Sunday, November 12, 2017

Columbia Lions (1961)

I was saving this one in case the unthinkable had a chance to happen.

Forget the Cubs. You want to talk about lovable, long-time losers, look no further than the Columbia Lions, they of SIX winning seasons (including this year) since formal Ivy League play began in 1956. A school with such a woebegone football history, a team that finished second in the Ivy League (1996) was inducted into the school's hall of fame. A school whose own band used to play the "Mickey Mouse Club" theme when the Lions took the field.

Well, all that history is that, just history. 

As I type this, Columbia is tied with Dartmouth for second in the Ivy League standings with a 4-2 record, one game behind Yale (5-1). If the Lions defeat last-place Brown on Saturday (a gimme; Brown is uncharacteristically awful his year) and Yale loses to Harvard (another gimme; despite last year's result, Tim Murphy munches on Yale like I munch on donuts), the Columbia -- yes, Co-freakin-lumbia -- will own a share of its first Ivy crown since 1961, when Americans first soared into space and Roger Maris hit 61 outta the park. And coach Al Bagnoli, who won a zillion Ivy titles at Penn, may be up for sainthood.

Which takes us to today's post.

Under the tutelage of Aldo "Buff" Donelli (whose 30 wins is third-most in program history; he also coached some outstanding teams at Boston University), Columbia went 6-3 overall, 6-1 in the Ivies to share the title with Harvard, which the Lions defeated, 26-14, in the regular season. The one Ivy loss was to Princeton; the other two were to Lehigh and Rutgers. (I may have mentioned this before, but as a program, Rutgers then was far closer to the Yankee Conference than the Bee-One-Gee, where it plays now.) The Lions scored a league-high 30.6 points per game in Ivy games.

Columbia's own website has a fine summary of the amazing season.

When Columbia clinched the Ivy League title, the Daily Spectator
put the team picture -- and a dig at Penn -- on page one.

According to the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia (2005), the '61 team hosts a party for all returning players during homecoming weekend. Hopefully, that's still the case. The ESPN tome also declares the '61 bunch the best in school history, even better than the fabled team that won the '34 Rose Bowl (which I hope we'll get to in a couple months).

The Spec's photos that year relied more on posed than action shots.
Here's a closeup of Bill Campbell's jersey, with big, curved numbers.
He later was a member of the school's board of trustees, and after his death last year,
the Columbia jerseys added a "67" patch in his honor.

As for the uniforms ... They bear more than a passing resemblance to the first-year Houston Oilers unis: Plain Columbia blue jersey with curved numbers, only outlined in navy and with no sleeve numbers (and no white road jersey, either; the Lions wore these baby blues home and road). Columbia's numbers are noticeable fatter than Houston's. White helmets with a dark number (in the same font as the jersey numbers, a nice touch) and a light blue stripe on the pants complete the outfit. It's simple, but it works. 

And if everything falls in to place, the 2017 Lions will be holding a yearly reunion at homecoming for the next several decades.

A photo from Columbia's lone Ivy League loss, to Princeton.

Other Lions unis that'll make you roar: 2015-16201420132003-051996198419831978-82, 1974-761971-7319701965-671955-561952-54, 1941-45.

QB Thomas Vassal passed Columbia to the Ivy title, while tackle Robert Asack was named all-Ivy.
They were featured in the obscure 1961 Nu-Card football set, which focused on college stars.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Inside the Jersey: Northeastern Huskies (1995-96)

Well, it's Halloween, which means it's time for a journey into the football graveyard in search of a treat from a long-lost program. And who do we see scaring up the kiddies but a Northeastern Husky, searching for some long-ago teammates so he can put a team back onto the field? OK, I'm rambling ... "et's go inside the jersey with this mid-90s Northeastern jersey, a style originally profiled here back in early 2016.

The Jersey: Northeastern 1995-96. The '94 style had a College Football 125th anniversary patch on the front, which may or may not have been worn on this one and been removed after the season. Can't tell.

How It Was Acquired: eBay, for about $40. Not bad, considering Northeastern jerseys don't appear that often.

Who Made It: Wilson.

