By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
TROY — Two summers ago, Scot Brewer sat alone in his office at Troy Memorial Stadium.
Brewer was about to begin his first season as the head football coach at Troy. As a first-year coach, Brewer had hundreds of things running through his mind.
Including what socks his team would be wearing on Friday nights during the season.
“Can you believe this?” Brewer said as he sat flipping through the pages of a catalog. “Socks. I’m sitting here, trying to pick out socks. When I played, I never cared about this sort of thing. Some guys did … not me. I didn’t care what we wore. I just wanted to play football. You’d be amazed at how much kids care about the uniforms now.”
When informed that during his playing days at Troy in the early 1990s all of Troy’s running backs — including Brewer, who rushed for 1,011 yards as a senior in 1993 — wore one black and one red wristband during his playing days, Brewer looked up from his catalog, a sly grin creeping across his face.
“We did? Really? Only you would remember something like that,” Brewer said to the reporter sitting across the table from him. “I’m telling you, I never got into that stuff. Kids now? They are all about the uniforms. They want to look good on Friday nights, I guess.”
Just as players’ attitudes toward uniforms have changed over the years, so too have the very uniforms they wear. From leather helmets to plastic helmets with single-bar facemasks to today’s space-age helmets with full-cage facemasks built-in shock absorbers to prevent concussions, football uniforms have changed dramatically over the years, in large part to keep up with current technology and safety features.
The Troy football team’s uniforms have spent the past 117 years changing along with the times.
A quick flip through Troy’s yearbooks reveals the early uniforms worn by the Trojans when the school first started fielding teams at the turn of the century were little more than thick sweaters that provided little — if any — player safety. There were no helmets in the early days — hardened leather helmets with no facemasks wouldn’t become mandatory pieces of equipment until well into the 1900s.
Troy’s uniforms followed national trends throughout much of the first half of the 1900s — which is to say, they weren’t particularly colorful. Early uniform jerseys were drab and frequently shades of brown — unlike today’s uniforms, which seemingly come in every shade of rainbow and in designs that would make Pablo Picasso blush.
Not only were the early uniforms lacking in protection and style, they were cost-prohibitive. Often, they were made of heavy wool and a player was issued one jersey for the entire season, to be used in practices and games. In today’s world of football jerseys, most players receive a practice jersey, a “home” jersey and an “away” jersey. Although not nearly as frequent at the high school level, many college and pro teams also issue “alternate” jerseys to be worn on special occasions — or at the behest of a corporate sportswear sponsor.
Toward the middle of the 1900s, players were issued both a “home” and “away” jersey. If either of the jerseys was torn or otherwise fell into a state of disrepair, it was either sewn back together or another jersey — along with a new number — altogether.
This would become a problem when it came time for Troy High School to retire legendary fullback Bob Ferguson’s number. According to legend, the bullish, hard-charging Ferguson — who graduated from Troy in 1958 — was so difficult to tackle that opposing defenders would frequently grab onto his jersey in a futile attempt to tackle him, only to be taken for a ride downfield as Ferguson simply could not be tackled so easily.
The myth goes that tacklers attempting to bring Ferguson to the ground tore away at his jersey that he frequently had to be issued a new jersey — and, in turn, a new number — so frequently that when it came time to retire his number, nobody knew for sure which of the many numbers he wore should be honored.
During Ferguson’s time at Troy in the 1950s, however, football uniforms had begun to at least resemble their modern-day counterparts, as the Trojans had adopted a scarlet and gray (now red and gray) color scheme, and all the helmets were equipped with a facemask, most of which were simple single- or double-bar designs. The helmet designs themselves remained relatively basic, however, as Troy would use a solid-colored helmet — sometimes accented with a single or double stripe, but not with any sort of fixed logo — through most of the 1950s and 1960s.
By the time Troy’s powerhouse teams of the early 1970s arrived, however, Troy had added a single letter “T” logo to the side of its helmets. Red in color, the “T” on the sides of the helmets were similar to the ones worn by the University of Tennessee for decades.
Troy’s “T” helmets would last all the way through the 1970s and into the early 1990s, when Troy introduced perhaps the most iconic helmet design in its sartorial history. The “Trojans Star” helmets were introduced by former Troy head coach Steve Nolan soon upon his arrival from Conneaut High School. The logo — which featured the word “Trojans” written in script on top of a star similar to those that adorn the helmets worn by the Dallas Cowboys quickly would become the logo adopted not only by all of Troy’s sports teams, but by the entire school district.
For nearly three decades, the “Trojans Star” was on every piece of signage, clothing and letterhead throughout the Troy City Schools District.
Most don’t realize the humble beginnings of the star logo.
“One day (former Troy Athletic Director) George Death and I were going through a sporting goods catalog,” Nolan said. “They had all kinds of different logos, but that one just kind of jumped out at us. So that’s what we went with — we never knew 30 years later that everyone would be using it.”
During Nolan’s tenure at Troy, uniforms would play a big role — in 1985, in fact, a quick uniform change may have helped the Trojans win a playoff game.
That year — Nolan’s second — Troy went 10-0 through the regular season and reached the playoffs for the first time in school history. Troy’s opponent in the opening round of the Division I playoffs was Toledo Central Catholic. On a rainy night in November, the game was played on a mud-caked field inside Troy Memorial Stadium. The Trojans were wearing their red home jerseys and silver game pants. By the end of the first half, however, Troy’s uniforms had become coated with mud.
At halftime, Nolan made the decision to have his team change into red game pants usually worn for away contests. Not only did it give the Trojans a fresh pair of pants, according to Nolan, it gave the team a new attitude, as well. Troy came out in the second half and turned what had been a close game against Toledo Central Catholic — which had not brought any spare uniforms in which to change — into a 36-0 blowout victory.
“You never know what is going to get kids excited,” Nolan said. “You should have seen the looks on their faces when we told them we were changing into the red pants. They went nuts. We were an entirely different team that second half.”
Which brings things back to Brewer, who changed things up again upon taking over at Troy in 2012. Troy’s current uniforms feature flat gray helmets and pants, along with jerseys with black accents on the numbers and sleeves. Troy’s current helmet design features the word Troy, with the “T” in Troy replaced with a Trojan sword.
All of which is a far cry from Troy’s early days.
“Who would have thought I’d be doing this?” Brewer said two years ago as he flipped through the catalog. “In the end, though, it’s still about lining up and playing football. Playing good is more important than looking good.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong