Sunday, January 31, 2010

Forrest Gregg's 1968 Pro Bowl helmet

As the NFL plays its Pro Bowl today, we look back at an earlier game convention that has fallen by the wayside.

Today, all players wear their individual team helmets with their conference uniforms. That wasn't always the case - before the early 1990s, players would wear dark helmets with white conference logos - blue for the NFC, red for the AFC. For a period before the NFL/AFL merger, Pro Bowlers from both teams wore gold helmets, with the NFL logo on each side and center stripes in the conference color (Western Conference teams such as the Packers wore blue and white stripes, while representatives of the Eastern Conference wore red and white stripes).

In those days, players brought their own helmets to the Pro Bowl which were then altered, such as this helmet worn by Forrest Gregg in the 1968 Pro Bowl game:

What's particularly interesting about this helmet is what it tells us about the Packers' iconic helmet logo. You can clearly see that it is comprised of two separate decals - the green ellipse and white "G" each stand out in relief under the gold spray paint (the team decals were removed entirely from the left side).

I don't know when the Packers moved to the single-layer decal they wear now, but it appears to have been after 1968.

UPDATE 02/17: Helmet Hut has a great article about this helmet on their website, including a color photo of Gregg in the 1968 Pro Bowl.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Spirit of '94

Although the Packers' 1994 navy and gold throwback uniforms haven't actually been worn by the Bays since the their brief appearance sixteen years ago, they tend to pop up in merchandise from time to time.

The first such example of which I am aware is this throwback jersey manufactured by Philadelphia-based "nostalgia company" Mitchell & Ness, still available from the Packers Pro Shop.

A couple years ago they made an appearance in Madden '08 as an alternate, with the addition of "TV numbers" on the shoulders:

In 2006, a toy company named Art Asylum introduced a series of stylized 11-inch PVC action figures, including one of Brett Favre in his home green jersey. The following year they created three alternate versions of the Favre figure, including one in his 1994 throwback.

Couple interesting things about this figure - the towel at his waist bears the Packers' 75th Anniversary logo, meaning Favre would have worn it in 1993, not 1994. And his gray/green pants are closer to the minty green of the 1950 Bowman card series than either the gold pants originally worn by the team or the canvas-colored pants of the 1994 throwback.

That same year, Gracelyn Toys added a throwback Favre to their line of articulated 4" action figures. This time, they got the pants right:

Clearly, there's an interest in this uniform. Maybe it's the novelty factor, seeing the Green Bay Packers without any green. Maybe it's just the general throwback mania. But whatever the reason, I'm glad to see them remain in the public eye.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Packers v. Cardinals, way back when. Again.

We've recently seen some great color photos of the Packers' in their short-lived green and gold uniforms from 1935 and 1936, to which I'd like to add this action shot.

This rare game photo shows the Packers facing off against the Chicago Cardinals at old City Stadium on September 13, 1936:

Off-tackle power play (above) gains ground for the Chicago Cardinals against the Green Bay Packers. The Cardinals, wearing light-blue pants and bright-red jerseys, have made a big hole for Al Nichelini, No. 43, their fast ball-carrying back. Harry Field, No. 31, Cardinal tackle, is cutting back toward the center of the line to block the Packers backfield men.
Nichelini's running wouldn't be enough to carry Chicago to victory - the Packers fought them on the ground for a 10-7 win.

Those helmets are interesting - I haven't seen many photos of the Packers wearing contrasting leather stripes. the Packers' leather helmets were usually one solid color, either natural leather (particularly in the 1920s) or painted gold. This seems to have been a short-lived style, like these uniforms themselves.

Hat tip to Tom Farley, who originally posted this photo on the ever-indispensable Uni Watch blog.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hearts of Gold

In 1957, as television broadcasts became commonplace, the NFL instituted a rule requiring teams to have light-colored jerseys for road trips. Before then, it was not uncommon for both teams to take to the field wearing the same color. Throughout the Packers' history to that point, it was most common to see this kind of "color clash" with the Bears, navy jersey against navy jersey. A different color clash occured in early December 1952 when the Packers journeyed to Los Angeles to take on the Rams.

As we've seen, the Packers often wore gold jerseys during the Gene Ronzani era of the early 1950s. The Los Angeles Rams also wore gold jerseys during this period, as seen on this picture of Crazylegs Hirsch, from his 1956 Topps card.

For the game at the Coliseum on December 7th, both teams wore their gold jerseys. LA coach Hampton Pool, not happy about the clash, played the game under protest. From newspaper coverage of the time, you can see how easily this would become confusing:

Pool needn't have bothered with his protest - the Rams won handily, 45-27.

(h/t: Timmy B)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Packers v. Cardinals, way back when

In honor of today's playoff matchup between the Packers and the Cardinals, here's a game photo of the two teams from the 1940s, when the Cards were still in Chicago and the Packers played their Milwaukee games at State Fair Park.

