Thursday, March 30, 2017

Maine Black Bears (1939-46)

This one's a bit of a head-scratcher.

In 1939, Maine introduced a monochrome uniform with white helmets, a look it retained through 1946 (the Black Bears played a minimal schedule during the war years). The jersey and pants were both navy blue ... or were they? Check out this column from the Oct. 7, 1940 Columbia Spectator following the Maine-Columbia game in New York, and I'm not talking about the Wendell Willkie references, either:

Whoa-whoa-whoa ... black uniforms? By a team that's always worn blue? 

The column ends with another reference:

Somehow, I don't think Maine wore black unis, but without color photos or references to black uniforms elsewhere, we'll never know for sure. But I've seen enough black-and-white photos to know that Maine's unis were a few shades darker than what they wore before and after. For now, we'll go with a midnight blue that could easily pass for black from a distance. Hey, the old Prism yearbooks always made references to the "Pale Blue Gridsters" even when they weren't wearing pale blue.

Really, it's little curveballs like this one that make uniform research so much fun.

This rather sobering photo comes from Stuart Haskell's exhaustive, definitive and fascinating tome,
The Maine Book. So many football players from this era went overseas and never came back.
A tip of the helmet to you all.

What can't be questioned is that Maine debuted white jerseys in 1940. From the indispensable University of Maine: A Sports History (1992):
In 1940, Maine wore white game jerseys for the first time ever in a game against Colby. It was an attempt to break a jinx -- Maine had lost four straight games in the fourth period and three of the four winning teams had worn white jerseys. ... It didn't work -- Colby won, 20-0.
Shut out by Colby? Ugh. 

Maine debuts the white jerseys against Colby, 1940.
Every time I see old Colby photos, the Dutch Clark- or Doak Walker-era
Detroit Lions come to mind. This picture is from Colby's Oracle yearbook.

Another oddity of this uniform: The big white waistband that contrasts the rest of the outfit. I don't think I've seen that anywhere else.

Because of World War II, Maine endured numerous coaching and personnel changes, but the uniforms stuck around (I skipped 1943, because I have no photos of the one game Maine played that year), probably because money was needed for more important things than football uniforms ... whether they were black, blue or white.

Ed Barrows (27) was one of those Black Bears who died in World War II.
His father, Lewis Barrows, was the governor of Maine from 1937-41. The State Series trophy, which
was awarded to Maine's top team every year, was dedicated in the younger Barrows' honor.

A close-up of the white jersey, 1942.
These two pictures and the one below are from the Prism yearbook.

Can't bear to be without Black Bear uniforms? Here are some more: 2016201520142011-131997-9919851976-84197519741965more 1965, 1963-641957-591949-501928-29. Rivalry week: Maine-New Hampshire. Inside the jersey: 2010-13.

From 1939. Now THIS is what someone should do for a schedule poster!
Who needs those fancy-schmancy graphics, anyway?

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