Coincidences freak me out. Case in point: Reader Ryan Meyer recently got in touch to say that he was watching an old Cowboys/Redskins game and noticed that the football had white stripes, just like in the NCAA. Okay, good observation, something worth investigating.
Then, a day or two later, Kenn Tomasch told me he’d blogged about his visit to the NFL Experience exhibit at this year’s Super Bowl. And the exhibit apparently included this football, which Kenn described thusly: “Notice anything different about this ball? It has the white stripes often used in the 1940s and 1950s for improved visibility under less-than-optimal lighting conditions. This one was from Super Bowl VIII, but by SB IX the stripes were gone.”
A bit of research reveals that ball in Super Bowl VIII was indeed striped — something I’d never noticed before. But it wasn’t striped in Super Bowls I, II, III, IV, V, VI, or VII, or for any subsequent Super Bowls (trust me, I checked), so why did they use a striped ball for that one game?
All this reminded me of one of my most prized possessions: this “NFL Playbook,” which my father got as a promotional giveaway from American Express back around 1972. It’s filled with gorgeous illustrations, and I seemed to recall that at least one of them included a striped ball. Sure enough — look.
I now realize that I’ve never given much thought to the striped ball. I’ve just kinda instinctively thought of it as “one of those college football things,” like only needing one foot in bounds for an official catch, or stopping the clock to move the chains after a first down. But now that I’ve started to think about it, I have a lot of questions regarding this topic. To wit:
• Why was a striped ball used in Super Bowl VIII?
• To what extent have striped balls been used at the pro level aside from SB VIII? That Cowboys/Redskins game is one example, and the “NFL Playbook” illustration was presumably based on a photo of a Chargers game with a striped ball — are there other examples? Tomasch’s photo caption indicates that striped balls were “often used in the 1940s and 1950s,” but I haven’t yet found any evidence of that. All the old images I’ve looked at in the past few days (admittedly not a huge number) show a stripeless ball.
• Well, almost all of them. In the course of researching, I came across two photos of Bob Waterfield holding a black-striped ball. It also looks like the ball itself may be paler, almost white, but that may be an illusion caused by the contrast of the black stripes. In any case, I’d never seen a black-striped ball before. What’s the story there? Were black-striped balls ever used in games?
• What’s the point of the white stripes anyway? Tomasch’s blog states that the stripes were designed to create “improved visibility under less-than-optimal lighting conditions. But if that’s the case, why would Waterfield be using that black-striped model? Also: I recall reading or hearing at some point that the two white stripes represented the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage, and that the space in between them was the neutral zone. Where did I hear this? I can’t remember, but it was when I was pretty young. Any truth to it?
I have a feeling several of you out there know the answers to these questions. Let’s have ’em.
Uni Watch News Ticker: “On Sunday Ohio State gave the three seniors on the team commemorative jerseys hung in a frame,” writes Cody Poppaw. “The odd thing is that they gave them the only jerseys that they never wore for a whole season. They were home jerseys that the team wore for the first half of last season before they switched to the Nike SOD unis.” … Fun piece here about sports-themed lingerie (with thanks to Anthony Atencio). … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: Last graf of this story has some interesting info regarding UNC’s number-retirement protocols. … Also from yesterday: The little patch under the “V” in this photo is dot dot dot dash, which is morse code for V. … Awesome find by Erkki W. Corpuz, who passed along this photo of Sammy Baugh. Didn’t realize the Redskins had ever worn a Blackhawks-ish jersey design. … Erkki also sent along this classic UNC photo — uni-numbered stirrups!. … Authors sometimes buy large quantities of their own books on Amazon, to increase their position on the best-seller lists. Here’s the sports equivalent of that. … Jake Shaw reports that the Brewers have a minor league shortstop in their system named — wait for it — Brent Brewer. The mind fairly boggles.