Over the weekend I ran into a TBT fan. “Oh ya I love those posts!” This totally real and not made up person said, “but I especially like the ones about uniform history.”
With that experience in mind, I set out to write a uniform post. Several hours later I had gone through the MNHS archives and was still without a good focus for today’s post. Transition. Finally I happened upon a strange occurrence back when the University of Chicago was in the Big Ten.
Before 1932 the Gophers wore maroon jerseys, which happened to be a problem as the University of Chicago are literally called the Maroons. As you could imagine a maroon vs maroon game would lead to some difficulties both for the players and spectators. And some strange uniform solutions came out of it.
From the 1909 tilt between Chicago and Minnesota:
All of the Chicago players with the exception of Captain Orville Page wore black headguards with a white square of several inches painted upon the back of the helmet to distinguish them from Minnesota's players. The Minnesota backs and ends were made clear to the other Gopher players by big golden squares on the backs of their Maroon jerseys.
So a white square of several inches on the helmet was good enough to distinguish the two teams. Seems pretty inadequate to me, but hey in 1909 I’m guessing the uniform budget wasn’t as big as it is today.
My laziness has kept me from verifying this but I assume that the reason the Minnesota backs and ends wore ‘big golden squares’ had to do with signifying an eligible receiver. The forward pass had only been in the game for 3 years when this game was played and the rules were still evolving.
Sadly I cannot find any photographs of these Gopher big golden squares jerseys or Chicago white squares on their helmets. From newspaper accounts the two teams used the same tactics in 1908 and 1909. This is one of the only pictures from the 1909 game, but unfortunately everyone is facing the camera so I don’t have any idea which team is which.
It would be interesting to figure out what happened the other years Minnesota played Chicago. The Gophers would not regularly wear gold jerseys until Bernie Bierman changed the uniforms in 1932. There is one example of the Gophers wearing gold uniforms in 1916 against Wisconsin to differentiate between the cardinal color of the Badger kits.