick in the third round of the 1939 draft. In his rookie year, he played eight games for the squad on its way to the World Championship.

He was one of eight players to pick off nine passes against the Lions on October 24, 1943, setting an NFL single-game mark. The record was tied in 1965 by the Philadelphia Eagles against the Steelers, a record which the teams share to this day. After missing the last half of the 1943 season due to appendicitis, he returned to play all ten games in 1944 on the way to his second (and the Packers' sixth) title. In nine years with the Packers, he only missed seven games, all in either his rookie season or the illness-shortened 1943.

In this photo with Lambeau, Brock is holding a similar helmet:

After his playing career ended, Brock coached at St. Norbert College in DePere and at Omaha University before returning as an Assistant Coach under Curly Lambeau in 1949.

A five-time All-Pro, Brock was named to the NFL's 1940s All-Decade Team and in 1973 was elected to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.

I'm afraid that there isn't a lot of available information on Rawlings's leather helmets, but the VM1, or a variation thereof, was worn by the Packers for most of the 1940s. There's no mistaking the elongated padding on the side or the distinctive arc across the forehead.

Some of the helmets of this period were stamped with the word "PACKERS" in the leather, as can be (faintly) seen here on these photos of Canadeo and Don Hutson:

It's a little clearer in this Hall of Fame card illustration:

The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton has a Canadeo helmet which appears to be a similar type:

A handwritten number on the front seems uncommon but not unprecedented for the Packers.

The days of the leather helmet are long gone, lost in a wave of technological innovation, but they remain a defining image of the early decades of professional football. The VM1 stands among them, immortalized as one of the three helmets featured in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame logo.

A fitting tribute to a great football icon.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Enter the King?

Slightly off-topic today; not strictly uniform-related, but I'm always interested in the intersection of sports and design. Sometimes, as we'll see, those worlds don't intersect so much as collide.

In the early 1970s, Jack "the King" Kirby, the legendary comic-book artist who co-created Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the X-Men, the Avengers (oh, heck, pretty much every character of note at Marvel Comics), and DC's "Fourth World" saga, contributed illustrations to PRO!, the NFL's official program/magazine.

There obviously must have been some sort of tie-in with Marvel. Not the last time those two companies would get in bed together, although you may be forgiven if you have mercilessly purged any other example from your memory.

Among Kirby's contributions to PRO! was a series of comic-book characters done up in the colors of NFL teams, several of which were auctioned off this past February. The teams' influence on the characters seems to have been limited to the colors, as seen in his take on the Packers:

Not sure what to make of the whole "Aquaman" vibe. Guess Kirby took the first two words of the name literally.

It could have been worse, I guess - Forrest Gregg could have let him re-design the uniforms.

I'd love to know more about the genesis of Kirby's re-design project, maybe some context for the image - anybody have an old copy of PRO! lying around?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You'll Need a Jacket Out There

For as long as football teams have been wearing uniforms on the field, they've been wearing distinctive team jackets and coats on the sideline. We've taken a brief look at sideline capes here, today we turn our focus to jackets in all their forms.

This 1927 team photo shows Lambeau and his boys in their team pullover jackets, "GREEN BAY" proudly displayed across the chest. We know the socks were gold with two blue stripes, so we can perhaps infer that the jackets are blue with blue letters trimmed in gold, featuring gold piping (around the pockets?) and gold hoods.

(click for full team photo, including partial roster)

That's a pretty professional coat for the period. This Packers coat hanging in Canton (and identified there as belonging to the 1930 squad) is a standard duster bought off-the-rack with the team name hand-painted on the back:

The Packers were still wearing a variation of this style twelve years later, in 1942:

The Packers' Charles "Buckets" Goldenberg and an unidentified man at right wear team coats, or dusters, during a ceremony at halftime of the Packers' game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at State Fair Park in Milwaukee on Dec. 6, 1942. Fire Chief Ralph Drum gave Goldenberg a flag with 18 stars representing the number of Packers players in military service for World War II. (Press-Gazette archives)

Are those dusters navy or black, do you suppose?

What's really interesting to me about that photo is that Buckets Goldenberg appears to be wearing the team coat over his uniform, while the other man at right is wearing his over a suit. Versatile garmets, those. It makes me wonder if one of the reasons the dusters were chosen is that they could be purchased in large sizes and worn baggy over gear, much as sideline capes would later be.

