Cool Picture!

Here’s a cool picture for football fans:

Falcons Steelers
Click to enlarge

This picture is from a game which took place between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons on December 18, 1966. It might not look like much at first glance, but there’s a lot going on in this picture.

First of all, Steelers QB Bill Nelsen is wearing the dreaded “Batman” uniform the team only wore for the 1966 and 1967 seasons. At the time, the Vince Lombardi-led Packers were dominating the NFL, and teams all over the league were copying not just their playbook, but their style as well.

Although owner Art Rooney was still firmly in charge of the team, he decided to slowly give more control to his son, current chairman Dan. And Dan didn’t want to copy the look of the Packers… he wanted something unique. At the time, the city of Pittsburgh had just completed a redevelopment project for the downtown area called the Golden Triangle. So Dan decided to incorporate this into the new uniforms. He really liked them, as did Steve Sabol of NFL Films, who said the unique uniforms really “popped” on the screen.

The players, however, hated them. Several said that the uniforms made them look like clowns or Batman, which is where the “Batman” nickname came from (the campy 1960s Adam West Batman series being popular at the time). The equipment manager hated them as well. Nowadays, Nike sends players new jerseys for every game. But back then, jerseys were washed and reused after every game, and it proved to be difficult to get grass and blood stains out of the jerseys without fading the yellow triangle.

I’m not sure who the Falcons players are since their numbers are obscured. The player about to tackle Nelsen has to be either Angelo Coia (48) or Bobby Richards (68), as they were the only two defensive players to have an 8 as the second digit of their number. Just from the stance of the man in the foreground, I’m going to guess that it’s Tommy Nobis (60), although if it’s not him then it has to be Richards, as they were the only two defensive players with numbers in the 60s.

Anyway, if you look closely at the Falcons helmets, you can just make out a thin band of gold on either side of the stripes. And that comes from a brouhaha over the Falcons colors.

There are two main college football teams in the state of Georgia: the “University” of Georgia (based in Athens, and whose colors are red and black) and Georgia Tech (based in Atlanta, whose colors are old gold and white). Although UGA has a much larger fanbase these days, back in the 60s Tech’s was much larger than it is now, especially in Atlanta. So it seemed like a total slap in the face to Tech fans that the new NFL team, based in Atlanta, would not only use UGA’s colors.. their road uniforms would be almost identical to UGA’s! A minor scandal ensued, and Rankin Smith – then owner of the team – hurriedly (and grudgingly) announced that gold would be added as an “accent color”. However, the stripes were removed for the 1970 season, and in 1971 the Falcons introduced uniforms that resembled UGA’s even more closely:

Claude Humphrey
Claude Humphrey

The gold stripes have returned, however, in the Falcons’ throwback helmet.

And, for the record… the first picture is from the last game of the Falcons’ inaugural season, and this was the first time the two teams played each other. The Steelers won 57-33 in Atlanta. The Steelers are 12-2-1 all-time against the Falcons. Atlanta has never beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh, but managed a 34-34 tie in 2002.

BONUS: If you’re any kind of sports fan, you’ve probably noticed that the “G” the Bulldogs have on the side of their helmets looks an awful lot like the Green Bay Packers’ “G”. What’s the deal? Why so similar? Well, the Sports Design Blog has the whole story (complete with lots of cool pictures) but it really comes down to this: in 1961, Vince Lombardi asked his equipment manager, George Braisher, to come up with a new logo. Braisher came up with a logo very similar to what the Packers use today, only taller and less oval than it is now. And in the early 1960s, UGA football was in a pretty sorry state. So when Vince Dooley arrived as head coach in 1964, he decided to overhaul everything, including the uniforms and logo. Georgia had used plain silver helmets for most of their existence, but Dooley played with the colors, even toying with white helmets:


As you can see from the picture, the helmets (both white, the one on the left with a red G and the one on the right with a black G) sport the Green Bay G. Before the season started, Dooley decided on red helmets, which required a stroke around the logo, something the Green Bay G lacked. The “Georgia G” was also not as tall as the Green Bay G, and was more oval…. which, Green Bay incorporated into their logo in 1980. To make matters even more confusing, Grambling asked for, and received permission from, Green Bay to use their logo in 1965. For what it’s worth, Grambling’s G looks more like the original Green Bay G than the Georgia G or the updated Green Bay logo.

One Reply to “Cool Picture!”

  1. I actually own a game worn Falcons helmet from that Steelers game you have pictured above. It was worn by QB Dennis Clairidge who tossed a couple of TD passes that day. It still has the black paint scars on it from a couple of collisions with Steelers defenders!

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