By Phil Hecken, with Jim “The Weatherman” Vilk
Sure, college hoops may have its big weekend, and they may have even patented the name, “Final Four,” but for most sports fans, we all know that today is the greatest day in pro sports — better than the Super Bowl, bigger than any single game in any other sport, more life-and-death than a seven game series. Today is Championship Sunday, folks, and for football fans (at least in the league where they play for pay), it doesn’t get any better than this.
Four great teams will play back to back games today for over six straight hours for the right to claim their Conference Championship. Three of these teams, the Bears, Packers and Steelers, have basically been around since the league was founded, and the fourth, the New York Jets, were there at the start of the AFL. All four teams have a legitimate shot at reaching the Super Bowl, and all four have really great unis. Even if you only count the Super Bowl era, the four combatants have won 11 of the 44 Super Bowls (25%), and all teams involved have won at least one. Throw in the Green Bay Packers (11 pre-Super Bowl titles) and Chicago Bears (8 pre-Super Bowl titles) early championship histories, and you have 30 NFL titles between the four teams. Of course, the “new kids on the block” Jets only have one of those, but Super Bowl III, in which Broadway Joe made the most famous guarantee in all of sports, cemented the Super Bowl as the preeminent sporting event in all of sports. But, to get back to the promised land, we have the greatest day in sports — Championship Weekend — the real Final Four.
As most of you are probably aware, there’s a new Super Bowl logo this year (a standardized one which will keep this look for the foreseeable future), but also new Conference Trophies. The “Halas Trophy,” given to the NFC champion, used to look like this, but now looks like this. At first, many of us thought the trophy was crystal, but it is in fact a four piece metal job, one assumes to symbolize the four divisions. Upon doing a bit of digging, the “new trophies are made by Tiffany & Co., and feature a silver base with a hollowed out silver football on top.”
Over in the AFC, they too have a new trophy — the “Hunt Trophy,” named for Lamar Hunt, which looked like this forever, but it’s been “modernized” as well, and it’s pretty much identical to the Halas version. Again, this is in keeping with the new NFL’s “everything new” theme (this year the logos were changed for both conferences as well, with the NFC going from this to this and the AFC going from this to this).
Of course, two weeks from today, the winners of today’s games will be traveling to the beautiful Jerry Dome, the retractable roofed gem where the conditions will be perfect and the players will be warm. But today — today the four remaining teams, all from cold-weather climes, will be playing outdoors, in the elements, the way football was meant to be played (if, perhaps, not watched). The first game, with a kickoff of approximately 3:30 eastern/2:30 central, will be in beautiful, historic Soldier Field in Chicago. And it will certainly be “football weather.” The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 19 degrees with a 30% chance of snow. It will likely be colder than that at kickoff time, and the wind chill will be around 0F. Certainly not the coldest game (by a longshot) in NFL playoff history, but plenty cold. There is nothing finer than two old-school teams from the NFC North facing off for a trip to the Super Bowl on a natural grass field with a chance of snow.
The Jets and Steelers will face their own share of weather worries. The NWS is forecasting a high of 16 degrees, and also a 30% chance for snow, but unfortunately, that is for the morning hours. Wind chill values will hover around -1F. The AFC combatants will be playing in Pittsburgh at gorgeous Heinz Field, notorious for its swirling winds and (usually) uneven playing surface. Another natural grass field, this one gets a lot of play during the college and high school seasons, but it should be in pretty good shape for this game.
I’ll be back to discuss the games in a bit more detail, but now, I want to turn this portion of the post over to the one and only Jim “Mothersunbowlker” Vilk, who will take you on a quick trip down memory lane for some of the greatest NFL games played under some of the harshest conditions of all time. In other words, football weather:
by Jim Vilk
In more ways than one, this could be the best-looking Sunday in the history of the NFL’s conference championships. Sure, the final four teams all have great uniforms, but there have been other years where that was the case. What could separate today’s games is the weather. Add in two natural-grass fields in northern wintry conditions, slap a little mud on those great unis, and that’s the stuff of legends, my friends. You can call it “bad weather” or “foul weather,” just not around me. In fact, I’m calling it “football weather.”
