Weird History

What Football Players Looked Like In Every Decade From The 1900s To Now

Rutgers and Princeton played in what is believed to be the first American football game in history way back in 1869. In the 150 years since that event, the players have gotten bigger, faster, stronger and much more athletic (and they've also been immortalized in video games). But the players aren't the only thing about football that has changed over the decades. The rules, uniforms and equipment are all quite different from what they were just a few decades ago, let alone what they were in the 19th or early 20th century.

It wasn't until the early 1900s that players even wore real uniforms; prior to the turn of the century, the players would just agree to wear regular clothes of a certain color to distinguish between the teams. In the beginning, these uniforms were quite heavy, as they were made from wool, felt and canvas. And good luck trying to identify the players if you didn't have a program or scorecard; although the NFL put numbers on player uniforms pretty much from the league's first season (1920), it took them five decades to get around to putting names on the backs. Some college teams still don't have names on their uniforms.  

Protective equipment has also evolved over time. While it might seem hard to believe now, when helmets are being designed to try and lessen head trauma and penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits are a point of emphasis, but for the first few decades of the 20th century, helmets were made out of leather, and were optional, not mandatory, equipment. Pads, meanwhile, have done almost a complete 360; from little to no padding in the first few decades of the sport, to heavy padding in the 1960s through the 1990s, to fewer and lighter pads in the 21st century.

Let's take a decade-by-decade look at how football players' uniforms and equipment have changed.