It took a while, but I finally got myself a copy of the new book Colors: Pro Football Uniforms of the Past and Present, which attempts to present a fairly comprehensive look at NFL and AFL uniform history. Let’s start with the obligatory rundown of noteworthy photos:
• Always good to see another shot of the Broncos wearing vertically striped socks.
• Ditto for the airplane-helmet Jets design.
• Here’s a great shot of Wahoo McDaniel’s NickNOB.
• Best stickum shot I’ve ever seen.
• Here’s a great close-up of the Steelers’ early logo, before they changed the “Steel” to “Steelers.”
• And speaking of the Steelers, here’s a rare sight: The team’s white pants, worn only in 1971.
• And speaking of rarely seen pants, here’s a shot of the Vikings’ early-’60s purple knickers.
• Check out this cheesy little nose bumper decal.
• Everyone associates the Oilers with “Love ya blue,” but they used to have a different color palette.
• I’ve seen lots of shots of Hank Stram wearing a Chiefs logo patch on his blazer, but this shot has the added bonus of the team’s secondary logo on his necktie.
• Here’s what I don’t understand about tearaway jerseys: Why didn’t every running back wear them?
• Look, if you need to wear a cast this big, you probably just shouldn’t be playing.
• There’s something extremely appealing about the simplicity of the old Cardinals uniform. Really works for me, even without the helmet logo.
• Here’s a super-close-up of the Falcons’ 25th-anniversary patch. I like how the stars on the NFL logo have been reduced to a few random threads.
• So much texture in this old Lions shot. The seams on the jerseys and pants, the edges of the numbers — that’s what I miss about today’s uniforms, which have largely eliminated texture.
• What the hell was Dave Jennings doing with a yellow stripe on his cleats?
• Here’s a new one: FNOT. That’s full name on tongue.
• First time I’ve ever seen a color photo of this press conference.
Pretty good stuff, right? Unfortunately, the book also has some problems, most of which can be traced back to the publisher, Beaver’s Pond Press, which is basically a vanity house. Here’s how vanity houses work: Instead of getting an advance against future royalties, the author provides all the production money up front and in return retains more rights and gets a bigger piece of the sales revenue pie. The publisher then handles the EDP (that’s editing, design, and production). Since the publisher has no investment in the product other than the production costs (i.e., they haven’t given the author any money up front), the EDP usually takes place very quickly and on the cheap.
In short, a vanity publisher is essentially a vendor for the author, which is no way to produce a quality product, because authors don’t know jack about how to produce a book. The Beaver’s pond web site says the firm was founded “to help writers reach their dreams of becoming published authors,” which is another way of saying, “We scoop up the shitty projects that real publishers turn down.”
None of which is to say that Colors is a shitty book. But it may explain some of these problems:
• The text is laid out with colored bullets instead of real paragraph breaks, which is incredibly annoying. I realize this is essentially the same way I format the Ticker, but the Ticker is a series of short, unrelated bursts (and it’s nowhere near as long as an entire book), while a book is supposed to present a sense of narrative flow. This was almost certainly done to save space and keep the book’s page count down, thereby saving on production costs, but couldn’t they just have used a smaller type size or something? Horrible design choice.
• Another bad choice: This is the flimsiest “hard”cover book I’ve ever encountered, because they’ve gone with a very low-grade cover stock that’s more flexible than rigid. I used to work in book publishing, and I know that using cheapo cover stock reduces your unit cost by maybe a third of a penny — not enough to justify the fact that your book will now feel like a cheesy rush job instead of a lasting document. Shame on whoever green-lighted this.
• There’s a separate chapter devoted to each team, with each chapter written by a different writer. This results in a lot of repetition (many of the writers repeat the same general points about football uniforms, which is something the editor should have addressed) and also leads to a very uneven tone throughout the book.
• Several of the chapter authors aren’t professional writers, and it shows. There are grammatical errors (again, something an editor should have dealt with), naked factual errors (“Today there is only one team that is wearing the uniform that it wore in its very first season — the New York Jets”), and lots of sloppy prose.
To be fair, there are also some positives, including lots of good anecdotes I hadn’t previously heard. For example: “In 1976, [Raiders] rookie defensive end Charles Philyaw wanted to have his full name emblazoned on his jersey, like his teammate, ‘VAN EEGHEN.’ What Philyaw failed to realize was that Van Eeghen’s first name was Mark.” Also: The Vikings chapter indicates that there was a coordinated effort for seven or eight NFL teams to wear white at home in 1964, specifically so their fans could see the visiting teams’ colors (this was apparently the source of confusion in the famous white-on-white Vikes/Lions game that year). Hadn’t heard about that before.
There’s also a very good chapter on officiating gear, written by Jim Tunney. It includes the following passage, which was new to me:
In the 1940s … only the Referee carried a whistle. The other officials wore a small horn strapped to their fingers. The purpose of the horn was that when a foul was spotted, the horn was blown. The officials then did not carry penalty flags, just horns. Sounding the horn did not stop play but served only to indicate that a foul had occurred. … In the 1950s, the NFL decided the fans could not hear the officials’ horn, thus the penalty flag was introduced.
No horn photos, alas. Anyone know more about this?
So, all in all: a mixed bag. I’ve been told that Jim Finks Jr., who coordinated this project, worked his ass off on it, and so did the people at Helmet Hut, who provided a lot of research support. My impression is that it was a labor of love for all concerned. But good intentions aren’t the same thing as a good book. Is this book worth $30? Frankly, I’d say no. But used copies should be coming into circulation shortly.
