By Phil Hecken
The Pro Bowl (tonight, 7:20pm EST, ESPN) hasn’t always sucked. But now it does, and even the most avid of Uni Watchers will be hard pressed to call this event a “must see.”
If you actually care to watch, today (tonight actually) the 2010 NFL Pro Bowl takes place in
Hawaii…er, Miami, the site of next week’s Super Bowl XLIV. Seeking to fix what was broken, but for all the wrong reasons, the NFL has decided this year to play their year-end spectacular before the Super Bowl, and on the mainland. At least when the NFL played the game in Hawaii, the players viewed it as a joke with a nice vacation thrown in. Now? It’s just a joke. There must be some connection between the declining quality of the game itself and the uniforms, right?
This year, it’s even worse — and I’m not going to go on a rant here — but good lord, moving the game to pre-Super Bowl, to try to generate some excitement, has actually worked to the game’s disadvantage. You see, none of next weekend’s Super Bowl combatants are allowed to play in tonight’s game — which makes sense — but it means that, automatically, the following players are eliminated: (from the Colts): Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Antoine Bethea; (from the Saints): Drew Brees, Jonathan Stinchcomb, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Goodwin, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, and Roman Harper. So, right off the bat, that’s 14 players, including BOTH Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who were selected to be the starting quarterbacks. That means we’re left with a matchup of Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers.
Add in the following guys who won’t play “due to injury” (Philip Rivers, Chargers; Tom Brady, Patriots; Wes Welker, Patriots; Jake Long, Dolphins; Brian Cushing, Texans; Jairus Byrd, Bills; Nate Kaeding, Chargers; Brett Favre, Vikings; Steven Jackson, Rams; Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals; Sidney Rice, Vikings; Andre Gurode, Cowboys; Kevin Williams, Vikings; Lance Briggs, Bears; Charles Woodson, Packers; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cardinals; and Patrick Willis, 49ers.) That’s 17 more. So, of the players selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010, fans won’t get to see 31 of them. Yeah, that seems like a good deal. If you’re still interested, here’s the full roster. Now, traditionally, lots of players somehow found themselves “injured” and unable to play, but they still enjoyed their Hawai’ian vacation. But there were never THIS many players selected to play in the game who will not. Good move, NFL.
But it wasn’t always that way. Although it has now become the least consequential and likely least watched “all star game” of the major sports (and maybe even hockey, too), the Pro Bowl has actually been played, in one form or another, for decades — beginning with “all star games” first staged in 1939, between the NFL champion and a team of all-stars compiled from the other teams. From 1939 through 1942 (when WW II took it’s toll on the players and the game), the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears (twice) and the Washington Redskins all took turns scrammaging against the best of the rest.
The first true Pro Bowl took place on January 14, 1951, when stars from the NFL’s National and American Conferences faced off against each other. Accounts of what the players wore during the game are sketchy, however, it was likely blue (for the Nationals) and red (for the Americans). It was certain that during this game the tradition of having the National Conference wear blue (helmets), while the American Conference wore red. Both teams wore dark uniforms (or, I should say, the game was “color vs. color”). Another game would be held in 1952, and according to the game program, it was color on color again, with the National Conference wearing blue and the American Conference wearing Red. The third Pro Bowl game was played in 1953, this time with the American Conference donning white jerseys. Although the program covers for 1952 and 1953 depict white helmets, each team appears to have worn the color of their respective conference (blue for National, red for American).
Beginning in 1954, and continuing until 1970, the NFL would divide the teams up into the “Eastern” and “Western” conferences (this followed NFL procol, which had changed the names from American and National after the 1953 season). For the most part, the NFL kept the teams in their red and blue color designations (including the helmets), although several years had the players donning gold helmets (which occurred from 1967 through 1970) and wearing the NFL decal on the sides — the East wore a red-white-red tri-stripe and the Western a similar blue-white-blue tri-stripe. Players brought their own game helmets to the game, which were then spray-painted and decorated for the contest. (For the 1970 game the helmets featured the 50 NFL logo, which celebrated the first 50 years of NFL football.)
When the AFL came into being in 1960, that league began playing All Star Games as well, beginning in 1962 and up until 1970. Following the merger of the two leagues for the 1971 season, one Pro Bowl for the entire league was once again played. We’ll take a look at the uniforms from 1971-2009 (and also, for today’s game) in a moment.
