Happy fallish! Yeah, I know, it's not quite autumn yet, but since Starbucks already released the horse from the barn September 6, I can feel no shame breaking the seal on my latest Groupon purchase: a roll of limited-edition, pumpkin spice toilet paper! I understand, it doesn't skate the gully as smoothly as the good stuff, but the kids love it and boy howdy, does it ever pair nicely with an understated chai potpourri to gussy up an otherwise lackluster water closet.
Oh, and speaking of harvest season, the other day I brushed off the old ROASP archives to investigate how many of my posts have included the label, "football." After sneezing for three straight minutes from inhaling a dusty cloud of inattention, I discovered that no less than fifteen have listed that tag.
Seems I've spoken ad nauseam of things pigskin—the players and teams I both love and despise, the sport's rituals and branding—but what I haven't explored is the history of football fashion. Kind of embarrassing too, because basketball apparel was covered over three varicose veins ago, and my baseball analysis hearkens back at least five skin tags and a wonderful new toenail.
And since football is pretty much Yertle the Turtle, lording over American professional sports like Donald Trump over stupid white guys, I'd be remiss wasting any more virtual ink on any other subject, so let's start with our beloved game's infancy.
American football evolved from a hybrid of soccer and rugby. Naturally, helmets weren't a part of the game's equipment at its onset, and nothing separated your head from your opponent's but a few inches and a concentrated cloud of sarsaparilla breath. Even back in the 1890s, football wasn't an endeavor for the weak of spirit. I mean, imagine this dude talking a little smack as you're lining up across from him on a long third and two:
"I say, old sport, you're looking a bit higgledy-piggledy. I must warn you, my good man, if you so much as poke your puffy sneezer into my vicinity, I shall be forced to mercilessly render your bone box into gullyfluff. I assure you, I will be here all the livelong day, dear fellow. All day."
You may ask, was the gridiron all those seasons ago the same wonderful ballet, the same beautiful celebration of athleticism and grace it is today?
You tell me.
Amazingly, helmets weren't mandatory in the college game until 1939, and in the pros your squash wasn't required to be protected until 1943. Conversely, knickers have adorned the gridiron since the early days. Were tweaks made? Absolutely. In fact, notice the two schools of thought regarding groin protection back in the day:
Personally, I'd be more in the Eve camp on the right than Adam's look on the left. After all, as renowned zookeeper Jack Hannah once said, why expose the prairie dog to predators when he's safer in his burrow? But who really knows? There's a good chance this could also be the fiery beginning of that whole adidas/Puma feud.
Oh, just a couple of side notes real quick:
1) This dude looks too old to be dressing for Halloween and if he's giving out candy, we'll just get ours from the vape store at the local strip mall.
2) How amazing is it that Wisenthorpe Damon and Augustus "Web Fingers" Maguire played on the same team together in 1906!
3) Lastly, this guy appears capable of feeding you your own face:
Once helmets came onto the scene, face masks were often considered effeminate, taking fifteen years before becoming required equipment in 1955. Yet even as late as the 1960s, many players were reluctant to shield their mugs.
The guy on the left is Fred Biletnicoff, wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders. He was my first sports idol, juking across the middle with his long hair flapping out of his helmet and stickem-covered hands sucking up any ball within diving distance. Hope his face is doing okay after all those years of punishment.
Nowadays, a certain swooshy mega-marketing empire has transformed the football uniform into a virtual ATM, unveiling a different get-up each week and thrusting the latest and greatest jersey onto a fan base jonesing to purchase the freshest swag their pint-sized attention spans will allow.
Leading the way with the most color combinations rendered useless and destined for landfill is the University of Oregon, loyal minions to the greatest sports merchandising pimp of all, Phil Knight. I do have to tip my helmet to the man, taking a school whose color of urine yellow equates itself with profound renal failure and transforming it into day jobs for so many six-year-olds on the Asian continent.
Oh, hang on, before I go, let's see how Tom Brady is doing. Hey Tom, how does it feel, sitting out the first four games of the NFL season for lying and cheating worse than two toddlers playing Candyland?
Oh good, he seems fine. Such a dreamy smile.