This vintage real photo postcard features a portrait of a football team. These eleven heroes of the gridiron are wearing their uniforms for this group photograph. Six of the young men are wearing their helmets. Unfortunately, these thin leather helmets didn’t offer much protection against concussions or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). At first glance, I thought this team may actually be a rugby team. I based my impression on the odd shape and size of the football. The ball looked more like a rugby ball than a football. A little investigating revealed that today’s football has evolved over time. Basically, footballs have gone from round, to watermelon shaped, to today’s shaped football. The modern football became commonly used in 1935. In 1869 (first collegiate football game), the ball used was round, resembling a soccer ball. In 1874, a rugby-type ball was introduced. Shaped like a watermelon, it was as difficult to throw as the round ball. In 1912, an oversized version of today’s football was introduced. This football gave the quarterback more control of the ball when passing. The football in this photo postcard appears to be the rugby style ball, and that is compatible with the AZO stamp box which indicates that this portrait was taken between 1904 and 1918. The players and their team are unidentified. 

Published in: on March 20, 2018 at 12:20 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi,

    It seems to me it’s more like a water polo team.

    Best wishes,


  2. Development of the water polo ball

    The modern game originated in the late 19th century as a form of rugby football , played in rivers in England and Scotland , with a small 3 to 4 inch ball constructed of rubber imported from colonial plantations in India. This “water rugby” came to be called “water polo” based on the English pronunciation of the Balti word for ball , /pulu/. The original ball soon gave way to a football (soccer ball), which allowed for passing and swimming above water with the ball. However, the leather football absorbed water and became extremely heavy, slippery and out-of-control when wet. In 1936, James R. (“Jimmy”) Smith , California water polo coach and author of several books on water polo mechanics, developed a ball made with an inflatable bladder and a rubber fabric cover, which improved performance.^[3] The new ball was red, but by 1948 yellow was adopted for better visibility by players. It became the official FINA and Olympic ball in 1956.

    (from Wikipedia,

  3. Thanks for your interesting theory and comments about water polo. You may be right about this team photo. Maybe it is a water polo team. I am doubting it because I don’t think a water polo team would be wearing padded uniform pants. Thats why I am hypothesizing that the subjects of this photo are football players. of course it is also possible that the athletes comprise a rugby team.

  4. A *water polo cap* is a piece of headgear used in water polo and a number of underwater sports . The caps are used to identify both the player and their team, and to protect their ears from injury possibly caused by a water polo ball hitting the head.

  5. They are indeed football players, of a certain era. I am old enough to recall a different game … some of us would say a better game … many changes along the way. Most bad injuries then involved knee or shoulder damage … not inflicted by the other felloe’s gear. The life altering change was allowing unlimited substitution … making it instead a game for many oversized specialists (gladiators?). Oh, I still watch the Steelers … can’t help it.

    • Although I reside in New York, I lived in Houston for 13 years from the mid 70’s to mid 80’s. I was there for the “Luv Ya Blue” era. The age of Earl Campell, Robert Brazille, and Bum Phillips. The Steelers were our “arch enemies”. They dashed our hopes over and over again. Even though Bum threatened to “kick the door down”, the Steelers were too good to allow that. I still have nightmares about the “Steel Curtain” and “Mean Joe Greene”. You are a good guy Bill, so I will overlook that you are an aficionado of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  6. Thanks for the kindness. I appreciate the problem. Can yo believe I first listened to them om the radio prior to WW2. … not very original, they called themselves ‘Pirates’ at first. Many a noon before they won a game. Then we were all drafted. After the war, it was a long time until the days of ‘Mean Joe Greene’. I’m still stuck with them..

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