Wikipedia, the always trustworthy source, sums up the uniform designations thusly: “The teams are made of players from different NFL teams, so using their own uniforms would be too confusing. The players each wear the helmet of their team, but the home jerseys and pants are either a solid blue for the NFC or solid red for the AFC, while white jerseys with blue or red accents, respectively, for the away team. While it has been speculated that the color of Pro Bowl jerseys is determined by the winner of the Super Bowl, this is untrue.
“The design of Pro Bowl uniforms is changed every two years, and the color and white jerseys are rotated along with the design change. This has been Pro Bowl tradition since the switch to team specific helmets, which started with the January 1979 game. The two-year switch was originally created as a marketing ploy by Nike, and has been continued by Reebok, who won the merchandising contract in 2002.
“In the earliest years of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, the players did not wear their unique helmets, as they do now. The AFC All-Stars wore a solid red helmet with a white A on it, while the NFC players wore a solid white helmet with a blue N on it. The AFC’s red helmets were paired with white jerseys and red pants, while the NFC’s white helmets were paired with blue jerseys and white pants. Two players with the same number who are elected to the Pro Bowl can wear the same number for that game. [In the games early years], all players were required to wear different numbers, regardless of what jersey number they wore on their regular team. This changed … when players wore the jersey number on their regular team jersey, thus initially resulting in virtually every wide receiver on the field being numbered 80 or 81, a situation that, predictably, created significant confusion. Thus, it is recommended — although not required — that players use different jersey numbers, and generally when two players share a number, the less experienced one will wear a different number for the game.”
So anyway, back to the uniforms, throughout the 1971-2009 history. Back in the first several years, as mentioned, the teams simply wore “N” or “A” helmets, with the NFC wearing blue jerseys and white pants. This continued until 1979, when players began wearing individual team helmets on top of their respective teams’ uniforms. No matter what the year, the uniforms remained a constant: AFC in team specific helmets with white jerseys and red pants with white-blue-white stripes, NFC in team helmets with blue jerseys and white pants with blue-red-blue stripes.
This set pattern persisted until 1989, when the NFL kept the same basic color schemes for both conferences, but added stars down the pants stripes (plus an “N” or an “A”) and contrasting colored outlines around the teams’ jersey numbers. This particular style lasted until 1994
Here’s where it all went to hell. Beginning in 1995, when the AFC was outfitted in garish costumes, and the NFC followed suit, uniform design has been, shall we say, lacking. The 1995 game featured the NFC in a “half blue/white” jersey blue pants (with the leotard look to boot), but for 1996 and 1997, they would switch to white pants. The AFC would stick with red pants throughtout the there year run, but in 1995 they wore red undersocks (for the dreaded leotard look), while in 1996 and 1997 they stuck with high white socks. One can only assume the jersey style was influenced by the CFL’s American contingent, since they sported small off-center numbers on the front of the jerseys. Mercifully, the three year run of that jersey design ended after, surprisingly, three years. Those uniforms were manufactured by Wilson.
1998 would usher in a new set of uniforms for the Conferences, with the AFC being outfitted in a solid red jersey for the first time. If one doesn’t count the 1995-97 jerseys as “white,” the NFC wore white jerseys for the first time. These two jersey sets weren’t all that bad (aesthetically), although they did feature rounded, drop-shadow numbers for both teams. Those uniforms lasted for three years as well, from 1998-2000. This was Nike’s uniform set.
The NFL would begin it’s “two and done” run of uniforms in 2001-02, and these were lackluster at best. The AFC was outfitted in red fading to white jerseys (in a gradient pattern) with white pants. The NFC, on the other hand, wore white fading to blue jerseys (in the opposite gardient pattern) atop blue pants. These uniforms were so bad that very few photos exist on the Interwebs of them. Perhaps that’s for the best. Reebok manufactured these uniforms, and would continue to do so through today.
2003-2004 didn’t get much better. Returning to a somewhat more traditional look, the AFC wore white over white, with garish side panels and football shaped designs on the pants. For its part, the NFC was outfitted in monochrome blue, in the reverse pattern of the AFC, also featuring the side panels and amorphous pants design.
A new uniform design would begin in 2005-06, with Reebok contining to trend towards the modern look. The AFC returned to wearing red jerseys, with same color side panels and a “Broncos-esque” pants swoosh atop white pants. While the AFC would have red top socks for a more balanced look, the NFC would sport a reciprocal white over blue uniform, complete with blue socks, for that special dancer look. Both jerseys would feature rounded numerals, and six stars would adorn the jersey and pants side panels, three each on the top and bottom. In a typical “mirror” image, the AFC’s white numbers had a white-blue outline, while the NFC would feature a solid blue outlined in white and red. As far as recent uniforms go, these weren’t too bad.
