Monday, December 22, 2008

Auction Gold

Cruising around past auction archives can net some real treasures. From Robert Edward Auctions' 2008 auction comes this beauty.

The auction description:
This museum-quality NFL jersey holds the significant distinction of being, to the best of our knowledge, the earliest known Green Bay Packers jersey in existence and can be narrowly dated to the three-year period 1945-1947, when it was worn by defensive back Ken Keuper. Graded A9.5 by MEARS. The black knit jersey is trimmed in gold along the collar and sleeves, and features full-length sleeves (with padded elbows). The number "18" is appliquéd in gold tackle twill on the front and reverse. An "O'Shea" manufacturer's label appears in the collar, and a "46" size tag is located on the crotch piece. Original and unaltered, the jersey displays moderate -to-heavy wear including a number of small holes on the front, and a vintage team repair on the reverse. The dating of this jersey, as well as its attribution to a specific player, was determined by a combined analysis of the manufacturer's tag, jersey style, and size/number (a comparison was made between the size of this jersey to the height and weight of the only two players who wore this number during its years of possible use). Based upon all three criteria, the jersey could only have been worn by defensive back Ken Keuper between the years 1945 and 1947, his only three seasons with the club. During Keuper's three years with the club he appeared in a total of thirty-eight games and recorded six interceptions. The Packers finished in third place in the Western Division each season between the years 1945 and 1947. The Green Bay Packers are the third-oldest team in the NFL and also the most successful. The Packers won a record eleven NFL Championships between the years 1922 and 1965, as well as three Super Bowls. Despite their storied history, pre-1960 Green Bay Packers jerseys are exceedingly rare and this is what we believe to be the earliest example known. It is also the fourth-oldest NFL jersey for any team listed in the MEARS census (the earliest is a circa 1933-1934 Bears jersey). This is a remarkable jersey in all respects and, given the legendary status of the franchise, one of the most significant surviving relics in NFL history. Graded A9.5 by MEARS (10 point base grade, but minus a half point for the small holes on the front). This jersey has been consigned to this auction directly from the personal collection/inventory of world-renowned bat and jersey authenticators David Bushing and/or Troy Kinunen. LOAs from Dave Bushing & Troy Kinunen/MEARS. Reserve $2,500. Estimate $5,000+. SOLD FOR $9,987.50
Wow. $10K. A little out of my price range, but I love the photos.

Outstanding in all its details:

But the real gem is the authentication paper:

An amazing opportunity to get actual data on the classic jerseys, especially the numeral measurements. Helpful for making those replicas.

So few of these old jerseys still exist, although MEARS is wrong on one point - if their attribution is correct, this is not the oldest known Packers jersey in existence.

I don't know which one is the extant packers jerseys is the oldest, but I do know of at least two Don Hutson jerseys in museums. Hutson played until 1945, which would make them at the very least as old as the earliest date they've assigned to the Keuper jersey.

The Packers Hall of Fame has one of those Hutson jerseys, donated a couple years ago by the family which used to run the Rockwood Lodge.

The second one's in Canton (kind of hard to see - it's the jersey on the left, you can make out the "4"):The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame has other old jerseys, including this beauty worn by Ted Fritsch in the 1944 Championship Game against the Giants (Lambeau's sixth and last World Championship).

The memorabilia store All-American Sports in Milwaukee (on National, right around the corner from Miller Park) has a framed 1940s jersey in its store, or did about five years ago. How many other jerseys are in private hands may never be known, but the number can't be that high.

I don't know which one is oldest, and maybe we never will. They're all gorgeous, though. Such an elegant design. Navy and gold compliment each other, and the gold yoke is pure class. The 1994 throwbacks didn't even come close to capturing its spirit.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Little Public Notice

Just found out that the Database got a mention in this article in the Marketplace (Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine) "Marketplace of Ideas" blog.

The green (formerly blue) and gold

It's not quite the nice review that the North County Times (Escondido, CA) gave us a couple years back before a Chargers game, but still. Nice to get a little notice.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turducken Day to all. No throwback game against the Lions this year, unfortunately. Maybe we'll get lucky in 2009.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Week 11: A Brief Stroll Through History

Ah, a very satisfying win against the Bears. Nothing like a 37-3 home shellacking of your biggest rival to wipe away the memories of prior weeks. 5 and 5 now, tied with the Vikings and Bears for the division. I think we're going to enjoy the rest of this season.

