The interest in collecting game used football uniforms is at an all time high. There are many reasons for this including the increased availability of product and the ever-increasing popularity of the sport. If you are new to the hobby, or have been at it for a while, consider this information as you begin collecting or improving on what you have been doing for years.
The first thing to do before you spend any money on a jersey is to spend some time gathering references that you can use. I am a big fan of using databases. Since you are reading this on-line, then you have access to a computer. Most computers come with simple software packages that have some sort data base product like an Excel spreadsheet. The advantage of using a spreadsheet is obvious, as it allows you to sort the data entries by any of the fields you wish. I would suggest building one that includes:
Team – Year – Player – H/R – Manufacturer – Size – Source
Most of these headings are easy to understand and I always like to list the source as well. There is a lot of information that can be recorded, and if you list the source, it will make it easier to go back over time, especially when dealing with things like old auction catalogs. Other fields could be added for things like tagging location and patches. One of the greatest values of using a database is that it permits you to analyze trends, especially if you have built a large database. To highlight what I mean, consider these examples.
Over the course of time, you build a database that includes 30 jerseys for a particular team spanning a ten-year period. You notice that 28 of the jerseys were manufactured by Sand Knit, while only two of the examples feature jerseys made by Russell Athletic for a Hall of Fame caliber player. While this does not automatically mean the shirts are bad, it should give you reason to examine it a bit more carefully.
If you are tracking sizes in your database, you can track the changes for a player over time, even if that player moves from team to team simply by using the “SORT” function.
To assist you in beginning to build your database, I will do some of the work for you. This information has been gathered from recent auction catalogs. For my examples, I establish a code for the source to reduce the amount of typing. The code for this example is:
G = Grey Flannel
For dates, I use a number code for the month and year of the auction. For example, “0201” is used for February 2001.
Team – Year – Player – H/R – Manufacturer – Size – Source
Bears – 1975 – Tittle – H – Wilson – 44 – G1100
Giants – Late 80s – Taylor – H – Cosby – XXL – G1100
Raiders – c1983 – Plunkett – R – Sand Knit – 48 – G1100
Dolphins – 1996 – Marino – n/a – Wilson – 50 – G1100
Cowboys – c1975 – Staubach – H – Southland – 44L – G1100
49s – 1990 – Montana – H – Wilson – 46 – G1100
49s – 1989 – Rice – n/a – Russell – 46 – G1100
Broncos – 1994 – Elway – H – Wilson – 46 – G1100
Jets – 1968 – Namath – H – Sand Knit – 48 – G1100
Steelers – 1980 – Bradshaw – H – Sand Knit – 48 – G1104
Dolphins – 1996 – Marino – H – Wilson – 50 – G1104
Browns – 1999 – Couch – R – Puma – 50 – G1104
Bears – Late 60s – Sayers – R – King O’Shea – 46 – G1104
Broncos – Early 90s – Elway – H – Wilson – 42 – G1104
Cowboys – Late 70s – Staubach – R – Southland – 46 – G1104
49s – Late 80s – Montana – H – Wilson – 46 – G1104
Dolphins – Early 90s – Marino – H – n/a – n/a – L1203
Dolphins – 1991 – Marino – R – Wilson – 48 – L1203
Cowboys – Early 70s – B. Hayes – H – Southland – 46 – L1203
Giants – 1989 – Marshall – R – Mac Sand Knit – 44 – L1202
Giants – 1987 – Johnson – R – Sand Knit – 44 – L1202
Seahawks – 1989 – Largent – R – Wilson – 42 – L1202
Vikings – 2001 – Moss – H – Reebock – 46 – L0502
Ravens – 2000 – R. Lewis – R – Nike – 46 – L0502
Steelers – 1975 – Swann – R – Sand Knit – 42 – M0404
Redskins – 1970s – Theisman – H – Rawlings – 46 – M0404
Redskins – 1970s – Fugett – H – Rawlings – 46 – M0404
Bears – Late 60s – Gordon – H – King O’Shea – 44 – M0804
Rams – 1971 – Gabriel – R – Rawlings – 48 – M0804
Rams – 1973/74 – Olsen – R – Sand Knit – 54 – M0804
Rams – Early 80s – Youngblood – H – Sand Knit – n/a – M0804
Jets – Early 70s – Namath – R – Sand Knit – n/a – M0804
49s – 1990 – Montana – H – Wilson – 46 – M1204
49s – 1995 – Young – H – Wilson – 46 – M1204
Dolphins – 1999 – Marino – H – Nike – 48+6 – M1204
Packers – 1997 – Favre – R – Nike – 48 – M1204
Redskins – Early 70s – Jurgensen – H – Russell – L – M1203
These sample entries do not represent the total number of uniforms listed within these catalogs. It is designed to show you the type of things that can be seen when you take the time to begin building a database. You are able to see any number of correlations and trends, especially with respect to those players whose uniforms show up in greater frequency. As you expand your database, you will be able to identify exactly when teams may have switched manufacturers or when a player’s size may have changed.
