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What's With the Uniforms? The Stories Behind the AFL Throwbacks

The eight charter members of the American Football League are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the league's launch by wearing throwback uniforms for select NFL games this season. At various times before the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, the Titans played in New York, Tennessee and Kansas City's current franchises were in Houston and Dallas, respectively, and a penny-pinching—and possibly colorblind—general manager in Denver told everyone who would listen that his team's mustard- and brown-colored uniforms were actually gold and copper. Here are the stories behind the nicknames and uniforms of the AFL's Original Eight.

Denver Broncos

All throwbacks are not created equal, as the Denver UPS Deliverymen, er, Broncos can attest. It's a wonder that Kyle Orton and Co. have managed to play so well—they're one of four undefeated teams entering Week 7—while looking so heinous. At their best, the Broncos' throwbacks are charming; at their worst, they are "perhaps the ugliest uniforms of all time," according to New York Times columnist Lynn Zinser.

There's a perfectly good explanation for this. Operating on a tight budget, Denver's first general manager, Dean Griffing, purchased the team's original uniforms from a defunct college football All-Star game, the Copper Bowl. The vertically striped socks, which Griffing claimed made his players look taller, were purchased for cheap from a sporting goods store and only made his players look ridiculous.

"They certainly didn't build confidence," former player Frank Bernardi told former Broncos announcer Larry Zimmer. To make matters worse, the uniforms didn't fit. "I used to cut the armpits of them so I could raise my arm to pass," Denver quarterback Frank Tripucka said. As Ed Gruver recalls in The American Football League, when Denver hired its second coach, Jack Faulkner, the Broncos declared "There's Lots New in '62!" Mercifully, that included the uniforms. Faulkner invited players to burn the vertically striped socks at the intrasquad game and designed the team's new uniforms, which introduced the orange and blue color scheme that Denver has maintained to this day. [Image credit: Eric Lars Bakke/DenverBroncos.com.]

New England Patriots (Boston Patriots)

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The Patriots are celebrating their AFL heritage by sporting the uniforms that they began wearing in 1961, including helmets featuring legendary Pat Patriot. The logo, which was designed by Boston Globe cartoonist Phil Bissell adorned the Patriots' helmets until 1993, when a more modern-looking design, since dubbed Flying Elvis, was introduced.

pats2While Pat Patriot remains an iconic representation of New England's football history, the Patriots wore an entirely different, often forgotten logo on their helmets for their inaugural season in the AFL. After Patriots was selected as the team's nickname from among more than 1,000 entries in a public contest, railroad conductor Walter J. Pingree submitted four designs for the team's logo to owner Billy Sullivan, all of them variations of a three-cornered hat. Sullivan ultimately chose this design and rewarded Pingree with lifetime season tickets and invitations to private team functions. The team switched to Bissell's design at the end of the 1960 season and, rather than purchasing new helmets, scraped off Pingree's original tricorne logo. [Image credit: BuffaloBills.com; Boston Magazine.]

Tennessee Titans (Houston Oilers)

oilHouston, we have a problem, and it's not the Tennessee Titans' throwback digs. The Houston Oilers-turned-Tennessee Titans are winless this season, though they've managed to look pretty sharp in defeat, thanks to owner Bud Adams' decision to make Columbia blue his team's primary color in 1960. Adams, who made his money from oil, said that he selected the nickname Oilers "for sentimental and social reasons." The Oilers' red, white, and blue color scheme and the oil derrick on their helmets were staples of Houston's uniforms until the team left for Tennessee in 1997. The franchise remained the Oilers for two seasons before becoming the Titans. The NFL retired the Oilers nickname after the 1998 season. [Image credit: TitansOnline.com.]

Kansas City Chiefs (Dallas Texans)

KCAny non-football fans who happened upon the game between the Chiefs and Cowboys earlier this month would have assumed that the Cowboys were the team in red. After all, they were the ones with the silhouette of Texas on their helmets. Before they moved to Kansas City and were rebranded in 1963, the Chiefs were the Dallas Texans. Owner Lamar Hunt, who along with Adams was the driving force behind the creation of the AFL, reportedly wanted his team's colors to be Columbia blue and orange. Adams beat him to the punch and claimed Columbia blue for his Oilers. Hunt was forced to settle for red and gold, which remain the Chiefs' colors today.