2007-08 would usher in new uniforms again, with the AFC returning to white over red and the NFC donning blue over white. Continuing the “modern” look and feel, this uniform set would include bumper sticker paneling under the arms and down the side panels, and the pants stripes would also include white and blue panels within the stripes for both teams. But the most interesting feature of these uniforms was undoubtedly the jersey design, which included similarly colored darker stars superimposed on the solid jersey, gradually moving from fully filled-in stars to outlined stars from top to bottom. Whether these new jerseys were following the jersey patterns of the moment or driving them is still up for debate.
We conclude our tour of the Pro Bowl uniforms with last year’s gems, which will be worn again this year. In the final game (at least for the next few years) in Aloha Stadium, the NFC sported a predominantly blue getup, while the went with mostly white over white. However, the uniforms were not without little quirks: while the front side of both unis were solid blue or white (providing a splendid monochromatic appearance for the NFC), the back of the NFC uniform was white (leading to an odd white vs. white appearance from certain angles). The AFC, in mirror-like fashion, had mostly red backs. Both sets of jerseys were textured with stars and had an odd number font. Fortunately, we’ll be graced with these lovelies again in 2010.
That will end the lookback at the Pro Bowl uniforms of the past several decades. Certainly today neither they, nor the game, approach their former, um…greatness. So now, if you do choose to watch the game tonight, in it’s new and temporary home in South Florida (what’s the name of the Stadium now?), you can at least appreciate some of the tradition that has gone into (and the ‘innovation’ that has become) these uniforms.
I’d be remiss without pointing out that by far the best and most comprehensive site (and from which many of the photos in this article were borrowed) is mmbolding.com. If you want to read a description of every Pro Bowl (and All Star Game) ever played, that’s the spot. If you want to simply look at more pro bowl photos, several of which were not in this article and which are fully captioned check out the Flickr album I put together.
Of course, I would be ESPECIALLY REMISS if I didn’t include something from The Ricko Files today. The one and only Rick Pearson was all over the AFL All-Star Games in the early 1960s, producing his famous “Kid Cards” for the 1962 and 1963 All Star games. Note that, unlike the NFL, the AFL teams wore their own helmets for the first two AFL All Star Games (the AFL played their first all star game in 1962).
There is ONE good thing about the NFL moving the Pro Bowl to today — it means that after this exhibition is over, the football season is not. I guess by playing it tonight, the NFL hopes to keep the interest up and fill the void during the week off between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. And think of the Pro Bowl this way: you can watch ESPN all day long, after checking out the X-Games, you segue right into the Pro Bowl, and then back to the closing ceremonies of the games. Perfect day, right?
Remember the “Reebok Pump”? Yeah, I don’t either. Here’s Rick:
Technology is wonderful, and some of it is classic, timeless, unforgettable. And the Internet makes all things possible, accessible. So we use it to find any little advantage we can.
Here’s your full-color Sunday Benchies.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: You’d think that in honor of the Pro Bowl being played today, I could find a scoreboard photo from a Pro Bowl game. You’d be wrong. So, you’ll just have to settle for the following instead. Ready? Guess The Game From The Scoreboard. Date, location and final score, please, and be sure to link to your answer. And, as always, if you enjoy the game, please send me some new scoreboards! Drop me a line. Thanks!
Our next round of Uniform Tweaks, Concepts and Revisions is upon us again. We’ll be examining all sports now. So, if you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way. Since most of you guys have been sending submissions for the Official NFL Jersey Tweaks Contest, (which is separate from the normal uniform tweaks section), it’s a smaller batch today. Remember, the deadline for the contest is February 1, (this Monday), so the contest WILL be closed down after that date.
Our first entrant today is Thad (who would prefer I don’t use his last name), and Thad has a couple tweaks for Da Bears:
I’m a life-long Bears fan and love the uniforms but I have a couple tweaks that would make the set flow better.
I didn’t change anything on the navy jersey because it’s perfect. However, I adjusted everything else, though this set still looks like the Bears. The white pants now have an orange-blue-orange striping pattern, as do the stripes on the white jersey and socks. The navy pants now are white-orange-white.