Who Wore It: If my parents hadn't tossed out my old Maine-Northeastern programs from my college days, I could tell you.

Size: XL. This jersey may be from the 1990s, but it has a couple hardcore 80s features: The bottom is cut very high, so you can see which players have innies or outies; and the fishnet mesh pattern, perfect for those November games in 30-degree weather. 

The "2" has shown some wear and tear,
and is a different shape than the "2"s on
the front and back.
Condition: Some definite game use, as evidenced by the worn-out "2" on the sleeve. A photo from a 1990s Cauldron yearbook shows the road versions getting use in practice, so I suspect the homes may also have been recycled, as well. 

Other Stuff: The aforementioned "2" is slanted, while the "2s" on the front and back are straight across. ... The original jerseys had names on the back, and this shirt has some evidence of a nameplate removal ... The Yankee Conference patch on the front is intact. The YC's last year as 1996 before it morphed in the Atlantic 10 the next season ... My jersey is distinctly maroon in color (who made these, Harvard or UMass grads?). I've seen action photos of both maroon and bright red Huskies jerseys.

Ah, the days of the Yankee Conference. Northeastern
tried to join for about 25 years before it finally was admitted
in 1993.

Final Verdict: An odd jersey of a defunct team, perfect for Halloween. 

More Northeastern uniforms from beyond the grave: 2008-09, 1997, 1994-96, 1989-901982-861976-771973-751963-68, 19361935.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bryant Bulldogs (1999-2000)

Long before Bryant College fielded its first football team in 1999, the Smithfield, R.I., school was well known in football circles as the site of the New England Patriots' training camp from 1976-2002. Any mention of Bryant, and you knew the NFL preseason was right around the corner. (Well, other than looking at the calendar, duh.)

In the late 1990s, Bryant decided to get into the gridiron game itself and fielded its first team at the Division II level. Surprisingly, the Bulldogs were a strong team out of the gate, going 5-4 overall in 1999 and 4-4 in the Eastern Football Conference (a forerunner to the Northeast-10 Conference). On Sept. 11, 1999, Bryant defeated Assumption, 20-13, in its first game. On Oct. 2, Bryant won its home opener over Mount Ida, 31-20, before 4,817 fans -- a mighty impressive number for D-II in these parts. There were a few clunkers along the way -- a 60-20 loss to American International -- but all in all, the Bulldogs carried themselves very well for a first-year team.

The first Bryant Bulldogs team, 1999.
No truth to the rumor the school was named after Bear Bryant.

The uniforms haven't changed much over the years. To this day, the Bulldogs wear a plain gold helmet, black jerseys and gold pants. The helmet has never featured any logos, numbers or alternate versions. How many schools this century can say that? No, not even Penn State. (OK, Alabama and Auburn are two, and I'm sure there are others.)

Some early Bulldogs in action, 1999.
Note the odd location of the "Bryant" word mark.
Also note the "BC" for Bryant College in the sleeves.
The school has since changed its name to Bryant University.

The numbers on the front are HY-OOGE -- almost like the vintage Seattle Seahawks  jerseys. Also note the odd location of the "Bryant" wordmark, which is off to the side and not below the neckline, where wordmarks usually reside.. (It did move to the neck on 2001.) And true confession time: I'm not exactly sure what's on the patch on the jersey front. All I've been able to discern is that it features a yellowish football with bluish lettering underneath. I suspect it's an Eastern Football Conference patch, but I've been unable to find a copy of the logo, not even after a couple hours digging through I don't believe it's an inaugural season patch, because it also was worn in 2000.

The rather sad-looking Bryant logo from '99 (top)
and the more bad-ass bulldog adopted a few years later (above).

A few more Bryant unis:  20162015201420132004-06.
An advert for Bryant's 1999 homecoming, which also
featured the Bulldogs' historic first home game. And Victoria Jackson!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Yale Bulldogs (1934-36)

In previous posts (and GG's Facebook page), I've mentioned the lack of consistency in college football uniforms in olden times. Often, slight changes are made year to year and the older jerseys are kept in circulation as a cost-cutting measure. 