The Texans enjoyed two successful seasons in Dallas, winning the AFL Championship in 1962, but struggled to compete for fans with the NFL's Cowboys. Hunt began looking for a new home for his team and found a welcoming suitor in Kansas City. The Chiefs nickname is derived from the nickname of Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, who promised Hunt attendance of at least 25,000 fans per game if he moved the Texans to his city. [Image credit: DallasCowboys.com.]

Oakland Raiders

raidChet Soda, Oakland's first general manager, sponsored a name-the-team contest in 1960. Helen A. Davis, an Oakland policewoman, submitted the winning entry, Señors, and was rewarded with a trip to the Bahamas. The nickname, an allusion to the old Spanish settlers of northern California, was ridiculed in the weeks that followed, and fans also claimed that the contest was fixed. It was well known that Soda greeted people as "Señor."

Scotty Stirling, a sportswriter for the Oakland Tribune who would later become the team's general manager, provided another reason to abandon the nickname. "That's no good," Stirling said. "We don't have the accent mark for the n in our headline type." Responding to the backlash, Soda and the team's other investors decided to change the team's nickname to Raiders, which was a finalist in the contest along with Lakers.

There's some dispute over who designed the Raiders' logo, a helmeted pirate with an eye patch and a pair of crossed swords behind him. According to former Raider Jim Otto's autobiography, a high school teacher in Oakland claimed that one of his students designed it, while a man in Hawaii claimed that he modeled the pirate after actor Randolph Scott. [Image credit: Chargers.com.]

New York Jets (New York Titans)

jetsBefore they were the Jets, New York's AFL team was known as the Titans. The nickname was chosen by egomaniacal owner Harry Wismer, because, as he put it, "Titans are larger than Giants." (The New York Giants were already an established team in the NFL.) Wismer, who was a former broadcaster at Notre Dame, reportedly designed the Titans' navy blue and gold uniforms to resemble the Fighting Irish's uniforms.

The Titans' uniforms weren't exactly easy on the eyes, but they were less garish than the Broncos' original threads, which is supposedly why fullback Joe Pagliei signed with New York instead of Denver. Wismer ran the Titans into the ground financially and the team required a $40,000 bailout from the rest of the league to survive the 1962 season. An ownership group led by Sonny Werblin purchased the franchise in 1963, moved home games to Shea Stadium in 1964, and renamed the team the Jets. The team's new colors, green and white, were symbolic of Werblin's birthday—Saint Patrick's Day. [Image credit: NewYorkJets.com.]

San Diego Chargers (Los Angeles Chargers)

chargeTeam owner Barron Hilton sponsored a name-the-team contest and promised a trip to Mexico City to the winner. Gerald Courtney submitted "Chargers" and Hilton reportedly liked the name so much that he didn't open another letter. There are varying accounts as to why Hilton chose Chargers. According to one story, Hilton liked the name, in part, for its affiliation with his new Carte Blanche credit card. The owner also told reporters that he was fond of the "Charge!" bugle cry at the University of Southern California's Coliseum. The Chargers' original logo featured both the jagged lightning bolts that remain on the team's uniforms today and a charging horse. Hilton unveiled the Chargers' uniforms, which his wife Marilyn had approved, at a cocktail party in Santa Monica in 1960. [Image credit: Chargers.com.]

Buffalo Bills

billsOwner Ralph Wilson solicited potential nicknames from fans for his new franchise and chose Bills over several other worthy suggestions, including Nickels and Bison. Bills, a reference to the American frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody, had been the nickname of Buffalo's football team in the defunct All-America Football Conference. That team began play in 1946 as the Bison and was renamed the Bills in 1947.

Buffalo's original AFL uniforms were silver and blue and styled after the NFL's Detroit Lions. In 1962, the Bills underwent a makeover. The team ditched the silver and blue color scheme, as head coach Lou Saban added red and white shoulder stripes to the uniforms. The team also introduced a new logo, a standing red buffalo on a white helmet. In Rockin' the Rockpile: The Buffalo Bills of the American Football League, authors Jeffrey J. Miller and Billy Shaw describe the logo as "remarkable in its simplicity—a perfect symbol for the no-nonsense, blue-collar city the team represented." [Image credit: BuffaloBills.com.]

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42 Facts About Jackie Robinson
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On April 15, 1947—71 years ago—Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color line and became the first African American to play on a major sports team. Here are 42 facts to celebrate the legendary athlete.

