Drat that old black-and-white film!
An important strain of sports history is teasing out what the uniforms of proto pro football teams looked like before color film and printing captured this information for posterity. No easy task. Turns out the togs of the early pioneers were far more colorful and daring than the stereotype of the drab leather-helmet era that seems to persist.
For instance, the Rams of Cleveland (Los Angeles / St. Louis / Los Angeles again?) likely took the field in 1936 for their very first season in vibrant red jerseys and matching helmets, according to ongoing research conducted by the guys at the Gridiron Uniform Database.
The GUD’s Bill Schaefer told me he’s early on in research into the old American Football League (1936-37) in which the Rams originally debuted, but that “I definitely think that the helmets are red to match the jerseys.” He says that studying old photos “makes me think the pants and socks may have been gold/yellow due to the obvious difference between the white sock stripe and the rest of the sock,” and that “I still think the sock stripes are red, white and red on yellow/gold socks. Further photos may even tell us that the jersey numbers may have been the same shade of gold/yellow.”
Schaefer also noted a unique fashion trend of the era that — who knows?– may come back one day: “What we at the GUD refer to as black ‘butt-stripes'” (see photo of Rams end Max Padlow, above left). Hence the GUD’s first draft (top) of what eventually will be their representation of the 1936 AFL Cleveland Rams.
The Rams, interestingly, wore red for only a few years in Cleveland before switching in 1939 to the iconic and striking blue-and-gold scheme they’ve been known for ever since, save for the fleeting blue-and-white combo they sported in L.A. from 1964 through 1972. I have a DVD of color game film from the Rams’ 1945 NFL Championship Game, and the vibrancy of their blue-and-gold uniforms practically leaps through the lens of a long-ago camera, especially when the sun comes out on that arctic afternoon in Cleveland Stadium.
“Drab” era, indeed. Except for their lack of helmet designs — and the Cleveland / Los Angeles back Fred Gehrke handily took care of that void in 1948 with his seminal ram’s-horn design — the early NFL teams were every bit as cognizant as their successors today of the power, the drama and even the intimidation factor of color. Football uniforms have an ability to fire the emotions that — sorry — baseball and basketball unis never quite have been able to muster.