(An aside, and yes, I'm cheating since it's about pro football: Lars Anderson's outstanding The First Star, about Red Grange's 1925-26 barnstorming tour with the Chicago Bears, notes the Bears owned only one set of uniforms and often had to no time to clean them because they were playing on almost-daily basis in order to cash in on Grange's fame. Thanks to the tour's success, the Bears later could afford more unis.)

The Yale Bulldogs of 1936 were no exception. The Sons of Old Eli (not Manning, thankfully) continued to wear their 1934-35 jerseys while they added a new set with a different friction-stripe pattern. The older tops used a navy pattern across the front, while the new ones used bluish-gray stripes off to the sides, perhaps to accommodate the new numbers on the front that debuted that year. The pants, meanwhile, changed changed to fiction stripes on the back, after previously wearing what appears to be a darker shade of tan/gold.

The inconsistency carried over to the only-for-'35 white jerseys: Some have a pattern that mimics the home blues; others are as plain as practice jerseys.  

The 1934 (top) and 1936 (above) Yale teams. Look closely and you'll find
inconsistencies in the '36 home jerseys, particularly the two players flanking
Larry Kelley, who's wearing the "Y" on the front. The "Y" jersey was worn
by the captains in preseason publicity photos, and never in an actual game.
Yale dons the white jerseys against Princeton, 1935.

Another oddity: Yale and navy blue go together like the Ivy League and wine-and-cheese tailgating (hey, I've been to Ivy games, and it's no Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd!), but the Bulldogs wore a decidedly lighter shade, almost a royal blue, from the early 1930s until about 1944. There's something just wrong about Yale and a lighter blue. At least the sacrosanct white helmet was there, although the famed "Y" on the sides was three decades away.

Yale (in the white helmets) takes on Dartmouth in 1934.

Two other notable things about Yale from this era, neither of which have diddly to do with uniforms. In 1934, Yale (only 3-3 at the time) upset heavily favored Princeton, 7-0, despite playing only 11 athletes for the ENTIRE GAME. This marked the last time in the pre free-substitution era a major college team used zero subs in a game. This team has been immortalized in two books, Norman L. Macht's Football's Last Ironmen (a pretty good read, and it gives tremendous insight as to how football was played in the 1930s) and William N. Wallace's Yale's Ironmen (which I haven't read, but I ought to). 

The Yale ironmen of 1934 (white helmets, light jerseys) during
their historic 7-0 win over Princeton.
The other notable item concerns one of the stars of that '34 Yale team, end Larry Kelley, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1936. (The cover of the Wallace book claims he was the first Heisman winner, which is half right -- he was the first winner after the Downtown Athletic Club's trophy was renamed for legendary coach John W. Heisman, and the first after balloting was opened to honor the best player nationwide, rather than the best player east of the Mississippi River. Chicago's Jay Berwanger won the first DAC trophy in 1935.) Kelley, an end, caught 17 passes for 372 yards in '36, back when 17 catches made for a great season. (Today, it might make for a great game.) In failing health, Kelley auctioned off his Heisman in 1999 for more than $300,000.

Larry Kelley.
After his death in 2000 (Kelley shocked everyone by taking his own life), Sports Illustrated wrote this excellent, if sobering, profile of him.

More Yale uniforms that'll make any Bulldog salivate: 20162015201420132006-111997-981994, 19961979-8219781974-771972-731967-6819651959-601954-58,  1949-53, 1930. Rivalry Week: Harvard-Yale.

Larry Kelley disturbingly resembles Vladimir Lenin in this 1930s photo,
but it appears to have been part of a bet on his pro football ambitions, or lack thereof. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

UMass (1930) and Middlebury (1929-30)

In our last post, I promised another bizarre uniform from the late 1920s-early '30s in addition to Vermont's funky garb. Well, I lied: I'll give you two.

While searching through some old Middlebury Kaleidoscope yearbooks for Vermont action photos (Middlebury and UVM were annual rivals in those days), I came across this photo featuring the Panthers and the school that came to be known as UMass:

This might be the most bizarre old-time action photo I've encountered in this project, which is why doing uniform research so much fun and addictive. 