1. Jack "Jackie" Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919, in Cairo, Georgia. Shortly after his birth, his family moved and settled in Pasadena, California.

2. President Theodore Roosevelt, who died 25 days before Robinson was born, was the inspiration for his middle name.

3. He was the youngest of five children—Edgar, Frank, Matthew “Mack,” and Willa Mae—and grew up in relative poverty in a well-off community in Pasadena.

4. Robinson attended John Muir High School, where he was placed on the Pomona Annual Baseball Tournament All-Star Team with fellow future Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox and Bob Lemon of the Cleveland Indians.

5. He was also an accomplished tennis player, winning the junior boys singles championship in the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Tournament.

6. Jackie’s brother Mack was an adept athlete and a splendid sprinter. He won a Silver Medal in the 200 meters behind Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany.


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7. In 1942, Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army. He was assigned to a segregated Army Cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas.

8. While in the Army, Robinson became friends with boxing champion Joe Louis when the heavyweight, who was stationed at Fort Riley at the time, used his celebrity to protest the delayed entry of black soldiers in an Office Candidate School (OCS). As a result, Robinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1943.

9. After an incident where he refused to sit in the back of an unsegregated bus, military police arrested Robinson at the request of a duty officer, who later requested Robinson be court-martialed. At the time of the proceedings, Robinson was prohibited from being deployed overseas to the World War II battlefronts. He never saw combat during the war.

10. Robinson was acquitted and then assigned to Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, where he worked as an Army athletics coach until he was given an honorable discharge in 1944. During his time at the camp, Robinson was encouraged to tryout for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro National League.

11. In 1945, Robinson signed a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs. He was paid $400 a month (about $5100 today) to play shortstop and eventually was placed in the Negro League All-Star Game that year.

12. Robinson married Rachel Islum—who he had met in 1941 during his senior year at UCLA—in 1946. They had their first son, Jackie Robinson Jr., that November. The Robinsons had two more children: a daughter, Sharon, and another son, David.


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13. Robinson played Minor League Baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946, until he was called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues in 1947.

14. He made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York. He became the first African-American baseball player in Major League history.

15. He also won Rookie of the Year in 1947 with a batting average of .297, 175 hits, 12 home runs, and 48 runs batted in.

16. Jackie Robinson had a close friendship with Larry Doby of the Cleveland Indians, who was the first African-American baseball player in the American League. The two men broke the color barrier in baseball in the same year and would talk to each other on the telephone to share their experiences with racism during the season.

17. Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese defended Robinson against violent and nasty racial slurs during his rookie season. Reese famously put his arm around him and said, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them,” as a response to fans shouting racial slurs at Robinson.

18. On August 29, 1948, in a 12-7 win against the St. Louis Cardinals, Robinson “hit for the cycle” with a home run, a triple, a double, and then a single in the same game.

19. Robinson was the National League Batting and Stolen Bases Champion with a batting average of .342 and 37 stolen bases in 1949.

20. He was also a six time All-Star between the years 1949 to 1954.


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21. In 1949, Robinson was called to testify before the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). He was subpoenaed because of comments made about him by prominent African-American actor Paul Robson. At first, Robinson was hesitant to testify, but then was ultimately compelled to do so because he feared not doing so would hurt his baseball career.

22. The National League’s Most Valuable Player Award went to Robinson in 1949, after his first appearance in the MLB All-Star Game. Robinson later took his team to the World Series, but would lose against the New York Yankees.

23. Jackie Robinson played himself in The Jackie Robinson Story, a biopic about his life released in 1950. Academy Award-nominated female actor Ruby Dee played Robinson’s wife Rachel “Rae” Isum Robinson.

24. During the off-season, Robinson went on a vaudeville and speaking tour of the South, where he would answer pre-set questions about his life. He actually made more money on these tours than he did on his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

25. Robinson played in six World Series, but only won one in 1955 against the New York Yankees in a seven game series. Robinson didn’t play in 49 games that season and missed Game 7; Don Hoak played third base in Robinson’s place.

26. At 37, Robinson retired from Major League Baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 due to the visible effects of diabetes. Unbeknownst to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson took a position with the American coffee company Chock Full O’ Nuts and agreed to quit baseball.

27. From 1957 to 1964, Jackie Robinson served as the vice president of personnel for Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. He was the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.