As part of my research, I love browsing the Green Bay Press-Gazette's incredible photo archives, and more information about early Packers uniforms becomes available every day. They recently uploaded three new galleries featuring Packers/Bears games from 1941, 1942, and 1951.

We get a couple great shots of the classic Lambeau-era uniform in action. Gold helmets, gold pants, navy jerseys with gold numbers and yoke defined the Packers for so long:

The Press-Gazette also gives us a glimpse into the oft-overlooked days between Lambeau and Lombardi, such as this shot of head coach Gene Ronzani with quarterback Bobby Thomason from 1951:

The gold helmet with green stripe/gold jersey with green numbers/green pants uniform was introduced by Ronzani as an alternate in 1950, his first season at the helm. I've never seen a color photo, but I'm still looking. During his tenure the Packers seem to have worn green/gold and blue/gold in rotation.

As much as I hate to say anything nice about the Bears, I have to give them credit for consistency. They've managed to maintain the same basic uniform design from the leather helmet era through the body armor look of today's NFL.

Recently, a new resource has gone online. Google announced a deal to host millions of photograpghs from Life magazine. Not only does this mean that some of the 20th Century's most famous photographs may be found there, but it also includes photos from the same sessions never before published. Not surprisingly, the site has a wealth of material for those of us interested in sports aesthetics.

These shots from 1962 are a particular favorite of mine - check out Vince's team jacket!

Mitchell & Ness used to make a reproduction of that jacket in beautiful blue and gold, but it was dated 1954-1957. Was it possible that Lombardi was wearing those jackets as late as 1962, or did M&N goof on the dates, the color, or both? Time to dig mine out of the closet anyway, I'll post some pictures soon. I've long been interested in the sideline wear, especially old capes and dusters - that might be worth an entry of its own.

Back to the gallery, I'm really excited about seeing some of the earlier photos - Life did a great feature on the Packers in their December 18, 1939 issue. None of that content appears to be online, but when it is....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Week 10: Getting Ugly

I can't decide what's worse - a loss in Minnesota, or the new prototype jerseys the Packers are testing.

Not sure about these prototypes - sure sounds like what some of the Giants have been testing on the field this season.

Looks awful, like he's been vacuformed or swaddled in Saran Wrap. Check out all the stretch marks, and the pads poking through like ribs on a zombie. You can't stretch a clingy fabric over uneven surfaces and still look halfway decent. The performance fabric aspect sounds like a good idea (although I'm usually skeptical of such claims), but they have to fix the æsthetics.

UPDATE: On the must-read UniWatch blog, Paul Lukas quotes Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba’s reaction to the WFRV video: “That jersey’s already outdated.” So the Giants version might be, what, even more stretchy?

The report is all the more frustrating for its imprecision. Ryan Popkey, the correspondent, specifically mentions "League-wide uniformity." That brings to mind of the Reebok EDGE debacle in the NHL. They tried to apply a limited number of templates to all teams, with some negative results (they also made some dubious claims about performance, including that the new jerseys had 9% less wind drag). Wouldn't surprise me, as Reebok obviously has a financial incentive to simplify jersey construction. On the other hand, Packers equipment manager Red Batty talks about trying to consolidate the three different uniform patterns worn by different positions, and the three different kinds of material used in each of the jersey (shoulder yoke, mesh torso, spandex side panels). So which is it?

If Popkey is correct, how will this single uniform template handle complicated uniforms like those of the Cardinals or Vikings? The Bills have piping up and down the seams of their jerseys - will Reebok paint those thin stripes on, or will the Bills re-design the jerseys? How about the orange side panels on the Broncos' duds? Will Reebok create a new template just for them, or will they add the color blocks on like stripes, or will we see another re-design?

There are a lot of questions raised by this prototype, and not necessarily in a good way. 2010's not that far away.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 9: Happy Halloween

Holiday wishes from the Green Bay Packers Uniform Database:

That's OT Ken Ruettgers, who played with the Packers from 1985 through 1996, obviously in the holiday mood for a Monday Night Football game played on Halloween 1994.

So what on Earth is he wearing? That's one of the two throwback uniforms worn in 1994 by the Packers as part of the NFL's celebration of its 75th Anniversary (I'll cover the other in a later entry). It's a throwback to 1937. Not a terribly accurate throwback - the original featured gold numbers on the white jersey, but that's about as legible as it sounds. Rather than outline the gold numbers in navy, the Packers decided to use simply navy block numbers.

Since the look hearkened back to the leather-helmet days, and therefore doesn't translate perfectly into today's form-fitting armor look, the Packers simply stripped off all decals and went with simple gold plastic shells for their throwback games (providing a nice blank canvas for Ken). They didn't bother to change out the standard green facemasks, resulting in a somewhat patchwork appearance up close.

