Monday, December 27, 2010


Sharp-eyed viewers noticed something new in last Sunday's game against the Giants. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, back after sitting out a week with his second concussion of the season, was sporting a new helmet:

That's the Schutt AiR XP, modified with Aaron's standard facemask.

Previously, Rodgers wore a classic Riddell shell. The external difference between the two is most noticeable in the construction of the side and shape of the earhole. Here's his old lid:

Going forward, the round ear hole will be the easiest way to identify pre-Week 16 of 2010 photographs of Rodgers.

From behind, the Schutt looks much the same as his old Riddell:

I hadn't noticed it before, but the Packers have moved the player identification decal off the center stripe. Looking through the archives, this tweak appears to have been made between Week 8 (at the Jets) and Week 9 (against the Cowboys).

Details on the new helmet are sketchy, other than vague reports that it is "specially modified with extra padding to reduce the risk of sustaining another concussion". It isn't clear if those "special modifications" refer to the off-the-rack Air XP, which was originally designed to minimize concussions, or if they're talking about custom modifications to the standard helmet.

Rodgers isn't alone in wearing the AiR XP; it has been seen on Donald Driver, BJ Raji and Sam Shields, among others.

Another interesting note on the Schutt helmet is the team branding on its nose bumper. Riddell is the "official helmet" of the NFL, which means that although players can chose from a list of safety-approved helmets, only Riddell helmets are allowed to display a manufacturer's logo. Teams fill the resulting empty space on non-Riddell helmets with their own iconography; the Packers use their stencil wordmark.

The difference can be seen on Rodgers's two helmets (the photo on the left comes from the October 17, 2010 game against the Dolphins):

Rodgers reportedly took some kidding from his teammates about the new shell:
"His helmet is just hideous, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It scrunches his face up pretty bad."
– wide receiver Greg Jennings

"He does have an ugly-looking helmet. But we’ve got him back."
– cornerback Charles Woodson

Rodgers's new helmet is one more step away from the iconinc "round-hole" Riddell look, which has defined the football helmet at least as far back as the 1970s. Renderings of the helmet are used as alternate logos by every team in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns take it one step further, using this particular rendering as their primary logo.

The Packers, for their part, use the same graphic on all manner of team merchandise, everything from smokeless candles to this customizable sweatshirt:

I wonder what will happen as more and more players move away from the standard Riddell shell to different (and distinctive) profiles, if this graphic will be phased out of use or will begin to take on a "throwback" patina.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Season's Greetings

This whimsical Christmas graphic is taken from a holiday card the Packers sent out in 1959.

The cover of the card reads:

Season's Greetings

and the inside simply:

Green Bay Packers

Santa Vince, clad in his green and gold suit, cracks the whip as he speeds through the Christmas Eve night to deliver coal to all the other teams in the league. Talk about a "Packer Sweep".... The only thing better would be to have the "reindeer" identified by number.

We are able to date the card to Vince's first season in Green Bay with a little detective work. My first thought was narrowing it down to 1959-1960 based on the complete absence of Dad Braisher's famous "G" logo (introduced for the 1961 season). Still, leaving off the logo wouldn't have been unheard of in the pre-merchandising era, when logos weren't as omnipresent as they are today. No, the telling information is in the back of Santa's sleigh. He has presents for all the teams in the League, but nothing for the Cowboys, who joined the NFL in 1960 (and the Cowboys are a great candidate for a stocking full of coal).

If you're interested in adding this vintage card to you collection, it and others like it, are available at Titletown Nostalgia.

And, as Clement C. Moore wrote nearly two hundred years ago:

"Happy Christmas to all,
and to all a good-night."

(photo credit: Titletown Nostalgia)

Friday, December 17, 2010


According to this morning's New York Times, players seem to be getting the message.
Donald Driver saw it in the eyes of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, Green Bay's quarterback, was not quite right after taking hard hits on back-to-back plays and sustaining his second concussion of the season against the Lions last week, but he still wanted to go back into the game.

What happened next can be seen as another sign that N.F.L. players' attitudes toward concussions are changing. Standing on the sideline, Driver helped talk his teammate into sitting out the rest of the game.

"I was very concerned about him," Driver, a receiver, said. "I kind of whispered in his ear, walked behind him during the time he was sitting on the bench and kind of told him: 'This is just a game. Your life is more important than this game.' I told him I love him to death, and you’ve got to make the choice, but this game is not that important."
This is a powerful statement, and a very positive one.

