Becoming Big Blue – A History of the New York Giants Uniforms
by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com
1925 – 1936: Basic Beginnings
A fact obscured by history is that the New York Football Giants were anything but the “Big Blue” Giants we root for today. Red was the team’s primary color for the majority of their first 31 years in the NFL, including their entire residence at The Polo Grounds.
When the Giants took the field in Providence to face the Steamrollers, they wore an outfit that looked nothing like the modern uniform system worn by football players today. Most teams in 1925 looked very similar with unadorned brown leather helmets and baggy, tan or beige pants that included hip pads high above the waist. The only distinguishing elements between opponents in this era were the team colors displayed on the jerseys and socks. The Giants wore red bodied jerseys that featured royal blue shoulders and a broad blue band around the body. White block numbers were only on the back of the jersey. The socks were red with the blue band trimmed by white stripes. Midway through the season the helmets changed to white. This uniform set would be the Giants primary look (save for some minor modifications) for the majority of their first eight seasons, including their first NFL Championship in 1927.
A new pair of jerseys were introduced in 1928. One was solid blue, the other solid red. Both featured oval leather patches covering the player’s ribs. The patches on the blue jerseys were plain brown leather, the patches on the red jersey were blue.
Through these years the Giants rotated helmet styles, often in mid season. The plain brown helmets and white helmets gave way to a red shelled helmet in 1929 that featured a blue crest and blue cross pattern over the crown. The blue banded red jersey returned in 1930 with a white number half in and half out of the band. This was supplemented in 1932 by a similar one that had a small white number centered in the band and trimmed with white stripes. A new helmet was introduced, which featured a blue shell with eight red stripes covering the crown (sometimes called “spider stripes”).
The Giants won their second NFL Championship in 1934, the season they made their first significant uniform overhaul. The new white helmets featured a blue crest and rear base. The red jerseys had a blue collar with white vertical stripes running the length of the sleeves. The side panels were royal blue, and the small white block numbers had a royal blue outline. The pants no longer had the high hip pads, but did have black stripes down the back of the legs (a feature common to many teams of this era). The red socks had blue and white stripes lower down the calf.
After defeating the powerful 13-0 Chicago Bears in the frozen Polo Grounds in the NFL’s second-ever Championship Game, the 1935 Giants supplemented the red jersey with a white one. It was basically a negative of the red version: a white body with red sleeve stripes, blue side panels and red-trimmed blue block numbers. In 1936, this was the Giants full-time jersey, but the new pants, colorful for that season, were royal blue with white and red stripes down the back of the legs, and the socks were white with red and blue stripes.
1937 – 1952: Honing in on an Identity
Following 11 seasons of experimentation and discovery, the Giants began to find what would become their signature look. The helmet was a royal blue shell with a red “Michigan Wing” pattern. The primary jersey was solid red with plain white block numbers. The pants were beige and the socks were solid red. This is what the Giants wore in 1938 when they became the first NFL team to win two Championship Games, defeating the Green Bay Packers in the Polo Grounds, and Center/Linebacker Mel Hein won the NFL’s first MVP Award. A blue alternate jersey and socks were worn occasionally, usually when the Giants opposed a team that also wore red like the Chicago Cardinals or Washington Redskins. This uniform set remained mostly unchanged through the next 15 years, save for a set of grey pants joining the rotation (initially worn with the blue jerseys before becoming full-time), and evolutions in helmet technology.
In 1948 the “Michigan Wing” was replaced with the Giants final leather helmet. This model featured a more robust base to protect the player for impacts to the side of the head. The base was red, the crown blue with a red cross-pattern. Charley Conerly wore this uniform when he set a rookie record that would last for 50 years: most touchdown passes in a season with 22.
The majority of the NFL changed over to hard, plastic-shelled helmets in 1950. Immediately the Giants found another major component of their appearance: a solid blue shell (navy blue for many decades) with a single, red stripe down the center.
