Friday, July 17, 2009

New Sheriff in Town Means New Badges for All

Edited based on comments, please see end of post.

On this date in history, July 17, 1959, the Packers announced that incoming head coach/general manager Vince Lombardi would be unveiling new team uniforms to mark the start of his tenure:

This was fairly unremarkable back in those days. Each successive Packers coach between Curly Lambeau and Lombardi attempted to put his own visual stamp on the organization.

Gene Ronzani scrapped Lambeau's traditional blue-and-gold color scheme, announcing "We are the Green Bay Packers." Ronzani would create a whole mix-and-match series of uniforms, including, in no particular order:

  1. solid blue jerseys with gold numbers, gold helmets and pants
  2. kelly green jerseys and pants with gold stripes on the sleeves and down the pants, gold numbers, metallic gold helmets
  3. bright gold jersey with green numbers
  4. white jersey with green numbers and pants
Under Ronzani, the uniforms were anything but uniform.

Four years later, new head coach Lisle Blackbourn decided to clear the slate and brought back navy as the Packers' primary color. His preferred uniform was a navy jersey with dark gold numbers and sleeve stripes, dark gold helmets and pants with single navy stripe.

Blackbourn also introduced the first Packers uniform without any gold whatsoever: navy jerseys with white numbers and Northwestern sleeve stripes, white helmets and pants with single navy stipe, seen here in action against the 49ers in Kezar Stadium.

(click for additional views)

In 1958, Scooter McLean chose to go with a "throwback" for his single year in charge, adopting Blackburn's 1956 season-opening green jersey as his primary home look.

And then, after all this mix-and-match chaos, Vince Lombardi came to town. And that was that. One classic green home uniform, one classic white road jersey. One helmet, one pair of pants. Simple, classy, elegant. The Packers finally had an identity, their first since Lambeau stalked the sidelines.

Although he couldn't have intended this, Lombardi's legacy with the Packers effectively put a stop to the practice of new coaches overhauling the uniforms (although one GM would be tempted).

UPDATE 7/22: Following up on Tom's comment, I have a larger picture of Gary Knafelc wearing #44 instead of his customary #84.

While it would have been possible for Knalfec to wear such a low number (the NFL's numbering system not being formally codified until 1973), according to Packers by the Numbers, he wore #84 exclusively throughout his tenure with the Pack. So, what to make of his photo?

Tom believes that he is modeling the new uniforms. Could be. The uniform is about right. Anybody else care to venture a guess?


Tom said...

Chance --

There's a photo that you've probably seen. It's of Gary Knafelc, standing inside Lambeau and on the field, wearing the Lombardi-era uniform but with jersey No. 44. I have presumed that, since he's not wearing his usual 84, that he was modeling the new uniforms.

This link has the only version of the image I can find online. I wish it wasn't so teeny.

Chance Michaels said...

I seem to recall it, but hadn't connected the number change with modeling new uniforms.

Thanks for the heads-up. Will have to see what else I can find.