At some point, the long dusters were replaced by waist-length jackets. From my own collection comes this 1949 gamer, issued to tight end Bill Kelley and worn during Curly's last year with the Packers. A plain, simple design, its lettering legible from the very last row of the stands:

The label proudly reveals the jacket was made by O'Shea Knitting Mills in Chicago, as were jerseys of the era.

Photo documentation of sideline gear is often hard to come by, but Don Hutson is wearing one in this 1947 wire photo:

It has the same cut, long cuffs, and set-in sleeves. From what we can see of the letters on his back it has the same distinctive serifed "S" and sans-serif "N". I'm pretty comfortable determining that it's the same style jacket.

Those simple blue jackets are a far cry from what the coaches would eventually wear on the sidelines:

More on this subject to come, naturally. There's an awful lot of ground to cover between those two extremes.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Think Green. Really Green.

When Marquette University alum (and former Chicago Bear) Gene Ronzani took over as Head Coach on February 7, 1950, he tossed out Curly Lambeau's famous blue and gold uniforms in favor of his own series of rotating designs, proclaiming at a press conference "We are the Green Bay Packers."

Ronzani sure wasn't kidding. Starting that year, and intermittently over the next few seasons, the Pack took to the field wearing what might charitably be called "Astroturf camouflage":

Yikes. Shiny green pants and all.

I understand the second coach in team history wanting a cutting-edge look to make people forget the other guy's thirty years in charge. Lambeau undoutbedly cast a very large shadow over his successor. But really, "Merry Men" was the best Ronzani could do?  The Packers have several uniforms in their history which would qualify as classics. These aren't among them.  

It's almost painful to see a Hall of Famer like Tony Canadeo wearing this clown suit, even if he is scoring a touchdown at the time:

Ronzani's designs were as short-lived as his tenure, as successful as his 14-31-1 record (he resigned with two games remaining in the 1953 season). Ronzani's successor Lisle Blackbourn brought to the club his own prodigious slate of uniforms, each of which featured contrasting jerseys and pants as the monochrome look faded into history. 

The NFL's design æsthetic was by then swinging firmly towards pants either matching the helmets (if light, such as the Packers, Lions, 49ers, Colts et al.), or neutral white/light team color (Bears, Giants, Eagles). This general design rule, solidified as the "professional look" by the increased television exposure of the 1960s, defined the sport for decades.

Of course, everything old is new again, and in 2002 the Seahawks kicked off a new matching fad with their overcast-blue overhaul. This type of mono-madness has become quite common in the NFL since then:

Every time I see the Ravens in their all-black ensemble, I get Gap commercial déjà vu:

Not surprising, given their long history, that the Packers dabbled in the all-green monochrome look. But if the Packers weren't immune to this fad, at least they had the good sense to quickly abandon it.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Camel's Nose, Meet Tent

Greeted this morning by some disturbing news courtesy of the Associated Press:

Packers could sell ad space on practice jerseys

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)—The Green Bay Packers are hoping to take advantage of a new NFL rule allowing teams to attach a small patch with a corporate logo to the jerseys players wear in practice.

Packers senior vice president of marketing and sales Laura Sankey called the possibility of selling advertising space on practice jerseys a “very meaningful” way for a sponsor to link itself with the team.

“It’s always exciting when the league opens new categories for sponsorship, particularly one that is so closely linked to our players and our jerseys,” Sankey said. “A practice jersey patch is a very unique and visible way for a sponsor to be involved with training camp, the team and our fans.”

The Houston Texans also have indicated an interest in taking advantage of the rule, which applies only to jerseys worn in practice.

Sponsor logos already are widespread during U.S. auto racing and golf events, and the Phoenix Mercury announced this week that they will become the first WNBA team to put a sponsor’s name, Lifelock, on their jerseys.

Such deals are considered commonplace in Europe, where soccer giant Manchester United announced Wednesday that it had reached a four-year sponsorship agreement with Chicago-based insurance broker Aon Corp.

The club did not announce financial terms but British newspapers reported that the deal, which begins in the 2010-11 season, was worth 80 million pounds ($131.2 million) over the four years.
What would this look like? We already have a pretty good idea - the Titans have been doing this for the past few seasons.