Let's start with the UMass Minutemen -- or the Massachusetts Agricultural College Aggies, as they were known then in the parlance of the time for agricultural schools, or "cow colleges," as they were derisively called. These guys resemble a prison team on the break, anticipating the early Pittsburgh Steelers (nee Pirates) uniforms a few years later. If that wasn't enough, the Aggies (God, that's weird to type) were given matching striped socks, although a couple players wore more conventional hose. 

The 1930 UMass ... Aggies.
I don't know what's more bizarre, the team name or the uniforms.
Better hurry up, the prison guards are coming!
And what's with the guy on the right wearing his shirt like a tank top?

Another oddity to this odd uniform, which was worn only one season: It appears the players wore no numbers on the back, which is kinda ironic for a prison-themed uniform, no? Take a good gander at the blown-up pic below from the 1932 UMass Index yearbook (which covered the 1930-31 school year):

Only stripes cross the back. That might be a relief for embarrassed players who couldn't be identified even with a scorecard. 

Shortly after the season, the school changed its name to Massachusetts State College (a named that lasted only until after World War II), and with it came a new name (the Statesmen) and new uniforms (plain maroon jerseys with numbers on front and back). The Aggies -- and their prison garb -- were never to be spoken of again, except perhaps by Depression-era uni-watchers.

The black helmets on the graphic, BTW, are just a guess on my part. Since UMass wore black helmets in the late 1930s and these lids appear to be a darker hue than the jerseys, I opted to stick with black.

On to Middlebury, which wore some flashy gear of its own in 1930: Big white stripes over a blue jersey. Also note the helmet, which has a white stripe across the sides and the back, but not the front. 

But a little digging shows that might not even be the most oddball uni in Middlebury's arsenal. In 1929, the Panthers used different stripes -- thinner and slightly curved -- on the jerseys. Maybe they were trying to look unique, or perhaps they were getting a jump on Halloween. Hey, football is played in the autumn ...

The inspiration for Middlebury's 1929 uniform?

For at least one game in 1929 (against Williams), Middlebury wore white short-sleeved shirts over the "conventional" jerseys, presumably to prevent confusion on the field since both team were wearing dark uniforms. And it appears these jerseys didn't have numbers, either:

The "skeleton" jerseys were worn from 1928-29, while the, er, less unconventional shirts were worn until the mid-1930s.

On another note, it's hard to believe Middlebury and UMass were once on similar athletic ground. One school wound up in Division III and the other is now playing D-I FBS football. Such was the case in the early years of intercollegiate sports, when teams were just looking for a game against anybody as long as it didn't require a lengthy road trip.

The Middlebury "skeleton" uniforms in action against Vermont, 1929.

Much, much more from UMass: 20162015201420132000-021986-871978-841975-771974197319721966-681960-621953-541951-521938-39. Tribute: Dick McPherson.

And one other uni from Middlebury: 1978.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Vermont Catamounts (1928-30)

I've been on a leatherhead kick lately, as much of my research lately has been from the pre-World War II era. Some of these uniforms are as wacky as the current models ... almost. But there were some unique ones during the 1920s and '30s, as we'll see here and in our next post. First up, a Vermont uniform right up there with the 1973-74 uni (the program's last) in the uniqueness department. 

Much as Maine's jersey from the same time exhibited a big "M," the Catamounts' jersey bore a big ol' "V" to let everyone know where they're coming from. (Today, they'd probably put an "802" on the front -- seriously, those stickers are on every other vehicle around here, since you can get them at every convenience, grocery and discount store in the state.) The "V" is done in a friction-strip pattern, which was all the rage then, and is surrounded by more friction strips on the sides and sleeves.

The 1928 Vermont uniform, shown in the 1930 Ariel yearbook,
which covered the 1928-29 school year.

The 1928 Catamounts. Some players have the "V," while
others sport a blank jersey.

UVM in action, 1929. In the background is Centennial Field,
which still stands today as the home the Class-A Vermont Lake Monsters.
UVM dropped baseball around 2009.

For 1930, the "V" (in a slightly narrower, taller form) is placed on ... a yellow jersey, which would be the Depression-era version of Oregon placing white names on white jerseys. (I mean, how pretentious is that? That truly makes the Ducks the prog rock of football uniforms.) This style lasted one year before the Catamounts returned to green jerseys.