1953 – 1960: The Classic Era
Television began to have an impact on how teams presented themselves on the field so viewership following on black-and-white screens could easily tell the teams apart. More teams instituted the use of a second jersey in their rotation that was white. To accommodate their fans at home, the Giants inverted their primary jersey: red numbers on white with solid red socks. Although the alternate blue jersey would still appear a few times each season, the Giants were primarily a white-at-home team from 1953 through 1956 (including all home games in 1954).
In 1954 the Giants added “Northwestern Stripes” to the sleeves and in 1956 “TV Numbers” to the sleeves and red numbers flanking the red stripe on the back of the helmets. The Giants defeated the Chicago Bears in Yankee Stadium wearing these uniforms, and halfback Frank Gifford was the NFL’s MVP.
The NFL mandated all teams equip their uniform ensemble with two jerseys in 1957: one a primary color and the second white. The Giants took this opportunity to augment their uniforms with more classic features.
The helmets now featured bold, white player numbers both in front and back, and the grey pants had three thin separated stripes, red – blue – red, down the side. This was also the season the Giants became “Big Blue.” The Giants (like most NFL teams) wore their primary color jerseys at home full-time over the next 10 seasons, including two famous games with Yankee Stadium as their back drop in 1958 that created their now iconic look: Pat Summerall booting his 49-yard in the snow against the rival Cleveland Browns to force a playoff to decide the Eastern Conference Champion. Two weeks later the Giants heroically bowed to Johnny Unitas’ Baltimore Colts in the NFL’s first sudden-death Championship Game.
1961 – 1965: Continuing Refinements
Following on the heels of a growing trend, the Giants introduced their first helmet logo in 1961, the lowercase “ny”. For most of their existence, the Football Giants official logo was a Giants sized football player towering over the Manhattan skyline, while they borrowed the varying uppercase, interlocking “NY” logos of the baseball Giants and Yankees for the players and coaches sideline overcoats. Now they had one of their own. The Giants would win the NFL Eastern Division the first three seasons with this new logo, as Y.A. Tittle set team and NFL records that would last over 20 years. The pants also had a new stripe pattern, two slightly broader red stripes.
In 1962 the pants stripes changed again, three contiguous red-blue-red stripes. The “Northwestern Stripes” were removed from the white jerseys in 1964.
1966 – 1974: Red Takes a Back Seat
The Giants made some significant changes in 1966. The home uniform did not change much. The helmet and blue jersey did not change, but the pants were now white with a reversed blue-red-blue stripe pattern. The away uniform featuredwhite jerseys with blue numbers, the sleeves had a broad blue-red-blue stripe pattern that matched the pants. White socks with that same stripe pattern were worn through 1967, when this was the Giants uniform of choice for home games.
Minor changes for the 1968 season included solid blue socks worn with the white jersey, and the helmet numbers changed to a thinner but much larger font (to the point where the players’ numbers were almost as prominent as the “ny” logo). Along with the rest of the league, the Giants wore “NFL 50” shield patches on their jersey shoulders the shoulders of their jerseys for the 1969 season.
In the early 1970’s many NFL teams had two jersey sets of jerseys. One was durene, for cold weather games and the other mesh. Often there were differences between the two. For the Giants, the noticeable difference was the sleeve stripes. The durene jersey was unchanged, 3/4 length sleeves with broad stripes, until it was eventually phased out after the 1972 season. The mesh jersey had thinner blue-red-blue stripes at the bottom of the short sleeve and was a permanent away jersey through 1974.
1975 -1979: Stripes and Logos
The Giants appeared to experience a bit of an identity crisis during the mid to late ‘70’s. To say the uniforms were a drastic departure from the norm is an understatement.
In an attempt to appear more modern, the classic “ny” was replaced with a double-line, uppercase “NY”. White stripes bracketed the helmet’s red center stripe, and the player’s numbers were removed from the front of the helmet.