There's a difference between being tough and being stupid. You can fight through some types of injuries, but head hits, with their possible relationship to CTE, are not among them. What the last generation called "getting your bell rung" now sounds as a clarion call, a warning.

Hope the League is listening.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Arts and Letter(head)s

This letter has been making the Packer blog rounds, having recently been posted on Scribd. Far be it from me to miss the party, so let's look at a 1944 Uniform Player's Contract between the Packers and a player named E.J. McGroraty:

This is the players' copy, signed only by Lambeau. The other would have been signed by McGroraty and returned to the Packers.

The document is an interesting look at the indentured servitude NFL players of the time lived under; my brother (who asked to be described as "a crackerjack attorney") got a huge kick out of parsing the language, noting that Section 9 eliminates any leverage a player might conceivably have. The real gem from our sports æsthetics perspective, however, is the accompanying cover letter:

A gorgeous example of 1940s team letterhead. I particularly love the graphic at the top, with the small figures rushing the line. The elegant script "Packers" is notable for its strong vertical "k", the quotation marks breaking the arc of the elegant script "P", and the way the foot of the "P" forms a football shape to enclose "THE".

Shame about the photocopy - I'd love to see this in a better resolution, not to mention in color.

Along the bottom of the page, you can just make out "Five Times World Champions." Just five months later the letterhead would be out of date, as the Big Bay Blues defeated the New York Giants in the 1944 Championship Game to claim Curly Lambeau's sixth and final title.

As for Mr. McGroraty, it appears that he never made it out of Training Camp. A search of the Packers' all time roster fails to turn up anyone by that name. But for one brief Training Camp (presuming he actually returned the contract), he was a member of the greatest pro football team in the world. Signed, sealed, and delivered.

UPDATED 1/25/2012:   We now have an example in color, re-used in 1950 by staff members engaged in the team's third stock drive:

Wisconsin Historical Society

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Glimpse of the Future (I Hope)

This past weekend was a significant one in sports æsthetics, not only because of the first on-field appearance of the Packers' 1929-style throwback uniforms, but because of an innovation that took the field in Corvallis, Oregon on Saturday.

Working with uniform manufacturer Nike, the Oregon State Beavers wanted to create a 1960s-style throwback uniform for the latest installment of their traditional "Civil War" game with the Oregon Ducks. This presented a common problem: reconciling the classic uniform style of distinctive sleeve stripes with modern jersey cuts which no longer have sleeves. This is a problem the Packers have faced for years. The previous solution (also created by Nike) was to reduce the number of stripes to something more likely to fit. This time, Nike's designers came up with an inspired solution (if such a description is not too immodest, as I have been advocating the exact same move for years), they moved the stripes off the jersey itself and on to the compression shirts worn under those jerseys.

The end result was pretty solid. And it's one that the Packers should seriously consider when Nike takes over the NFL uniform manufacturing contract in 2012.

It's easy to imagine these jerseys in a particular shade of green and gold.

I'm aware that the reduction in sleeves has come at the request of players, particularly linemen, who feel that every square inch of fabric gives an opponent more opportunity to grab a handful of jersey. That's why I like this solution - not only does it address the æsthetics but also the performance aspects. Fabric worn tight against the skin is hard to hold onto. To the extent any jersey prohibits such holds, the compression shirt model does.

There can be long-sleeve versions and short-sleeve versions for players, ensuring that in warmer weather players could still show their stripes, and in colder weather players would be assured that opposing players couldn't get a grip on their sleeves.

There's an added off-field benefit - the Packers could do a brisk business selling compression shirts to fans, either for wearing under their jerseys or by themselves.

So there you have it. There is a performance benefit, a commercial benefit, and an æsthetic benefit. A win/win/win.

Okay, Mr. Murphy. The ball is in your court - time to bring the Packers' jerseys back to their original form by embracing a bold step forward.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Your One-Stop Christmas Shopping

Well, now we know what the Packers are doing with the game-worn throwback uniforms. As anyone who gets email updates from the Packers knows, the club has started selling them at the Pro Shop.

Aaron Rodgers's helmet is available (for $8,000) but not his uniform - does that mean it has already been sold, or are they holding onto it?

