Monday, August 8, 2011

Canton's Trail Blazers

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2011 was inducted at Canton over the weekend. It was notable not only for Shannon Sharpe's moving tribute to his brother (and reminder of what Sterling could have been had a neck injury not cut his career short), but for another detail that should interest us.

Gary A. Vasquez/NFL

The Hall of Fame has changed the patch worn on the inductees' distinctive golden blazers.

Prior to this season, the blazer featured the words "NFL Alumni", as seen on Dick LeBeau, one of last year's inductees:

Ben Liebenberg/NFL

Is this a sign that the Pro Football Hall of Fame might be moving away from its "NFL Hall of Fame" reputation? Or just a new exercise in branding to promote the Hall's logo? They might have removed the three letters, but the blazer patch still conspicuously borrows its shape from the NFL's shield.

These patch games made me wonder just when did the tradition of the golden jacket start, anyway? The charter enshrinees didn't wear them.

Members of the Class of 1963 — including four Packers (Johnny "Blood" McNally, Cal Hubbard, Don Hutson and Curly Lambeau) — pose with their busts in front of the newly-opened Hall of Fame building in Canton.
A quick perusal of the Hall of Fame's site indicates that the tradition of the golden blazer started in the late 1970s (the color might have given that away). This was a time when Lombardi's Packers started to take their place with the game's immortals. Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg were members of the Class of 1977, and when photographed holding their busts were wearing their own sportcoats.

Ray Nitschke follwed in 1978, clad in the now-familiar golden blazer.

Doesn't look as though they were terribly concerned about appearing too chummy with the league — his blazer patch is the NFL logo!

That design was short-lived, and the second class to wear golden blazers, including Johnny Unitas, had patches which read "NFL ALUMNI".

Previous enshrinees were either issued new jackets or new patches to wear to the ceremony, as seen on this jacket from Ray Nitschke's estate, auctioned off by Heritage earlier this year:

Heritage Auctions

The "ALUMNI" patch was worn through 1988. Here we see safety Willie Wood, class of 1989, with the new "Enshrinee" patch.

A patch change meant issuing new jackets to past enshrinees. It also appears that they lightened the jacket color from its original camel hair to a lighter shade about the same time. This Nitschke jacket was part of the same Heritage auction.

Heritage Auctions

So if previous inductees were issued new blazers to keep up with the Hall's fashion, it's strange to see Bruce Smith, class of 2009, wearing his old jacket to the weekend's festivities.

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