28. Robinson was a political independent, but had very conservative views on the Vietnam War. He also supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election against John F. Kennedy, although Robinson admired Kennedy’s stance on civil rights once he was elected. He was later dismayed with Republicans for not supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and soon after became a Democrat.

29. In 1962, Jackie Robinson was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility. He was the first African American inducted at the Cooperstown Hall of Fame and Museum.

30. Jackie Robinson was always seen as a large figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said Robinson was “a legend and symbol in his own time” who “challenged the dark skies of intolerance and frustration.”

Jackie Robinson with his son at the Civil Rights March on Washington DC in 1963
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

31. In 1964, Robinson co-founded the Freedom National Bank—a black owned and operated bank in Harlem, New York—with businessman Dunbar McLaurin. Robinson was the commercial bank’s first Chairman of the Board. His wife later served as Chairman until 1990 when the bank closed.

32. Robinson was also the first African-American TV sports analyst. He broadcasted for ABC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecasts in 1965. Robinson later worked as a part-time commentator for the Montreal Expos in 1972.

33. On June 4, 1972, the Dodgers retired Jackie Robinson’s uniform number 42, as well as Sandy Koufax’s number 32 and Roy Campanella’s number 39.

34. Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 in Stamford, Connecticut, at age 53.

35. In 1973, Robinson’s widow, Rachel, started the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization that gives college scholarships to minorities. The Foundation also preserves the legacy of Jackie Robinson as a baseball player and a civil rights pioneer.

36. The house in Brooklyn, New York, where Jackie Robinson lived while he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976.

37. On March 1, 1981, American astronomer Schelte John “Bobby” Bus discovered an asteroid at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Bus named the asteroid “4319 Jackierobinson,” after his favorite baseball player.

38. President Ronald Reagan posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest award given to a civilian for their contributions to world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors—on March 26, 1984.

39. You won't see any baseball players wearing the number 42: In 1997, Robinson’s number was retired throughout Major League Baseball. This was the first and only time a jersey number had been retired throughout an entire professional sports league.

40. In 1999, Robinson was added to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team along with Cal Ripken Jr., Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb. Fans chose the final selections from a list compiled of the 100 greatest Major League Baseball players from the past century.

41. April 15, 2004, became Jackie Robinson Day and all uniformed players in Major League Baseball were required to wear number 42 on their jerseys to honor Robinson’s memory and legacy to the sport.

42. More than 20 years after he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President George W. Bush also posthumously awarded Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the legislative branch can bestow on a civilian and must be co-sponsored by two-thirds of members in the House and the Senate—for his contributions to American history. He became the second baseball player to receive this accolade after Pittsburgh Pirates Right-Fielder Roberto Clemente in 1973.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2013.

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10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About André the Giant
Business Wire/WWE
Business Wire/WWE

Although a number of professional wrestlers have transcended the squared circle to become worldwide stars—Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Jesse Ventura among them—few have captivated the public quite like André the Giant. Born André Roussimoff in Grenoble, France on May 19, 1946, the towering grappler stood nearly 7 feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds shortly before his death in 1993 due to heart failure.

It’s fitting that André’s mythological proportions have led to a number of myths surrounding his life, from an exaggerated height (he was often billed as 7 feet, 4 inches) to his alleged propensity for drinking hundreds of beers. HBO's new documentary, which just premiered, may resolve some of those urban legends. In the meantime, we’ve sifted through some of the more sensational stories to separate fact from fiction. As it turns out, the Giant’s life needed no embellishment.

1. SAMUEL BECKETT DROVE HIM TO SCHOOL.

In the 1950s, playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett took up residence in Ussy-sur-Marne in France and commissioned local laborers to construct a cottage. The property was just a few hundred yards from the Roussimoff residence and along a stretch of road where Andre and other school children started their walk to class. (There was no bus.) Like many of the kids, Andre would sometimes accept Beckett's invitation to hop on the back of his pick-up truck to get a ride to school. Over the years, the story has been exaggerated to the point where Beckett and Andre are the only occupants in the truck, though it's unlikely Beckett paid him any particular attention. Still, the unlikely pairing has inspired several plays, including the recent Sam & Dede, Or My Dinner with André the Giant.