While this doesn’t change too much on the home set (other than making the pants and jersey striping match if they ever go monochrome again), it makes the striping on the away set more uniform and makes it conform better to the rest of the look. It always bugged me that the stripes on the navy jersey are outlined, but the stripes on the white ones weren’t. If the Bears do the traditional monochrome on the away set, all the stripes match.
(And if you do use this, just refer to me as Thad.)
Next up is Ronnie Poore, who has some ideas for the N’awlins Saints:
I gave the Saints uni a bit of a tweak. Added a white divider stripe on the pants (never liked the Steelers style wide stripe). This makes the pants stripes match the helmet stripes. Also darkened the pants so the gold better matches the helmets. I’ve attached 2 images, one with plain socks, one with stripes…take your pick.
Moving along, we have my new Deep Freeze buddy, Ben Traxel, who knows I’m an Islander fan and couldn’t resist mocking up a new logo, just for me:
I mocked this up quickly last night…just for you, Phil. :) It was quick and dirty, just for fun.
That’s all for today. Today’s second submitter, Ronnie Poore also sent me a bunch more tweaks that we’ll get to in the next round. If you have any last minute submissions for the ‘win a jersey’ contest, again, tomorrow is the deadline. Keep the regular tweaks coming, though, since that part of the weekends will remain (as long as I have submissions). Send both your regular tweaks and your contest tweaks to me at the same address, but if you’re submitting something for the contest, please be sure to label the subject: “UNI WATCH NFL JERSEY DESIGN CONTEST.” Thanks!
Meet Flat Tyler. Time for a little love for Ryan Connelly, who send me the following E-mail, which is pretty damn cool:
You guys have heard about “Flat Stanley,” a project kids do for school? They take pictures of this paper guy all over the place? A lady at work (Nancy), has a lady in her group that works in Denver. Well, the lady in Denver has a 6 year old grandson that had a “Flat Tyler” project. The kid’s name is Tyler, and the project (I think, I wasn’t paying ALL that much attention at the time) is to send Flat Tyler out to friends around the country and get pictures in various places. Nancy got it and knew I was going to the Penguins game last Tuesday (Malkin 3 goals, Crosby 6 pts), and asked me to take pics of Flat Tyler at the game. So I took it one step further for the little guy, and made him a little Penguins jersey. Took the image from this page.
I copied the image multiple times into an Excel spreadsheet, sized them down to Flat Tyler’s size, and printed them out. I cut the arms off of the first jersey image to use for the body, then cut the arms off of the other image so that I could angle them on to Tyler’s arms. Then I taped the jersey together and paper-clipped the jersey onto Flat Tyler, so that the real Tyler could take it off and on and do whatever the hell he wanted with it.
So there, quickie little DIY project I wanted to share. Enjoy the pics!
P.S. Those were NOT taken from my seats! I was a “a little” further up. HAHA
Thanks RyCo40…nice job for Tyler!
This next section is a repeat from yesterday, so if you saw it then, you can feel free to skip it today. But if you didn’t, please give it a quick read. Thanks.
You may remember Kenny Ocker, the Uni Watcher who scored the fantastic interview with Casey Martin last month. Well, he’s back at the U of O and he needs your help. I’ll let Kenny explain:
Dear Uni Watch Community,
When I (The Hemogoblin/Kenny Ocker) am not on the internet, I’m a sophomore journalism major at the University of Oregon. This term, I have a class that requires me to write a 100-page research paper. My topic question is “Should cities, counties and states use public money to fund the construction and operation of sporting venues for private organizations as a way to stimulate the economy?” If any of you feel as if you have something to contribute to my topic, you can e-mail me at The Hemogoblin (at) G-mail (dot) com. I’m especially looking for people who I can interview and stories/documents that are relevant to stadium funding. (I know that you all are a relatively educated bunch on this topic, given the success of the “I’m Calling It Shea” t-shirts, and that you’re all dedicated sports fans.) Any insight on my topic would be fantastic. Also, this is why you all will hardly see me until I get through this term.
No, thank you Kenny. What say you, fellow Uni Watchers, can you help a brother out?
That’s all for today folks. I want to thank everyone for their nice comments on yesterday’s post — looks like there will be a
uni stadia watch II down the pike. If anyone wants to assist me with a column on the old ball parks, I’d love to work with you (all but Parc Jarry & Exhibition Stadium, tho — I already have a co-conspirator on those). Give me a holler. In fact, if you have any ideas for a future column, let me know. RIP, JJ
Have a great Sunday, folks. Enjoy the Pro Bowl.