In celebration of the NFL’s 75th anniversary in 1994, all 28 teams wore uniforms symbolic to a significant period or year in each team’s history. For a few games during that season, fans were treated to some interesting, if anachronistic, sartorial match-ups, such as the 1937 Redskins facing off against the 1956 Giants, or the 1961 Vikings playing the 1925 Bears. These uniforms, particularly the “throwback” jerseys, were initially met with mixed reviews at best. While many players and pundits scorned the retro uniforms, aficionados appreciated the colorful glimpses at the NFL’s past.
To recreate historically accurate reproductions of old uniforms, NFL Properties enlisted the help of Joe Horrigan, curator of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Newer franchises presented few problems in the way of creating replica uniforms, but some of the older ones did. For example, due to the lack of color photographs from the period, the shades of the Steelers 1933 replica uniforms had to be based on calculated guesswork. It even took Horrigan and his staff some time before they were able to figure out what the castle-like insignia emblazoned on the front of the Steelers jerseys was (a friend serendipitously saw a picture of one of the old uniforms and informed him that it was the official emblem of the City of Pittsburgh). The 49ers decided to use its 1955 uniform, which presented some research problems, as that was the only year they wore that particular style.
The San Diego Chargers experienced some initial difficulty in replicating their 1961 blue jerseys. Equipment manager Sid Brooks had trouble locating one of the old Air Force blue jerseys, and eventually borrowed one from former running back Paul Lowe. He then had to send the shirt to a company in Georgia that could duplicate the color. Another company was enlisted to make the old socks.
The Denver Broncos weren’t about to copy their much-maligned brown inaugural 1960 uniforms (they settled on the blue and orange 1965 design), but they did explore making the infamous vertically striped socks, albeit in the later 1965 colors. A domestic manufacturer couldn’t be found, and an example from a company in New Zealand was refused based on inferior workmanship.
The Los Angeles Rams had some last minute problems with their blue and yellow 1951 jerseys. They arrived just a few days before they were to be worn with white cuffs and sleeves, and some of the lineman’s jerseys had the wrong shoulder material. Fortunately a rush order of corrected jerseys saved the day.
The Seattle Seahawks also experienced problems. NFL Properties failed to ship the team jerseys for twelve players two days before a game. Team staffers feverishly changed numbers and made alterations on extra throwback jerseys in the shipment. They even found old Seahawk jerseys in the equipment room and set about altering those, so some players actually wore authentic old Seahawk jerseys for one of the “throwback” games.
Even though the teams paid great attention to detail in recreating these jerseys from the past, a few concessions had to be made. The 1925 Bears and 1933 Steelers (actually they were the Pirates then) throwback jerseys featured small numbers on the upper left front; the original jerseys didn’t have those numbers. The NFL’s Competition Committee insisted upon the numbers, believing that officials and opponents were conditioned to see numbers on the front of jerseys.
While fans were able to acquire store-bought versions of some of these throwback jerseys at the time, it is the actual game-used examples of these jerseys that represent a unique challenge to collectors. Most teams wore throwback jerseys for only a few games, making them scarce to begin with. The unique and sometimes extremely colorful styles have remained popular with game-used collectors, commanding a higher (sometimes significantly higher) price compared to standard issue 1994 game-used jerseys. Examples of jerseys of “common” players from teams with popular styles can go for $500 and up, while styles in less demand can be had for somewhat less.
According to game-used jersey dealer Mark Hayne of Gridiron Exchange, most of the ’94 throwbacks seem to be tough to locate, “and even those that were fairly easy to find a few years back, such as the Chargers, have now become scarce. My understanding is that a lot of the ’94 throwback jerseys ended up being given to the players.” Hayne feels that the easiest throwbacks to find are from the Giants, 49ers and Lions. Fellow dealer Jim Yackel states that some of the other more common ones are the Chargers, Bears and Cowboys, as some of those game-used jerseys were directly marketed to the public. Even though those can be found on occasion, Yackel points out that “You still don’t see them in sheer numbers. Overall, the actual ‘throwbacks’ from 1994 are uncommon in the hobby 11 years later.” He notes that the most difficult to find are the Rams, Raiders, Packers and Steelers. Veteran dealer Murf Denny receives the most requests for the Packers, Steelers and Bears throwbacks, all among the most colorful and oldest designs of these anniversary jerseys. Yackel is quick to mention that the 75th anniversary patch (that was worn on all 1994 NFL jerseys) came in two varieties: one with the years 1920 and 1994 embroidered on and one without. The patch without 1920-1994 is the correct one for game jerseys, while the other was used on retail jerseys and possibly some sideline apparel. Savvy collectors will watch for this when acquiring an authentic game-worn ’94 throwback jersey.
Extreme caution should be exercised when attempting to purchase a game-used throwback from some of the bigger stars of the time, particularly John Elway and Brett Favre. Many unused “game issued” jerseys of these stars have made their way into the hobby, only to be erroneously passed off as “game worn”. Consult a knowledgeable source before spending a few thousand dollars.
Despite the scarcity and higher prices, collecting the 75th anniversary throwbacks can be a rewarding challenge. Seeking out these popular jerseys is a viable alternative to obtaining the originals. The obsolete styles inspire nostalgia and allow game-used collectors to celebrate the historic uniforms of the NFL’s past.
Here’s the complete list of the years each team drew upon for creating their throwback jerseys: Cardinals (1920), Browns (1964), Bills (1964), Oilers (1960), Packers (1937), Eagles (1948), Colts (1958), Steelers (1933), Raiders (1963), Broncos (1965), Vikings (1961), Bears (1925), Saints (1967), Buccaneers (1977), Patriots (1963), Bengals (1968), Jets (1968), Dolphins (1972), Chargers (1961), Seahawks (1976), 49ers (1955), Rams (1951), Redskins (1937), Giants (1956), Chiefs (1963), Falcons (1971), Lions (1935), Cowboys (1960). Some teams sported both home and road versions of the jerseys. The Packers wore the classic Hutson-era deep navy jerseys with a bright gold shoulder yoke and gold numbers for a few games, but also faced off against the Bears in a rain-soaked Monday night tilt wearing white jerseys with gold shoulders and dark blue numbers. The Chargers wore both their road white and fabled powder blue jerseys during the season.
Currently there are two websites dedicated to the ’94 NFL throwback uniforms. “NFL Throwbacks” (http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Stadium/3028) is a gallery of photos of each team wearing throwbacks in game action. “Football Uniforms Past and Present” has a page with a template mock-up of all the ’94 throwbacks (http://www.athlegraphic.com/FFP/1990s/1994_75th.htm).
Penner, Mike. “Rams Will Only Look the Part.” Los Angeles Times 14 Sept. 1994, sports; C1.
Gildea, William. “NFL Putting Forward Uniform Appearance.” The Washington Post 15 Sept. 1994, pg.B1
Smith, Craig. “Seahawk Notebook—Old-Style Uniforms Are Causing Fits—Team Makes Last-Ditch Effort.” Seattle Times 17 Sept. 1994, pg. B3
Jeansonne, John. “Looking As Good As Old: Throwback NFL Uniforms Mark 75th Anniversary.” Newsday 18 Sept. 1994, pg.25
Bricker, Charles. “Throwback Weekend—The Way They Wore: Duplicating Old NFL Uniforms Was No Snap.” Sun Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale 18 Sept. 1994, pg. 1C
Milhoces, Gary. “Yesteryear Outfits Look Authentic But Don’t Duplicate the Discomfort.” USA Today 30 Sept. 1994, pg. 5C