In addition to the team or player specific information you can gain, you will also be able to ascertain certain things about manufacturers labels as well. For dominate manufacturers like Wilson, Sand Knit and Russell, you will be able to see when manufacturers labels change by sorting your database by YEAR, MANUFACTURER, and TEAM.
There are many other sources of uniform information that you should consider when adding to your database including uniforms you see at shows. To facilitate this, you will want to either print out blank copies of your database or simple carry a notebook to record relevant information. Digital cameras are nice as they allow you to create photo archives of the jerseys you come across. Don’t forget to use other collectors as sources of data as well. Many folks are more than willing to share their collections with you, but some may wish for the contents of their collections to remain private. In those cases, I would recommend doing what I have done in my baseball uniform database (which contains over 3000 uniforms), and assign these collectors with a code of PC1, PC2 for Private Collector 1 or 2.
As you can see already quite a bit of work has been done and we have not even begun to talk about checking the accuracy of styles for any given year or player. So far all that we have done is to archive information about what exists in the hobby. How do you determine for yourself if the jersey that is being offered has been evaluated accurately? To do this you will have to find images of the jersey during the same period or year it claims to have been worn. In recent years, on-line photo archives such as Getty or Corbis images have made this task a lot easier. Referring back to our data base sample, you will notice any number of examples that are not date specific. They are often only described as early, late or circa. In many cases, you will be able to narrow this down if you can determine when a style changed or when a variation of a manufacturers label was used.
While these on-line archives are wonderful tools, there are problems at times with the dates attributed to the photos, however, there is a way to check this. It has become a great deal easier because of the Internet. What you want to do is review a team schedule from year to year to confirm that the two teams did in fact play on that date and in the location stated. A handy on-line reference to review this information can be found at www.jt-sw.com/football/pro/teams.nsf. One thing to remember is that, unlike the baseball season, a football season will in fact span two calendar years so the month in which the photo was taken is important. To highlight my point, consider this scenario:
You are looking at a Dan Marino Dolphins jersey that is void of any year identification. It is a white road jersey featuring aqua and orange sleeve numbers and a sleeve pattern of, top to bottom, Aqua (narrow), Orange (narrow), Aqua (wide), Orange (narrow) and Aqua (narrow). If you do a quick Getty Image search for 1987 Miami Dolphins, you will see this jersey style with a date of 1 January 1987 (#52134231). You also notice in this same search that Marino can also be seen on 8 November 1987 (#52799431) in a road jersey with a different style chest numeral in addition to a change in location of the secondary numeral’s, which moved from the sleeve to the shoulder. This jersey is also void of any sort of sleeve trim ornamentation. The first jersey is from the 1986 season. The second jersey is from the 1987 season.
There are also a number of other image sources you should consider. I am a big fan of print media with respect to this because the images are frequently clearer and larger than what you can access on-line. Team yearbooks and publications are great, but can be pricey if you are building a library for older teams. Period publications such as Sport, Sports Illustrated and the ever-popular Street & Smith Football Guides are all readily available. In our upcoming Photo Reference section, we will be listing football books and photos that are included in each. That feature will contain entries like:
Best Shots: The Greatest NFL Photography of the Century, DBK Publishing 1999. Not sure if I am willing to dispute this title as there are some incredible shots with respect to detail and clarity. The best part is each photograph is dated and labeled with the photographer. Cleveland Browns 1995 in Russell white jerseys with small player number decals on the back left portion of the helmet is just one example. Plenty of vintage Packer shots are included as well. You will even find an example of Kenny Stabler jersey with sleeves cut open and then hemmed in 1977 (p76).
Dallas Cowboys: Our Story…The Authorized Pictorial History by Jeff Guinn, Summit Publishing Group 1996. Wonderful book and a must have for a Cowboys fan…Want to know what size shoulder pads Lee Roy Jordon wore in 1963 and who manufactured them (p.21)? Books like these are wonderful because they allow you chronicle changes in styles and equipment for a single team, including small details like where an embossing gun placed names on the back of the helmet and where the center stripe was off-set. Nice date specific shots showing when uniform numbers were also present on the pants are included as well. Reference information provided in the book includes year-by-year schedules and records (by day of game) as well as player rosters from 1960-1995. The only drawback to the rosters is that they only list player and position and not the uniform number.