There have been championship games played in similar conditions, or in other types of challenging weather. There was the Freezer Bowl between the Chargers and Bengals, but that was paired up with the classic-yet-played-in-fair-weather Cowboys vs. 49ers game. There were the Oilers and Steelers in the rain, but that was paired with the Cowboys and Rams out in sunny Los Angeles. Not to be forgotten are the Jets and Dolphins in the mud, but that was paired with the Cowboys and Redskins in cold but mild conditions. There are other examples, but basically for every championship game played in mud, snow, ice or rain, the other matchup is played in more “ideal” conditions, or even indoors. This could be the first time where both games are played in memorable “football” weather.
As I said at the beginning, both games will look great regardless of the elements. Going by just the uniforms, I’d rank them up there with my 2nd favorite conference doubleheader, the ’89/’90 Browns vs. Broncos and Rams vs. 49ers. My best-looking championship day was the ’79/’80 matchups between the Oilers and Steelers and the Rams and Buccaneers, but if snow falls on both of today’s games, that could change.
So with that set up, lets hope for two epic battles. We already know the unis will be great and the weather will hopefully be awful (and I mean that in a good way). Time to do the breakdowns. I’ve done (surprisingly) well picking the games (6-2 so far) by “better” uniform, but today, it’s going to be very difficult, since we have four teams with easily the top 10 uniforms in the game. Here we go:
Green Bay Packers (-4) at Chicago Bears (over/under 42.5): These two teams, from the same division, couldn’t have gotten here any differently. The Pack, seeded sixth, first had to win in Philadelphia, taking down the Eagles in the Wild Card game. They next traveled to Atlanta, where they summarily dismissed the #1 seeded Falcons. I told you (if you didn’t already know) that Aaron Rodgers was one of the best QB’s in the game, and he’s proving it. The Pack are on an incredible roll, and will need one more road victory to reach the big game, and are (maybe not so) surprising 4 point favorites. The Bears, the #2 seed, had probably the easiest road to the Championship game, getting a first round bye and easily dismissing the Seahawks in a snowy game.
The Packers certainly look like the best team in the playoffs so far, and they are intimately familiar with the Bears, playing them twice each season. The two teams split the first two (each winning at home), with the Bears prevailing 20-17 in Chicago, wearing their “1947” throwbacks, and the Pack returning the favor in Lambeau, winning 10-3, to clinch the sixth and final playoff spot. Bears coach Lovie Smith said before that game he wanted to win and “knock the Packers out of the playoffs.” Who knows if he knew he’d be meeting up with them for a trip to the big dance, but his words proved prescient.
I won (with the spread) both times picking the Packers, and also the Bears, based on the better uniform. Those were all easy choices. Today, we have two of the best unis in the game facing each other, and it’s going to be a very difficult call. I personally feel the Packers have the best home uniform in the game, but the Bears’ home uni (they’ll be wearing their standard homes today, not the throwbacks) is a close second or third. The Pack’s road unis are great, but I’m not sure they’re better than the Bears home unis. I was wrong picking against the home dog (Seattle vs. New Orleans) once. As much as I think the Pack will win, I’m going to “bet” on the Bears and take the four points. The Pick: Packers 24 – Bears 21.
New York Jets (+3.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (o/u 38.5): There are surprising parallels between both the Jets and Packers, and Steelers and Bears, roads to the Championship Game. Like the Packers, the Jets were the number 6 seed, needing to win 2 road games as underdogs, and having to defeat two sure-fire Hall of Fame Quarterbacks (Peyton & Tom) to reach Pittsburgh. They ousted the Colts while wearing white over white (that game looked a LOT like a a rather famous game in NFL history, and then went up to Foxboro, pulling off a huge upset of the #1 seeded New England Patriots, wearing white over green. I’m quite frankly shocked at the Jets choice of pants, and it’s far from being their best look, but it worked. I wonder if they will stick with the green pants for today’s game.
