Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks for Throwbacks

Brett Favre and Ahman Green feast on turducken, Thanksgiving 2001

This Thursday, the Packers take on the Lions in Detroit's traditional Thanksgiving Day game.

Detroit's Thanksgiving legacy goes back to 1934. In 1951, the Packers joined the party and became the Lions' traditional opponent, traveling to the Motor City every year on the fourth Thursday in November. This lasted until Vince Lombardi pulled the Packers out of the annual meeting after the 1963 game, citing the unfair demands of playing a short-week road game every season (it certainly didn't help that the Packers went 3-10 during that span).

Since then, the Lions have faced a rotating series of opponents and the Packers have returned to Detroit for the Thanksgiving game only a handful of times. Twice, in 2001 and 2003, those games have been occasions to wear throwback uniforms, as part of the NFL's "Thanksgiving Classic" promotion (which began with the 2001 game and was discontinued after through 2004).

The 2001 uniform was based on an alternate introduced in 1939: white jerseys with green numbers, gold helmets, white socks.

I'm not convinced that the canvas-colored pants are historically accurate—the Packers were wearing gold pants with their navy jerseys by 1939—but they are in line with the similarly-inaccurate 1994 throwbacks.

It would be interesting to know how often this white alternate uniform was worn. The Packers had introduced their first white jersey the previous season to avoid the traditional navy-versus-navy confusion when facing the Chicago Bears. They might also have worn them as "clash jerseys" against the Cleveland Rams or New York Giants, who wore royal blue. Pictures from the 1939 season are scarce, but from news accounts we know the Packers wore their traditional navy and gold jerseys in the championship game against the Giants, on the way to their fifth world championship:

The 2001 Packers also fared well in their throwbacks, holding off a late Detroit surge to win the Turkey Day contest 29-27.

In an unusual move, the Packers offered pro-cut throwback jerseys for sale online in various sizes, which has resulted in a glut of Berlin-tagged jerseys on the secondary market. These retail jerseys (principally Favre's #4) are often misleadingly identified as "team issued" or even "game used" jerseys and sold as such at inflated prices.

Readers of Guy Hankel's wonderful blog White Mesh and Green Durene will remember the excellent article he published a few months ago, complete with great pictures of the real thing. If you missed it, go check it out.


Two years later, the Packers once again found themselves celebrating Thanksgiving in the Motor City. And once again, the Packers wore a classic Green Bay uniform. Trading Curly Lambeau for Vince Lombardi, the Packers took the field that day in an updated version of their 1967 road uniforms.

Unlike the previous encounter, the throwback changes were subtle.

The sleeve and neck stripes were alternating green and gold, unbroken by white, and the home sleeve striping pattern was repeated on the socks. The Packers wore black cleats, standard in the 1960s but wouldn't be re-introduced to the Packers' regular uniform until 2008. The pants striping was narrowed, echoing Lombardi's late 1960s design. Although the Reebok logos would adorn the sleeves and pants, the clunky "NFL EQUIPMENT" patch was nowhere to be seen.

The best part? Gray facemasks.

Although the Packers looked great, they failed to play up to the level of the uniforms, turning the ball over five times as the Lions won, 22-14.

These uniforms are far less common on the collectors' market. Not only did the Packers not sell pro-cut replica jerseys, they didn't offer authentic replicas at all (at least not online). Fans wishing to purchase one of these gorgeous jerseys had to settle for a lower-quality replica with screenprinted numbers.

Game worn jerseys do surface from time to time, though. Brett Favre's complete game uniform sold at auction for $7,582.00 in December 2004.

This beauty, worn by Al Harris, provides us with a closer view of the jersey details.

I would love to see the Packers bring this back as the road jersey. Trying to shoehorn the home jersey stripes into a different color pattern has never worked for me. You can't improve upon a classic, and every tweak of the road uniforms has resulted in another step backwards.

Sadly, the Thanksgiving Classic program was short-lived, so we'll see no such sartorial splendor from either the Packers or Lions this year. This most traditional of regular-season games will see Detroit's newfangled Honolulu blue, silver and black against the Packers' oh-so-close-but-no-cigar modern whites.


Tom said...

Until they showed the clip during Thursday's game, I had forgotten that they lost on Thanksgiving in '03. No, they didn't live up to the standard of that uniform.

Chance, have you seen the Press-Gazette's new book, "Titletown's Team?" Go to your local bookstore TODAY if you haven't. It's incredibly well done: Hundreds of photos, and well-researched. I know it takes a lot to impress the Uni Watch crowd; this one will.

Chance Michaels said...

I've ordered the book, but not yet read it. I've corresponded a bit with Jeff Ash, who writes the Press-Gazette's Out of Bounds blog and is a contributor to the book.

Looking forward to it, maybe it can be the subject of a later post.

Tom said...

Oh, I think it will be the subject of a post or two. ;-)

Jeff Ash turns up at UniWatch once in a while, doesn't he?