Many of the books that will be listed can be found in most large public libraries. The good thing about doing your research work in the library is that most have copy machines, which can be used for a nominal fee. When I find a picture I like, I make a copy and then record on the back of the copy, the book title, author, publisher and the page number. These pages can then be placed in a three ring binder, which you can carry with you to shows.
Film references are also available in sufficient quantities. These are nice to add to your reference library as they often chronicle a team, player or series of events like the Super Bowl. A few quick keystrokes can take you to www.profootballdvd.com, where
Super Bowl Films
Team Histories: Bears, Cowboys, Eagles, Steelers, Giants, Raiders, & Packers
Special NFL Films including “Inside the Vault; Volumes 1-3”
For vintage collectors, be sure to check out Rare Sports Films at www.raresportsfilms.com.
Another resource that should not be ignored is the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. The Hall of Fame features an Archive and Information Center (AIC) that includes:
· Spalding Guides, 1892-1940
· More than 100 scrapbooks
· Media Guides dating back to the 1930s
· Game programs from the turn of the 20th century through the present
· Game stories and summaries, 1920 to the present
· Individual player files (thousands of player’s files are accessible through microfiche)
The AIC is open to the public, by appointment only
The hours of the AIC are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
To schedule an appointment, please call 330-456-8207
For those individuals interested in obtaining information, requests should be made in writing. Please be sure to state your specific needs in detail. Your correspondence should be directed to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
ATTN: Archives and Information Center
2121 George Halas Drive NW
Canton, Ohio 44708
So far in this article I have devoted almost 2000 words to this topic and have yet to get into the specifics of what you should be looking for. There is a very good reason for this as it all comes down to highlighting the importance of learning what a correct uniform should look like before you begin to spend money on it. This is where imagery analysis comes into play. Notice I did not say “photo matching,” as I don’t use this term in this context since it implies that if they look the same that they are the same.
A cursory comparison of a uniform photograph with the uniform in question may not yield the critical information for which you are searching. While the size, color, and design of the jersey numerals may appear to match, you will still need to confirm whether or not they were screened on or sewn on. Other aspects of the fabric you will need to be able to confirm relate to the body of the jersey itself. Jersey bodies can be made of dureen, knit, knit mesh, knit and knit mesh combinations, or in the case of modern jerseys, spandex-like fabrics.
Other details you should look for include collar cut or style, sleeve cut and style or the method of application for a players name on a jersey. Name application techniques can include:
Name sewn to back of the jersey
Name sewn to a plate that is sewn to a jersey
Name screened on a plate that is sewn to a jersey
Name screened to the jersey
To assist you in looking at photographs and jerseys, I would suggest that you look at them “against the grain”. By that I mean force your eyes to work against the natural progression for how we view images. Our natural tendency is to view things from top to bottom and left to right, as this is how we are trained to read. Imagine the jersey is divided into four quadrants, both front and back. Evaluate the jersey from lower right, to upper right, then from upper left to lower left. You will want to study the photo first and master that information, rather than studying the jersey first as this tends to lead folks to find in the photo what they are looking at on the jersey. It should be the other way around since you know the shirt in the picture is a gamer.
Now that you have spent the time deciding what a “correct uniform” looks like and if the jersey in question looks right or not, now it is time to begin considering use or wear. Don’t begin to even entertain thoughts along these lines until you have done the other work. Remember a bad jersey with great use and “team repairs” is still a bad jersey.
Evaluating use and wear is nothing more than considering what should have happened to this uniform during the course of its use. Use and wear will indicate any number of things and will vary by player and position depending on what said player was doing and where. Consider things like the surface on which the uniform was worn, grass, grass and dirt, or some form of artificial turf. You must also consider the impact (no pun intended) of use on various fabrics. With this in mind, give some thought to:
Helmet contact with screened numbers on a shoulder
Helmet contact with sewn numbers on a shoulder
Grass contact with screened numbers on a shoulder
Turf contact with screened numbers on a shoulder
Also consider what happens to various fabrics and fabric combinations as they are laundered and repaired.
While this article is not meant to make anyone an expert, it should provide you with the basis to make a more informed purchase decision. In addition, it is designed to establish a standard by which you should expect those people who are offering opinions to be able to meet. Time for kickoff…