On October 31st, 1994, the Packers journeyed south to take on the Bears at Soldier Field. Playing in a torrential downpour, with gusts of up to 36mph, the Packers crushed the Bears 33-6.

The Bears, wearing 1920s-style throwbacks, turned the ball over five times in that game (the Packers managed not to lose it even once), didn't score until the fourth quarter, when the Packers had already put it away.

That picture above tells another story - look at all the empty seats. The foul weather resulted in 19,000 hardy Chicagoans deciding to stay dry and watch the game at home.

No word on whether or not Ruettgers took his helmet trick-or-treating in Chicago before heading back north.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Week 8: Good Bye

No Packers game this week, so I thought that it might be a good time to discuss the various ways the Packers have paid tribute to persons associated with either the club or the National Football League.

The first uniform tribute of which I am aware came during Super Bowl XXXI, when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who had died the previous month, was honored with a helmet decal worn by both clubs:

The next tribute came in the 2003 season, when Tony Canadeo passed away. Tony was a mainstay in the Packers organization from the day he was picked by the Packers out of Gonzaga in the ninth round of the 1941 draft (#77 overall).

"The Gray Ghost", as he was styled on account of his prematurely gray hair, would go on to a Hall of Fame career with Green Bay. In twelve seasons with the Packers, he ran for 4,971 career rushing yards on 1,025 attempts (a 4.2 average) and passed for 1,642 yards and made 69 receptions for 579 yards. His number 3 was retired in 1952, the second number so honored by the Pack. After his retirement, Canadeo was a fixture in Green Bay, serving the club as broadcaster and member of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. After stepping down, he was a Director Emeritus until his death.

Tony passed away on November 29, 2003, at the age of 84. Starting with the following game, December 17th against the Bears, the team added a memorial decal to the back of their helmets, which they wore for the rest of the season. The decal featured Candeo's number 3 in white within a black football:

The following season saw two different helmet tributes. Week Two saw a one-game tribute to Pat Tillman, the first active NFL player to be killed in combat since 1970. The League-wide decal incorporated Tillman's number 40 in a black circle bordered with a broken white line:

The decal would be worn by the Cardinals for the remainder of the season. Players on other teams, most notably Jake Plummer of the Broncos, asked for permission to wear it beyond Week Two but were denied on the grounds that some players wearing a memorial and some not wearing it would make the uniforms less, well, uniform.

Later that same season, on December 26, 2004, Packers legend Reggie White passed away at the age of 43. White was a symbol of the Packers' resurgence in the 1990s, the Packers' biggest signing since the advent of free agency. A dominant defensive presence, he helped lead the Packers to two Super Bowls and one World Championship. His on-field accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but can be read on the Packers' site.

The White tribute decal, a clear circle with his number 92 in black, was worn for the remainder of the season.

The next helmet memorial would come in 2007, after the murder of Washington safety Sean Taylor. Worn League-wide, it was similar in design to the Tillman tribute, except for the latter's broken white border:

Perhaps mindful of the controvery surrounding the denial of Plummer's tribute to Tillman, the NFL allowed players to wear it for the rest of the season, at their own discretion. I don't have any specific numbers for individual players to back this up, but I seem to recall virtually all Packers continued to wear it for the rest of the season.

Then there's the Gene Upshaw mess, which I talked about earlier this season.

It's amazing to see how commonplace these types of tributes have become in recent years. Tony Canadeo was the third of the Packers' retired-number greats to pass away, but the first to be given a memorial decal. Neither Don Hutson nor Ray Nitschke were so honored, for the sole reason that such memorials hadn't yet become standard. In early 1997, the Pete Rozelle helmet decal was a big deal; today it'd hardly be mentioned.

I'm interested in earlier Packer memorials - did they ever wear black armbands for anyone back in the day? If you have any information, please let me know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Week 6: Stripes!

Watching the Packers roll the Seahawks in Seattle this weekend, I was reminded of what I really dislike about the Packers' road uniforms.

It's the stripes.

Part of the essential beauty of the Packer uniform lies in its repetition of themes - the pants match the helmet's colors and striping. White stripe between two green stripes against gold. The same pattern is repeated all over the Packers' uniform.

But on the road jerseys, the stripes are a mismatch.

I don't know why they made that choice - I'm presuming that the team thought gold against white didn't provide enough contrast, so the outer stripes were changed to green, and everything else flowed from that.

