To fill the void left by the lack of games in recent weeks, I’ve started to trawl back through the Super Bowl archives on NFL Game Pass. It’s been fun reacquainting myself with some of the players I loved when I first started watching the game back in the 1980s, but my trip down memory lane also got me thinking about what’s changed over the years.
I’m no retro guru – maybe check out our former F10Y colleague @NFLFANINENGLAND for that – but here are a few of the things that we’ve lost over the Super Bowl era.
Jerseys without names
Many of us will have a replica jersey (or 10) and they don’t just reveal an allegiance to a favoured team. With BRADY or BOSA or even FUAMATU-MA’AFALA across your shoulders, you’re also displaying your admiration for a particular player, either on the current roster or from your team’s glorious past. But jerseys didn’t always carry players’ names on the back.
Following the lead of baseball, and the Chicago White Sox in particular, the (old) American Football League finally picked up on the idea and began putting names on jerseys in the Sixties. The National Football League waited until 1970 but it soon caught on, helping scouts, commentators and fans watching in the stands or on TV to identify players more easily.
Looking back at those early Super Bowls, you can see that the Packers’ uniforms didn’t carry names when winning those first two titles, and the Baltimore Colts lost to the Jets in Super Bowl III with only numbers on display. Today, some of the fonts used are a bit funky so it’s always not super-easy to read the names, but at least they’re there.
Oakland, San Diego and St Louis on the schedule
That second-ever Super Bowl featured the Raiders from Oakland, one of three cities from the Super Bowl era that no longer host an NFL team. The Raiders flirted with Los Angeles for a while (1982–94) before returning to Oakland, a five-hour drive up the California coast. That remained their home until last offseason, when they relocated again, this time to Las Vegas.
The Chargers first left Los Angeles for San Diego in 1961, and that’s still the name that comes readily to mind for me. Amid a lot of understandable bad feeling among fans, the franchise returned to the City of Angels in 2017, and San Diego has been without NFL action ever since.
Losing a franchise once is unlucky but to do so twice like St Louis could be regarded as careless. The St Louis Cardinals, in existence since 1960, got shipped out to Phoenix in 1988 and became the Arizona Cardinals six years later. The city wasn’t without a team for long, as the LA Rams then moved to St Louis in 1995. But by 2016, the Rams were back in Los Angeles (there’s a theme here, people) and St Louis fans were left without a team once again.
Goal posts in the end zone
If you watch the highlights of Super Bowl I in 1967, you’ll notice the players enter the field of the Los Angeles Memorial Colosseum through offset, H-shaped posts, with the crossbar in line with the goal line. The switch to one central lower pillar is only one of several stages in their evolutions over the years but maybe the most important was the decision to move them back a bit, from within the end zone to the end line behind the end zone, in 1974.
There were obviously benefits from not having the posts standing in the middle of the action. Imagine being a wide receiver looking to make a catch but needing to keep one eye on the ball, one on the defender and one more(!) looking out for a pillar you might run into. As it turns out, player safety wasn’t the impetus behind the relocation of the posts; the reason for pushing the uprights back 10 yards was because fans had been complaining about boring offences and the new wave of soccer-style kickers who were more capable of scoring long-range field goals. I still think they’re safer where they are though.
You don’t see players wearing anything but a stylish pair of cleats these days but back in the 80s and 90s, the Broncos, Rams and Steelers all had kickers who kicked barefoot – even in the depths of winter. There have only ever been seven barefoot kickers and two shoeless punters in the NFL but on the odd occasion, they did literally go toe to toe! When at Minnesota, Rich Karlis once kicked seven FGs (equalling the NFL record) to defeat the Rams, who had a barefoot kicker of their own in Mike Lansford.
But it was Tony Franklin who … err… kicked off the trend, playing barefoot for Texas A&M and then for a decade in the league. He still holds the record for a successful field goal without footwear (59 yards), which he made as a rookie for Philadelphia in 1979; at the time, it was the NFL’s fourth-longest kick ever. He also delivered successful FGs in Super Bowl XV for the Eagles and Super Bowl XX for the Pats without a shoe.
You’d think it might hurt to whack a football with your foot on but according to the protagonists, they could ‘feel’ the ball better. The rather basic cleats of the day also absorbed energy so the players believed they could get a bit more power kicking flesh to leather. Mind you, health and safety wouldn’t allow it today.