Like the Bears, the Steelers, as the #2 seed, had a first-round bye, but faced a much tougher opponent (and divisional foe), Baltimore Ravens, coming back from a 21-7 halftime deficit to emerge victorious. Like the Packers and Bears, I have picked the Jets (twice) and Steelers to win their earlier contests, based on their wearing the superior uniform. When the Jets and the Steelers met earlier in the season, the Jets won wearing white over white, and I would expect they will wear that today. Both teams have classic unis, and the Steelers have been wearing a version of this since before the merger (although now they have almost no sleeves and they allowed Nike to change their university block to “slash” font), and the Jets, while going to a more modern look (and later adding a touch of black and shiny green pants) have now returned to that classic look they wore in SB III. It’s a beautiful uniform (especially when it’s not paired with the awful green pants). Both unis are great, but I have to give an ever-so-slight edge to the Jets.
The Pick: Jets 16 – Steelers 7
And finally, if you haven’t yet seen them, there are some great Packers/Bears galleries out there on the Interwebs. It’s hard to believe that while both teams have been playing for seemingly forever, they’ve only met ONCE before in the playoffs, and that was in 1941. Check these out:
Packers vs. Bears — “A rivalry for the ages” gallery. (Green Bay Press Gazette)
Bears/Packers Through The Years (Chicago Tribune)
1941 Western Conference Playoff video (chicagobears.com)
Sit back and enjoy the games today, fellow uni watchers. While the games themselves may not be all-time classics, all the ingredients are there — the teams, the weather, the uniforms. This day may be one for the ages.
Occasionally, I will be featuring wonderful, high-quality black and white photographs that are just begging to be colorized.
Nothing new was offered up by yours truly last weekend, as I was hoping a few of you would have taken me up on the last batch. Indeed, some of you did. The first colorizer today is Matt Williams, who had actually sent me a colorization of the “Giants vs. Steelers” photo, but I somehow missed it. Here’s his first effort:
I know I am a little behind the clock on this, but I just started doing colorizations and figured I would finally give one of the Uni Watch pictures a shot. I went for maximum contrast by only coloring the players involved in the action. I also left the white, grey, and black elements alone since greyscale does a perfectly fine job with those colors. Thank you for coordinating these. I look forward to participating in more colorizations later on.
But Matt wasn’t done. You see, he is actually quite adept at this. Shortly after he sent me the first photo, I got another e-mail, with an attachment. “This is of Guy Hottel when he played for George Washinton University in 1924,” says Matt. “I was not certain as to what colors they used back then so I just went with the current school colors of blue and buff. I think it worked out decently. I decided to go with the maximum contrast again by only colorizing the player.”
Indeed it was. And Matt still wasn’t finished. Dig:
“This is of a game between Randolph-Macon and Gallaudet from 1923. I could not find any information as to which team wore which uniforms or what the colors were back then so I took the modern colors for each school and assigned them as I saw fit. Randolph-Macon currently has Lemon Gold and Black so I assigned those colors to the team with the dark jerseys with the stripes. Gallaudet has Blue and Buff which I assigned to the team with the light jerseys and the dark chest panels.”
Awesome stuff, Matt. Still not finished, he also sent along three suggestions for future colorizations, which we’ll take a look at following the colorizations of today.
Next to contact me was Adam Hill, who provided a beautiful “off the board” colorization:
Recently the Boston Bruins held “Milt Schmidt Night” to celebrate Milt’s amazing 75 years with the organization. I was lucky to attend the event, which was immediately before the Maple Leafs/Bruins game that night. The Bruins gave away a commemorative lithograph to the first 10,000 fans, and I got mine, only to have it get wrecked by beer and foot traffic under my seat. I found the lithograph online and colorized it, as it was originally painted in grayscale. Credit to the artist goes to M.S. Corley
Thanks for posting my last submission of Bob Feller. Keep up the great work with the blog. Uni Watch has become part of my daily routine.
Outstanding job by Adam. I received yet another set of e-mails from Bari Diarbekirian, who began with this:
Hey Phil. I attached 2 pictures.. One is the Steelers vs Giants…
and the other one is a colorized version of one of the more famous photographs of Jackie Robinson.
Let me know what you think,
I think those are great. But Bari also wasn’t finished. He also has a website dedicated to colorizing history. Check it out.
I also received a submission from past colorizer Joe DeAngelis, who went “off the board” with a wonderous effort in a sport that doesn’t get much UW love, boxing (in fact, I know Paul has covered it, probably more extensively than we realize it, but I don’t think I ever have):
Attached is my latest entry for consideration to be included in “Colorize This”.