Click for larger version:

On, you Blue and Gold, to glory!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Man in the Iron (Face)Mask

I'm intrigued by this Sports Illustrated cover of Bart Starr from 1961:

It's hard to tell from the scan, but it appears that Starr's gray facemask is covered with green paint, flaking and scraping off.

If that is the case and not just a photographic quirk, the helmet would have looked something like this:

That one SI cover isn't the only indication that the Packers were experimenting with a green facemask. The cover of the Packers' 1960 yearbook, with a game photo presumably taken in 1959, appears to show Paul Hornung and Jerry Kramer wearing dark facemasks:

This press photograph of Boyd Dowler, taken on December 6, 1959 in Los Angeles during a game against the Rams, would seem to confirm it.

I'm usually reluctant to read too much into old photographs, especially considering how many of them were hand-tinted and recolored with rather interesting results:

In this case, it does seem plausible. Now, we do know that if this was an early experiment with green facemasks, it was short-lived (and based on that Sports Illustrated cover, we may know why). The gray would be firmly established before the helmet logo was added in 1961:

If the Packers had been able to make the green facemask work back in 1959 or 1960, they would have been at the forefront of football uniform evolution. Although colored facemasks weren't unknown in the 1950s, they wouldn't become a fully-integrated element of team design until the Chargers issued gold to all players in 1974.

The Chargers' gold facemasks kicked off a revolution. The Bills joined the club with blue two years later, and virtually all other teams would follow (including the Packers in 1980). Three teams held fast to their original gray: the Cardinals, Cowboys and Raiders (leaving only the Cardinals with a facemask outside the team color palette).

Gray facemasks have made a resurgence in recent years as a more traditional æsthetic has returned to the NFL. When teams want to adopt an old-school football look, gray facemasks are positively de rigueur.

The gray facemask (especially a single- or double-bar quarterback version) signifies toughness, endurance. As John Facenda once said, "It speaks of duels in the snow and cold November mud". He was talking about Vince Lombardi's name, but the two are inexorably entwined. They are both enduring icons of the 1960s, the most significant era in pro football's history.

How different would the sport's æsthetics be today if Bart Starr had worn this helmet during the first two Super Bowls?

Monday, January 4, 2010

White Knights

In 1938, the Packers introduced their first white jersey, an alternate designed to avoid a "color clash" when the Packers faced the Bears, Cleveland Rams or other blue-clad squads. The white jersey with green numbers was worn with white socks and the Packers' standard gold helmets and pants.

Packers quarterback Cecil Isbell models the team's first white jersey

Clarke Hinkle in a 1938 promotional wire photo (reverse here)

This uniform would form the basis of the 2001 Thanksgiving Day throwbacks.

Ahman Green rushes for a touchdown in Detroit

There don't appear to have been any hard and fast rules about the circumstances under which the alternate was worn, given the number of navy-on-navy matchups the Packers played against the Bears. Perhaps Curly Lambeau, knowing how they irritated George Halas, just liked tweaking his nose.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

1994 meets 1944

As part of the National Football League's 75th Anniversary celebration, every team wore throwback uniforms for select games. The Packers dipped into their history to don the navy-and-gold of Curly Lambeau's heyday, as seen in this team photo given away to fans at the Wild Card playoff game against Detroit:

The throwback uniforms, designed to evoke the 1938-1949 togs which saw the Packers win two World Championships, were worn against Philadelphia on September 18th, Tampa Bay on September 25 and New England on October 2nd.

The shoulder patch commemorates the League's diamond anniversary.

A road white version was worn only once, at a Monday Night Football matchup against the Bears at Soldier Field on Halloween.

The canvas-colored pants are an interesting choice, possibly motivated by a bad photograph of the old uniforms. We do know that for at least some of this period the Packers of the day wore gold pants (albeit in varying shades, as the different materials reacted to the dye):

I suspect that the problem might have originated with the Bowman cards from 1950, which featured player photographs traced and hand-tinted. For some inexplicable reason, the Packers' pants were colored a lovely shade of minty green:

Back in 1994, that card set was one of the only available color representations of Lambeau-era Packer uniforms. Might khaki have seemed preferable to light green?

These throwbacks continue to surface at auction from time to time, almost invariably misidentified. In 1998, several team-issued (but not game-worn) home and road throwback jerseys were re-branded with Brett Favre's name and number and sold at auction, leading to a glut of phony "Favre gamers" on the collectors' market.

Although the Packers gave out the throwback photo, they wore their regular home uniforms during that 1994 Wild Card playoff match at Lambeau. It was a great game, as the Packers held Barry Sanders to -1 yard rushing and beat the Lions, 16 to 14.

The fans' euphoria would be short-lived, as the Packers fell to Dallas in the divisional round the following week, but on that one day in December the Packers looked like they might be ready to recapture a little of the magic of Curly's World Champions.