Bracket Reminder: Uni Watch’s annual NCAA tournament bracket contest is now underway. For details, look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Major, major find by the mighty Fleer Sticker Project, which has acquired a 40-year-old article that tells the full story of how the Seattle Pilots’ uniforms were developed. Among the many revelations: The uniforms were designed by a local newspaper artist; the designer wanted NOBs but management balked; the home unis were manufactured by Wilson but the road grays were made by Spalding; and the positioning of the scrambled eggs on the cap’s brim was adjusted to allow room for players to tug on their visors. There’s a lot more, too — this is a gold mine of a discovery. Savor every last detail here. … Speaking of Seattle: RIP, P-I. … The Islanders won’t be elevating their third jersey to primary status next season after all. … Really fun article about old officiating attire here (with thanks to Ryan Burns). … Why was Chase Utley going high-cuffed at a minor league game on Saturday? According to this article, “The Phillies require minor leaguers to wear their socks up for uniformity purposes. Utley could have gone to the [minor league] complex and worn his pants the way he normally wears them — with the bottom of his pant legs below the ankle — but he chose not to. ‘I didn’t want to stand out,’ Utley said. ‘They were nice enough to let me play in their game, so I figured I would respect them and do what they do.'” He went back to his usual low-cuffed look the following day. … Scott Burns sent along a bunch of Portland Buckaroos jersey photos. Check them out here. … Scott Mason got this SI flier in the mail on Saturday. Note that the Arizona, San Diego, Atlanta, and Minnesota helmet designs are all out of date. … Awesome old Sprite patch available here. … Apparently the Raptors don’t exactly love their green St. Paddy’s Day gear. … I asked A’s equipment manager Steve Vucinich if he’d asked Corey Wimberly about his stirrups yet. “Turns out he wore ’em in Little League,” says Steve. “Then he got away from ’em, but he always liked the look, so he went back to ’em. Simple as that.” … J.Y. Owen checked in with a note regarding Sunday’s Twenty20 cricket match between England and the West Indies: “The new England captain Andrew Strauss played in his first Twenty20 match (the shortest form of the game) in three years, but the equipment managers were caught unprepared and sent Strauss out in the former shirt of Matt Prior with the nameplate taped over.” … Tris Wykes notes that minor league hockey advertising has spread to the pants. … I normally don’t care about the NBA’s D-League, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Mark Snider explains: “The home team for this game was the Idaho Stampede, wearing the black uniforms of one of their NBA affiliates, the Portland TrailBlazers, on Affiliate Night. The team in red was the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, wearing their regular road uniforms. And the third uniform was worn by Nathan Jawai, assigned to Idaho by their other NBA affiliate, the Toronto Raptors. Toronto didn’t want their player wearing the colors of another NBA team. So, they shipped Nate his Raptors road (third) black uniform.” Bizarre. And wait, there’s more: “The change also necessitated some uniform number changes for Idaho. Jawai wears 00 with Idaho, but his NBA number with Toronto is 21, so that meant that the normal #21 for Idaho, forward Jason Ellis, had to wear a different number. He wore #2, but because the change came late, he didn’t have a NOB.” That’s an awful lot of hassle for a game with a live crowd of about 17 fans. … Last week I linked to a video clip and said it showed Iowa wearing untucked jerseys in 1987. As several people pointed out, they were not going untucked — they just had stripes on their shorts that created an untucked illusion. But only Chris Chaussee came up with a photo to illustrate the point. … This book contains a short chapter about the Reds’ uniforms, and Jason Hillyer has generously scanned the appropriate pages for us. … Lots of stuff going on here. First, the nameplate is coming loose. Second, that’s Pirates pitcher Ian Snell, who’s pitching for Puerto Rico in the WBC. The “Davila” part of his NOB is explained here. And third, I think they meant to have a hyphen, not a period, in between the two surnames. … The Pirates apparently couldn’t wait for St. Paddy’s Day, as they wore green caps last night. Too bad about the logo creep and adjusta-straps. … Ben Traxel sent along some photos documenting a couple of projects. First, here are some 1950s pennants from his father’s collection (the Cubs design is particularly unusual). And then there’s this quilt, which he and his mom made back around 1983, when he was 13. “Once we settled on an idea and basic pattern, I copied each logo from my baseball cards onto newsprint at the size we needed to have them on the quilt (I made a few changes to keep it simpler, like not actually drawing the two guys shaking hands on the Twins logo). Then I used transfer paper and traced them onto the material squares. Mom had me use fabric paint and fabric paint markers. Together we painted each one before she sewed them all together, added the padding, and quilted the thing together. She quilted baseballs on each corner, since there were 30 squares and only 26 teams. It turned out pretty nice, but it wasn’t long before wanted something more grown-up. Now my boys have used it on their beds –- but unfortunately they don’t like it nearly as much as anything related to Star Wars.” Very nice! Additional photos here. … Fox’s Amazing Sports Stories series ran an episode about the Steagles last year (if you missed it, the entire episode is available here; it’s waaay too melodramatic but still informative). Rich Paine played #85 on the Steagles, Tony Bolva, and has sent along a bunch of photos from the set. … Two California high schools played a real throwback game, complete with wood bats and old-fashioned gloves. Details here (with thanks to Andy Luttrell). … And speaking of old-school gear, check out AntiqueAthlete.com (as suggested by Eric Sun). … If New Year’s Eve is for amateurs, St. Paddy’s Day is for idiots. Please do the world a favor and stay home tonight. And if you must go out, try to retain at least a shred of dignity, OK? OK.