2. HE GREW SO FAST HIS OWN PARENTS DIDN’T RECOGNIZE HIM.

Andre the Giant is interviewed ringside by Vince McMahon
Business Wire/WWE

When Andre turned 14, he left home to seek employment and opportunities outside the boundaries of his rural farm community in France. At 19, he visited his parents for the first time, having already broken into the professional wrestling business. According to a 1981 Sports Illustrated profile, André had grown so dramatically in the interim, stretching to nearly 7 feet tall, that his parents did not recognize the stranger who knocked on their door. As André explained his career choice, they realized they had even seen him wrestle on television under his alias, Jean Ferré, without ever knowing they had been watching their own son.

3. HE ENJOYED MOVING CARS AS A PRANK.

André’s dimensions were the result of acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland that causes uninhibited growth hormone secretion. Because his body was so generous in its strength, André rarely (if ever) lifted weights for additional power. His resistance training seemed to come in the form of moving his friends' cars around during nights he was out drinking with friends. The smaller vehicles could be easily slid over to tight spaces or turned to face the opposite direction.

4. HIS FINGERS PRESENTED UNIQUE PROBLEMS.

While André’s height and girth proved to be problematic when it came to traveling—most vehicles made for uncomfortable rides that required him to slouch—his hands and fingers posed special challenges. Said to have fingers so large that silver dollars could pass through his rings, André could never use a conventional rotary phone without sticking a pencil in the dial; learning to play the piano was also out of the question, since one finger would strike three keys at once.

5. HE HAD FUN FARTING ON OPPONENTS.

Andre the Giant poses with several models
Business Wire/WWE

By most accounts, André was a jovial giant, content to play cards, socialize, and enjoy all the food and drink his success afforded him. During matches, he amused himself by stepping on an opponent’s long hair or wringing the sweat from his singlet into their face. In one bout, Jake “The Snake” Roberts recalled that André waited until Roberts was on the mat before he squatted down and unleashed his flatulence. “This went on for like 30 seconds,” Roberts said. "Giants fart for extremely long periods of time."

6. HE LOVED QVC.

When he wasn’t traveling for his wrestling engagements, André largely kept to himself in his North Carolina ranch home, which featured a tree growing through the middle of each of its three stories. Because shopping could be a cumbersome experience, Andre grew fond of QVC, the home shopping channel that had launched in 1986. His friends recalled that André bought several steam cleaners and lots of porcelain butterflies from the channel.

7. RELATIVELY SPEAKING, HE WAS NOT AN EXCESSIVE DRINKER.

Nothing pours fuel on an André story quite like alcohol, with the Giant allegedly consuming over 100 beers in a single sitting. But most of his colleagues report that alcohol had surprisingly little effect on him, with no hangovers or slurred speech affecting his wrestling duties. There were only a handful of exceptions. According to Cary Elwes, his co-star in the 1987 film The Princess Bride, André once drank enough to pass out in a hotel lobby. Since it was impossible to move him, hotel employees arranged a velvet rope around his slumbering frame so he wouldn’t be disturbed. 

8. HE WORE A BACK BRACE UNDER HIS SINGLET.

Andre the Giant poses for a publicity photo in his singlet
Business Wire/WWE

As years of wrestling and his acromegaly condition conspired to affect his health, André underwent spinal surgery in late 1986. When he returned to wrestling, his signature black singlet helped hide a back brace that provided support for his ailing frame. His physical condition was reportedly so diminished at this point that André spent his remaining years in wrestling in pain and able to perform only basic maneuvers. According to his peers, some of Andre's most famous matches—like the bout with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III in 1987—were nowhere near what he had been able to do earlier in his career.

9. BABY OIL REALLY ANNOYED HIM.

For reasons known only to André, his genial demeanor didn’t apply to opponents in the ring who would use baby oil to make their muscles stand out more. André reportedly despised baby oil, and extended that enmity to “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was disliked by the Giant simply because he used a lot of the stuff while wrestling. “André hated baby oil," Randy’s brother, Larry Poffo, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017. “But Randy wouldn't stop wearing it. He stubbornly said 'André's gimmick is being a giant and mine is baby oil.' He never backed down from André and they never got along because of it."

10. HE PROBABLY WASN’T AS TALL AS YOU THINK.

Because wrestling is prone to exaggerating size, ability, and accomplishments, it didn’t take much for promoters to latch on to the idea of promoting André as the largest athlete on the planet. From his earliest matches in Montreal, he was billed as being 7 feet, 4 inches tall, enough to exceed the towering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by two inches. But when André’s height was measured at the age of 24 in 1970, he stood exactly 6 feet, 9 and ¾ inches.

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