Eventually, the game became increasingly commercial, and the advent of new materials and technology enabled footwear companies to develop cleats especially designed for kickers. Morten Anderson – arguably the best in NFL history – described his $5,000 kicking shoe (a single item, not part of a ‘pair’) as a hybrid of cleat and ballet shoe. By the 2000s, bespoke kicking shoes were the norm and the phase fizzled out, with the last barefoot kick sailing through the (sensibly positioned) posts in 2002, off the tootsies of the St Louis Rams’ Jeff Wilkins. Maybe it was the onset of winter that changed his mind but after kicking barefoot for the first seven weeks of that season, making nine of 12 field goals, Wilkins opted for footwear in Week 8 and that was the end of that.
As a side note, feet weren’t the only skin more on show in the old days. Long before the appearance of the modern ‘semi-liquid’ sticky gloves that make miraculous, one-handed catches increasingly commonplace, receivers and defensive backs just had bare hands. And due to those single-bar helmets, you could see a lot more of the players’ faces back in the ol’ days. Some of the helmets in 2020, with their reflective or tinted visors and multi-bar grilles, made the players look like a cross between a motorcycle courier, Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader.
Wearing pink in October
Every October, from 2009 to 2016, NFL players wore pink in support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As well as their usual team colours, players donned pink cleats, pink gloves, pink socks and pink headscarves to raise money and awareness. And it wasn’t just the players; everyone – coaches, officials, supporters and cheerleaders – and everything was bedecked in pink.
The American Cancer Society had asked the NFL for help with promoting breast cancer screening and education, and during the eight years of the “A Crucial Catch” campaign, almost $15 million was raised. The idea to wear pink was pioneered by Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams, who actually wanted to wear pink all season long in honour of his mother and four aunts, all of whom lost their lives to the disease.
In 2017, the league decided to broaden its approach, allowing teams to choose any cancer causes to support for a three-week period each October. This was the final step of a journey that had begun three years earlier, when Devon Still’s young daughter Leah was fighting Stage 4 neuroblastoma. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to the Bengals defensive lineman proposing the change to the initiative.
Nowadays, it’s all about My Cause, My Cleats, which debuted in 2016. Players work with local artists and cleat manufacturers to create bespoke designs. These are worn in Week 13 and then auctioned off to boost fundraising. For one game a season, players can promote their own charitable foundation or raise awareness of a social, environmental or health cause close to their heart.
Head coaches in suits
As the modern Head Coach paces the sideline, he’s logo’d up to the hilt in his team-branded baseball cap, polo, sweatshirt and COVID face mask. They’re all walking adverts and that’s no surprise, because wearing team-branded Reebok gear has been mandated by the league since 1993.
Before then, coaches could wear what they wanted: a natty sweater-and-trouser combo perhaps, a cowboy hat a la Houston Oilers HC Bum Phillips or, going back even further, a suit. Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys, always wore a shirt, tie and suit, as well as his trademark fedora hat, while Chicago’s Mike Ditka, Cleveland and Cincinnati HC Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi of Packers fame were no strangers to the whistle-and-flute either.
Years later, while his peers were content to dress casually, San Francisco’s Mike Nolan was determined to fight the system. In 2005, his first year in charge of the 49ers, he asked if he could wear a suit. As well as being a tribute to his dapper dad Dick, a former Niners coach, he was also trying to instil a sense of respectability and professionalism at a time when players were falling over themselves to get arrested for all manner of misdemeanours. However, the NFL’s licensing agreement stipulated the wearing of Reebok sportswear and for a while, there was no budging. After numerous meetings, discussions and negotiations, they eventually consented and allowed Nolan to wear a suit made by Reebok (not their strong suit, if you’ll pardon the pun) for two home games. Big wow.
That was the last time a Head Coach wore a suit as game-day attire. Sartorial elegance in the NFL has gone down the pan ever since and perhaps the biggest repeat offender is arguably Bill Belichick, whose signature cut-off hoodie, a staple on the sidelines since 2003, was once described as ‘homeless chic’. Yet Reebok have no problem with it, even though it began as a protest about being told what to wear by the men in suits (oh, the irony!) who run the NFL.
What have I missed? What do YOU miss from the good ol’ days that you just dont see any more? Let us know at @Full10Yards.
Featured image: Tony Tomsic – AP