This could have been easily solved by putting thin green stripes around the outer gold stripes, similar to what the Steelers do with their gold stripes:

See? A touch of black, and they can keep the standard striping. Not so hard.

This Packer sleeve stripe pattern is one of the last vestiges of Forrest Gregg's 1984 overhaul (the subject of a future post, no doubt). It's also terribly ugly, as were most of Gregg's uniform "improvements." I really can't stand those little white stripes around gold.

Personally, I prefer the classic Lombardi look for the road whites:

It's not trying to be a photo-negative of the home jerseys, but finds a balance that works well on its own. No little white stripes needed.

For Thanksgiving 2003, the Packers wore a modified version of this jersey as part of a 1960s throwback:

I think those were a huge improvement over the regular road jerseys, and would love to see this brought back full-time. Not so sure that the "glory years" of 1984-87 are particularly worth enshrining in nylon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Week 5: Anything to avoid talking about the game

Okay, I could post on yet another really painful loss (and at Lambeau, no less), but I'd rather talk about my pet peeve. That stupid "NFL EQUIPMENT" tag.

The NFL unveiled a new logo this past off-season:

A big upgrade, to my eye. It took a lot of random elements and gave them meaning - the football now echoes the Lombardi Trophy, one star for each division (unlike the random 25 stars). I've never been a big fan of the flourish on the "L" so the simplified text works for me, although I do wish the designer could have lined them up better with the bottom of the shield.

I was really hoping that the NFL would use this new logo as an excuse to get rid of the awful "NFL EQUIPMENT" tag on the throats of jerseys.Once upon a time (that is to say, from 1991 through 2001) all teams wore an NFL logo at the throat. Unlike the batter logo on the backs of MLB clubs' jerseys and caps, this was never in team colors but always in the League's standard blue and red.

Authentic merchandised jerseys had this patch, replicas (lower price point, usually with screened numbers instead of tackle twill) didn't.

Then, one year after Reebok took over the uniform contract for the League, the shield was replaced with a large white patch, featuring a smaller shield under the word "EQUIPMENT".

This logo, which I can only presume was designed to imbue lots of merchandise with the sheen of authenticity, was then slapped on all jerseys for sale, not to mention plenty of other (non-field) items, such as this womens' jacket:

I hate it.

First of all, the overall effect of reducing the size of the NFL shield, surrounding it with a white field and subordinating it to big block letters is to diminish its impact. It's illegible at any distance.

Secondly, it has the smell of the old "PROPERTY OF THE GREEN BAY PACKERS" t-shirts, which I always found silly at best. I see somebody walking down the street with one of those things, and want to shake him and yell "No, it isn't. The closest that shirt ever got to the Packers is the NFL online shop's warehouse." But maybe that's just me.

Long story short, this season it's a new tiny logo on the same ugly patch.

A Modest Proposal

Been thinking about this one for a while, but it may be time for a slight change to the Packers' uniforms.

The NFL is currently testing a new skin-tight uniform, to be spread throughout the league soon (as the NHL did a couple years ago).

Looking at the new protoptypes, and considering the slowly-developing problem of disappearing sleeves, you can see the problem. There's barely enough room for even the Packers' downsized stripes as it is; once the new jersey cuts are unveiled they might be banished from the sleeves altogether.

And that actually might be a good thing.

Here's my proposal: Remove the stripes from the jersey sleeves altogether, and place them on the compression shirts players wear under the jerseys.

Okay, my Photoshop skills aren't the best. But you get the general idea.

Players could then crop their sleeves as short as they like (well, within reason), and maybe we could even create enough real estate on the arms to restore the proper Lombardi stripe pattern:
Plus, the NFL could actually start selling the compression shirts branded as "Authentics."

I smell a win-win.

UPDATE 9/1/2010: Looks like Nike agrees, introducing these Oregon State throwback uniforms to be worn in the 2010 Civil War game with Oregon:

UPDATE 10/17/2010: Now that Nike will be taking over the NFL uniform contract beginning in 2012, this seems more possible now than ever.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Week 4: Fox in Socks, Rules & Regs

Following on the heels, if you will, of last week's conversation about cleats, this week's topic is socks.

There's supposedly rules about the way in which NFL players may wear their socks, but you'd never know it from watching the games. 

As recently as last season, this sign was hanging in the Cleveland Browns' locker room:

First reaction - Wow.  That graphic has to be twenty years old - the guy still has sleeves.  But that's a topic for another day.