A little hard to make out in this photo, but the patch reads "Baptist Sports Medicine". Apparently, they are the "exclusive healthcare provider" of the Titans (click patch for link). provides us with some background on the Titans' patches:

Titans Wore Practice Jersey Patches Without League Approval
Posted on June 3, 2009, 4:47 p.m. EDT

We’ve tracked down more information regarding the fact that the Titans have been, for at least a couple of years, wearing a “Baptist Sports Management” (sic) patch on their practice jerseys.

With the league adopting in March a rule allowing teams to rent space on the shirts they wear while practicing, we perceived the implication to be either the Titans were breaking the prior rule or the league had bent the rule for the Titans.

Actually, the Titans were simply winging it, since there previously was no league rule addressing the situation, one way or the other.

“There was no policy prohibiting what the Titans did with their practice jerseys,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told us via e-mail. “Then the concept was discussed by our Business Ventures Committee, which decided that there should be a set of rules for this opportunity.”

So, basically, the rule passed in March validated the Titans’ approach, and formally extended the opportunity to every other team.
Ugh. Obviously, this raises the specter of ads on game uniforms, highlighted by the recent Phoenix Mercury deal. And as the AP notes, shirt sponsorship is common in world soccer.

Shirt sponsorship made its United States team sports debut via Major League Soccer in 2007. Currently eleven of the fifteen clubs have shirt sponsors, if not necessarily the big, prestigious electronics conglomerates or international airlines you find in European soccer:

So how should we react to this news? My fear is that it will be looked at as a new revenue stream, and of other teams tap that stream then the Packers might feel they have to adopt it as well, to stay current with the Joneses. Sort of an embroidered version of luxury boxes or personal seat licenses.

Personally, as much as I dislike the idea (I don't even like to see manufacturers' logos on uniforms, much less sponsor logos), so long as it remains restricted to practice gear I suppose I can live with it. Maybe.

I'm also a little distressed that the Packers were so quick to jump on this new NFL rule. This wasn't a Press-Gazette or Journal Sentinel piece on how the local teams are reacting to the rule, but a national story on wire services promiently featuring the Packers salivating over the prospect. I do wish that the team was more interested in protecting the integrity of its visual identity rather than "open(ing up) new categories for sponsorship, particularly one that is so closely linked to our players and our jerseys". But perhaps that's just me, I'm old-fashioned that way.

Besides, how much exposure would this really bring to a sponsor, especially given that the Titans have been doing this for a couple years without anybody outside Nashville noticing? Practice games aren't widely covered. The Packers don't merchandise practice jerseys. It's doubtful that these patches would be seen outside the team's local market.

Quick test - do you even know what the Packers' practice jerseys look like? No Googling, now.

Answer: just like the regular home and road jerseys, only without TV numbers and sleeve stripes.

If the "sponsorship opprtunitity" has a decidedly local cast, then, who might buy it? Thinking along the lines of the Titans' deal, the Packers have a whole slew of official healthcare providers from which to choose. Perhaps we could see a Touchpoint Health Plan or St. Vincent Hospital patch. Or perhaps they would select one of the Lambeau Field gate sponsors, already well-associated with the Packers in the minds of locals - Miller Brewing, the Oneida Tribe, Mills Fleet Farm or Verizon. I suppose the NFL wouldn't look favorably on an alcohol sponsorship, so Miller (potentially the deepest pockets) would be out. Other local companies (and sponsors) off the top of my head include Associated Bank, ShopKo, American Family Insurance, and maybe Kohler. Do you think the Packers would mind a plumbing company's logo on their practice jerseys?

The risk team runs is that the sponsor company's circumstances change, and the association turns out not to be exactly what they were hoping for when they originally signed the contract, as Manchester United recently discovered:

Whoops. Way to project an image of strength and stability there.

Then again, that sort of morning-after regret isn't exactly exclusive to shirt sponsorship:

Hope the Packers can avoid this pitfall, if it comes to it.

UPDATE 06/05: Sure enough, the Bears are publicly considering this as well. If one team starts taking this money, which teams will refuse it?

UPDATE 06/12: The Texans have been approached by a potential sponsor, an adult video company. As Paul Lukas said, lie down with fleas....

UPDATE 06/18: And the first team to actually sign a deal under this new rule... The New York Football Giants, who as part of a larger sponsorship deal will wear the Timex logo on their practice jerseys. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has a six-figure personal endoresement deal with Timex competitor Citizen, so he'll reportedly have to remove his jersey before giving any post-practice press conferences. Awkward.