Here's how they're being listed:

Donald Driver Game Worn Third Uniform
Available Color: Navy

Availability: One of a Kind

For the first time ever, the Green Bay Packers 1929 Throwback Third Jersey uniform debuted December 5, 2010 at Lambeau Field versus the San Francisco 49ers. This unwashed uniform, worn by Donald Driver, includes the authentic game jersey and pant. Uniform comes with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by President & CEO Mark Murphy, a game photo and is also authenticated using a secured hologram. Each jersey has a signature mark from the seamstresses who prepared the jerseys for the game. The mark will be identified upon receipt of your purchase. A record of the signature mark will be kept on file by the Green Bay Packers for authentication purposes. This uniform was made to fit this player and is not associated with a specific size. All purchases are final/non-refundable. 10% of all proceeds will go to the Green Bay Packers Foundation Charities.

Couple observations:
  • It's disappointing that the socks aren't included with the uniforms, especially considering the high asking price and how important the solid-color socks are to the throwback look. When the University of Wisconsin auctioned off their throwback uniforms back in 2005, they included everything from helmet down to shoes. I understand the players were wearing their regular shoes (made possible by the switch from white back to classic black cleats at the start of the Aaron Rodgers era), but it's not like they'll be needing the blue socks again soon.

  • Only 10% is being donated to charity? That seems shockingly low, considering that the total asking price for the equipment currently available through the Pro Shop is just under $150,000.

  • The "signature mark" is a nice little shout-out to the work of Marge Switzer. No wonder it took her over a hundred hours to prep the jerseys for game use.

Here's how the helmets are listed:

Donald Driver Game Worn Third Helmet
Available Color: Brown

Availability: One of a Kind

For the first time ever, the Green Bay Packers 1929 Throwback Third Jersey helmet debuted during the December 5, 2010 at Lambeau Field versus the San Francisco 49ers. This helmet, worn by Donald Driver, comes with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by President & CEO Mark Murphy, a game photo and is also authenticated using a secured hologram. All purchases are final/non-refundable. 10% of all proceeds will go to the Green Bay Packers Foundation Charities.

Don't delay - in the time it took me to type this, the Driver uniform was sold.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Spirit of Johnny Blood is Alive and Well

Today, almost nine months to the day after their unveiling, the Packers finally took the field in their throwback uniforms.

Inspired by the 1929 World Championship club, the first to "bring the bacon back to old Green Bay", and updated to reflect modern uniform specifications, it was the first appearance of the Packers' original color scheme at Lambeau Field since 1994's the NFL 75th anniversary throwbacks.

I don't know that there's much more to say, except that they looked as good as I hoped.

The coaches also got into the act on the sideline with their blue Acme Packers gear, although I'm still a little uneasy about compressing the 1921-22 sponsor with the 1929 uniforms into one Roaring Twenties package.

Bit of a shame that it wasn't sunnier - with brown helmets and khaki pants, the entire package was a bit muted under the overcast December sky.

I'm a big fan of the one-color socks. I don't know what purpose low-whites serve nowadays, except to give the uniform a small layer of clutter. The solid-leg color looks more elegant, especially with black shoes.

The lack of television numbers seems strange to my eyes, but I like it.

My only real complaint was with Aaron Rodgers's white compression shirt. I don't mind the terribly 21st Century piping in a retro uniform, but the color ruins it. The entire throwback uniform is simplified and streamlined, until we get to the white sleeves. How easy would it have been to issue him a blue shirt, incorporated seamlessly with the jersey to give the illusion of long sleeves?

That's been a pet peeve of mine for years. The Packers wear green compression shirts with white jerseys and white with green jerseys, ensuring that the uniform is as cluttered as possible, home and road. Swapping the two would go a long way towards fixing the (relatively few) problems I have with the Packers' standard look. Another thing to hope for when Nike takes over the leaguewide uniform contract.

Longtime reader Tim O'Donnell was curious about the manufacturer's label on the helmets - it appears to have been blue, a change from the customary green. Nice detail from Riddell.

Keeping with the helmets, it appears that equipment manager Red Batty left the new player number decals off the backs (the warning label was reversed to white knockout text, which is the standard for dark shells).

While I can understand why some people didn't care for the throwbacks, I continue to be in favor of anything that raises awareness of the Packers' grand sartorial history, particularly the pre-Lombardi eras.

Plus the tuques were a nice touch.

So that's it for the throwbacks in 2010. I expect that we will see them again next season; they will continue to remain on the NFL's books through 2015 as the Packers' only permitted alternate, by which time we'll be talking about the team's plans for their 100th anniversary in 2019.