The blue jersey had a five-stripe pattern, two broad white stripes flanked by three thin red stripes, and the white numbers had red trim. The pants had an extra-wide blue stripe that was bordered by two red stripes. The blue socks had a matching stripe pattern as the sleeves for most of the season, until they were replaced late in the season by a white sock with a somewhat inverted blue-red-blue-red-blue pattern.
The white jerseys were a negative version of the blue, and were the Giants first set of blue pants in 40 years. The white socks worn with the blue pants had a set of stripes that matched the sleeves stripes.
The “NY” helmet logo was short lived. In 1976, when the team first stepped onto the field at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, they had another new logo, the italicized and underlined “GIANTS”. It was somewhat reminiscent of the simpler “ny” of the Yankee Stadium era, though the rest of the uniform was not. Some refinements and changes occurred with the socks during the next four seasons. Stripe patterns inverted, white socks were interchanged with red ones (worn with the blue pants only), before blue was settled on permanently in 1977. In 1979 the blue pants were gone and the socks were adorned with an 11-stripe white-red-white pattern.
1980 – 1999: Revision and Stability
Simplicity returned in 1980 as the New York Giants uniforms reflected their early 1970’s look but still retained a modern feel. The white stripes were removed from the helmets and the socks were once again solid blue. The blue jerseys had red-white-red piping along their V-necks and sleeve cuffs. The white pants returned to their familiar blue-red-blue pattern. The blue jerseys had a blue-red-blue pattern. This basic uniform, save for minor number font changes and ceremonial patches, would go unchanged for 20 years. The Giants worn white-at-home for the entire 1980 season, before settling on blue for good, and would wear those blue jerseys as they won Super Bowls XXI and XXV following the 1986 and 1990 seasons.
Variations occurred that served as memorials – black shoulder stripe was sewn onto the jerseys in 1983 in honor of late RB Coach Bob Ledbetter, and the “Spider 43” patches worn during Lawrence Taylor’s MVP 1986 season (with a white background on the blue jersey and a blue background on the white jersey), or anniversaries – the Super Bowl XXV patch, the “NFL 75” patch in 1994, and the Giants “75th Silver Anniversary” patch in 1999.
The entire NFL wore throwback uniforms in 1994. The Giants chose replicas of their 1962 season, and they were mostly authentically replicated. White pants were used with the blue jerseys instead of the traditional grey, changed at the last moment at the league’s behest.
2000 – 2013: Echoes of the Past
Similar in theme to the previous uniform overhaul, the Giants looked to the past while still maintaining a current feel. A mostly traditional “ny” logo returned to the helmet (it was slightly larger and bolder than the original), as well as the player numbers (now block style matching the jerseys). The matte, navy blue shell was now a metallic royal blue.
The blue jerseys were free of all striping and the numbers were solid white. Given the trend of constantly shortening sleeves, the “TV numbers” moved up to the shoulders. The pants were grey but kept the blue-red-blue stripe pattern. The white jerseys had red numbers again, but now featured blue trim. Solid red socks were worn with the white jersey through 2001, when the Giants added a white “GBY” patch for the late George Young. The Giants wore an “80th Anniversary” patch on the blue jerseys for the 2004 season, and also the new alternate red jersey they would wear once each season the next four years.
New retro white jerseys were introduced for the 2005 season. Plain red block numbers were accompanied with “Northwestern Stripes” on the sleeves. Two memorial patches were worn to honor the passing of owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch. The grey pants worn with the white jerseys also had the thin, separated red-blue-red stripes last worn in 1960. These are the uniforms the Giants wore when they twice upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI following the 2007 and 2011 seasons.
These pants received a full-time road designation and were also worn with the blue jersey during away games beginning in 2009, before they became the Giants sole pants in 2012. An alternate set of white pants, with an inverted blue-grey-red-grey-blue stripe pattern, will be worn on occasion with the blue jerseys beginning in 2013.
(To see the Giants uniform history in greater detail, please see the Giants page at the Gridiron Uniform Database.)