Couple things to note:

"The exterior stocking must be a one-piece unit solid white from the top of the shoe to the midpoint of the lower leg, with approved team color or colors from that midpoint to the top of the stocking"

"Stockings must meet the uniform pants below the knees"

So let's look at the Packers.  Last week, we had some very unique interpretations of those rules:

Personally, that one's my favorite look.  I love the strong colors, with little to no white at all.  I'd like to see football go baseball's route and wear solid colored socks with no whites.

By my reading, Aaron Rodgers is the only one who actually conforms to the uniform code.  Low whites, big gaps between the pants and socks either because the pants are worn high or the socks or worn low or both, all sorts of violations.

This reminded me of the Denver game last year, in which Charles Woodson and Al Harris decided to wear their whites high, and no green socks at all:

Also "Sleeves must not be torn or cut".  So how the hell does Chris Hovan get out on the field each and every Sunday?

But now we're back to sleeves.  And again, that's a subject for another day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Week 3: Sometimes a subtle change is the best change

Can't believe we're through the first three weeks and only now talking about this - there was a potentially Earth-shattering development in Packers uniforms this year.

Huge. Ground-breaking. The first significant change (meaning that the manufacturers' logo swaps don't count) since Nike slashed away at Lombardi's sleeve stripes in 1997. For such a uniform-conscious, conservative team, this is big.

Black cleats.

Hey, I'm serious. The Packers have been wearing white cleats since 1974. In the preseason, they wore the standard white cleat we're all used to seeing:

Then, when the regular season started, the Packers came out of the tunnel in black cleats, as seen this week against Dallas:

Now, there is some variation allowed. Every player must wear cleats which are predominantly of the team's official color. Rodgers wears cleats which have a much higher percentage of white than either Collins or Desmond Bishop above:

Nothing really new there, as Favre's white cleats usually incorporated a fair amount of green.

I'd love to know what the specific regs are, but the NFL is extremely reluctant to reveal this kind of information. If anybody has a copy, let me know.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Week 2 - Oh Captain! My Captain!

The NFL's misguided journey into captain's patches continues. For those who missed them last season, they're standardized across the entire League. Squarish patch featuring bold C and four stars below - one gold star for every year spent as Captain. Guess the NFL will institute term limits so nobody goes after four. And considering that the League doesn't count any years before the 2007 season, one can only presume that all Captains will be required to start over with a single gold star after their mandatory year out of office.

As with last year, the Packers select their captains on a week-to-week basis, which means that there isn't enough time to sew the ugly things on. I'm presuming that when and if the Packers make the playoffs (looking more like "when", with this nice 2-0 start, but let's not get ahead of ourselves), they'll have postseason captains, and that means we'll see them again in January:

Photo: Tom Lynn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Uni Watch reader Kody Staples got these screengrabs of Packers offensive tackle Mark Tauscher, who went stripe-less on one sleeve during the win over Minnesota:

The area on his shoulders where the stripes should go is darker than the rest of the jersey, but that looks like it's just sweat.

Wardrobe malfunction? Deliberate attempt to introduce an assymetrical look to the NFL? Whatever the origins, it's not a bad response to the problem of disappearing sleeves. Instead of chipping away at Vince Lombardi's stripes, just eliminate them altogether.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Week 1: The Most Memorialized Man in NFL History

So far so good in the Rodgers era - 1 and 0, with an important division victory on our side.

The uniform news this week revolves around Gene Upshaw, the controversial head of the players' union, who died earlier this year. The trend towards over-the-top memorials continues, as all players on all teams wore a patch in his honor, and the patch logo was painted on all fields.

Originally, it was announced that all teams would wear the patch for the entire year, but it seems as though sanity has returned at least a little bit - given that no Packers player has been memorialized for an entire season, it seems unseemly that Upshaw, with no specific connection to the team, should be accorded an honor denied Hutson, Canadeo, Nitschke and White. Now the patch is only for the first game (the Raiders, Upshaw's club from his playing days, will wear it all season), but the helmet decal will stay all year.

The placement of the patch caused some problems with the skin-tight cut of some jerseys - check out Cullen Jenkins (#77), Will Blackmon (#27) and Atari Bigby (#20):

Yep, they have so little real estate that the patch lays over the numbers.

Seriously - for a union head? Pete Rozelle himself only got a crummy helmet sticker, and that for just one game (even if it was a Super Bowl).

I have a real problem with the attention-seeking memorials of Goodell's NFL. Surely there's a middle ground between these showy displays and Peyton Manning not being allowed to honor Johnny U's passing with black high-tops.