The 1930 Catamounts. Gold meets gold.
A few more oddities: First, not all the jerseys have the "V" and the friction strips. I wonder if those were optional, or were the fancier jerseys reserved only for seniors/upperclassmen? 

Also, check the helmets. Honestly, I'm not 100 percent on the helmets, but I'm pretty certain the Cats wore a dark helmet in '28, a light helmet in '29 and a two-tone helmet in '30 similar to what Rhode Island wore in the 1940s

I'm not 100 percent about the striping pattern on the gold jerseys, either (gold on gold will do that), but I think I've got it as close as possible. I can't imagine better photos existing beyond what we have from the Ariel yearbooks.

The team -- not shocking, because after all, this is UVM we're talking about -- is far less memorable than the uniform. The '28 team went 1-7-2, with the one win going against someone called the "Medics," who I suspect are students from the UVM medical school (called the Robert Larner College of Medicine these days). The 1930 Ariel notes that the game was not on the original schedule and was added to fill an open date before Thanksgiving. UVM went 2-7 in '29 (no Medics on the schedule) and 1-6-1 in '30, when it was outscored 265-27.

The team may not have been worth the price of admission, but the uniforms sure were.

The 1928 UVM results. Who were those mysterious medics?

UVM faces Middlebury, 1928. Check out the officials' gear!

Want more uniforms from the ol' 802? Of course you do! 1940-42, 1946-48, 1958-611962-631964-671968-691970-74.

The 1930 Ariel yearbook contains little notes scrawled
next to some of the player profiles. Some went to med school,
others ... did not. I'm not certain what happened to Mr. Sirois,
but World War II wasn't far away.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Columbia Lions (1941-45)

As I've probably mentioned before, Columbia is one of the toughest teams to research in this project because of its inconsistency. I have the Lions listed for no fewer than 59 uniform variations (not counting home and road uniforms as separate) from 1934-2016, an average of one uniform change every 1.4 years. Many of them are minor, but massive overhauls have continued well into the 21st century.

But this wasn't always the case in Upper Manhattan. The Lions' uniforms were pretty stable from 1936-45, with only two variations (and even that was minor -- a switch to blue numbers from white). Above is the blue-numbered version. Note the slight difference in the  navy shoulder stripes around the collar. Really, Columbia almost resembles a Paleozoic Tennessee Titans here.

Columbia and Princeton -- two of the more
distinctive teams from this era -- face off in 1941. 

Columbia's offense lines up for the photographer in 1941.
Notice how every number ends in 0 or 1.
Perhaps it was an early way to number players by position?

What I like best about Columbia's uniforms from this era -- maybe I've said this before, I forget -- is how they stand out. In a time of dark, muddy, grainy, black-and-white photos, everyone looks the same, and it's a pain trying to determine which team is which. (I'm experiencing this right now while trying to research Vermont's 1930s uniforms, and those are pretty gaudy for that era.) But put Columbia's pale blue duds in there, and Anne Frank can spot those from a mile away (Clerks 2 reference there). Columbia's unis make researching their opponents a gazillion times easier. I wonder if 1940s uni-watchers talked about Columbia's uniforms the way their modern brethren discuss today's stylin'-and-profilin' teams?

A pair of swell posed shots. It appears No. 31
is standing on a plank of some sort to help him face upward
for the camera.

The team itself was wildly inconsistent, as you might expect with a war going on. The Lions were 0-8 in 1943 and scored 33 points all season. (Their opponents matched or exceeded that figure five times that year). Just two years later, they were 8-1 and ranked No. 20 in the nation, with the only loss coming at Penn.

In 1946 Columbia unveiled a revamped uniform with silver helmets and pants and plain light blue jerseys with a silver number. Think Doak Walker-era Detroit Lions.

An action shot from 1944. War-era photos are almost impossible to find
in researching old uniforms, especially for the smaller schools.

Other Lions unis that'll make you roar: 2015-16201420132003-05199619841983, 1978-82, 1974-761971-7319701965-671955-561952-54.