To date this is my personal masterpiece in colorizations, I took on the famous Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott “Punch” photo and went to task. The consistency of flesh-tones where troublesome, and I took a gander at the color gloves based on various photos or said era 1952.
If I may add a hint to colorizers like myself, don’t leave blacks, whites and grays at the mercy of the original photograph. Adjust those colors using the slightest of tints to enhance their perspective. The above lighting has golden tones, the scaffolding to the left has a blueish hue, Marcianos hair was tweaked in brown, the canvas blue etc, etc.
In the past I only colorized singular people, this is my first landscape containing multiple persons. Uniwatch has several colorizers that master this art, and most of their better pieces have multiple people, consider this my application to “join the club” Enjoy.
Fantastic job with that Joe.
And finally, what Colorize This! piece would be complete without a couple from George Chilvers? Here’s what I received from him:
A couple for you.
The first was as a result of the article which mentioned my son and I favouring Redskins and another contributor encouraging that. The original appears to be one of those “classic” photos that most afficionados of any sport know – Sam Baugh in 1942 against the Bears.
The second is a tribute to one of the true greats of English and World football (soccer) who died last Saturday, aged 85. He was Nat Lofthouse, nicknamed the “Lion of Vienna”, a big strong no-nonsense centre-forward. A rarity in the modern game, a one-club man, who is shown with the FA Cup in 1958 when Bolton beat the post-Munich disaster Manchester United.
The picture also shows something that provides a good quiz question: what is taken to every FA Cup Final, but never used?
The answer is the ribbons for the cup for the losing team. Two sets of ribbons are taken, one for each team, and the winners colours are tied to the handles at the final whistle. The losing team’s ribbons are thrown away.
Hope you’re keeping well
Thanks, as always George.
Fantastic stuff from everyone.
And now, onto Matt Williams’ suggestions for “next time” — let’s see if you colorizers can’t take a stab at one, two or even all three of what follows:
Here are some to offer up to the readers for colorization.
The first is of the Peoples Drug Store baseball team of Washington, D.C. in 1921. They appear to have won something. From the looks on the faces on some of the players it is hard to tell if they won something good.
The second is of a game between the Washington Nationals and a team I can not identify. This was taken some time between 1910 and 1930.
The third is of Walter Perry Johnson of the Washington Nationals. There is no date but it is probably between 1910 and 1930 as well.
All of these are from the National Photo Company Collection in the Library of Congress.
I hope they are high quality enough.
Thank you Matt. As always, if you folks would like to colorize these or send me high quality B & W photos, or even your own colorizations, please do so. You can send them directly to me. Please put “colorization” somewhere in the subject line, so even if it accidentally ends up in the spam folder, I can make sure I ‘rescue’ it.
Lots and lots of tweaks keep pouring in, so obviously this is a popular feature. A bunch new to get to today. If you have a tweak, change or concept for any sport, send them my way.
Remember, if possible, try to keep your descriptions to ~50 words (give or take) per tweak. You guys have been great a keeping to that, and it’s much appreciated!
Got a big set of tweaks today…so lets get right into it:
Starting off the show is Sean F., who has 2 more “pro combat” sets:
I did up a couple more pro combat uni adaptions and creations, this time home and away. First the Steelers.
Titans Home & Away — This is a complete redesign. I tried to keep it similar to the current style but change it up a bit. I changed the helmet to the sky blue and added some stripes to the socks. I used the sleeves for the titans T sword logo.
Next up we have Jordan Katz, who was inspired enough to tweak the Seahawks:
Watching the Seahawks game last night vs. Rams inspired to me tweak. Basically swapping all the dark blue-green in the uniform with their great looking shade of green. Also, no monochrome, which a nice touch as well.
Closing down the show this week is Hyatt Werling, who is back with some “color swaps” for the NFL:
My name’s Hiatt Werling, and I had a few of my tweaks put on the website a couple of days ago. They were all uniform ideas that messed with the teams’ color schemes and changed them to something loosely relating to the team. These are more of those.
Seahawks – SuperSonics Set:
I thought maybe the Seahawks could help Seattle fill the void left by the relocation of the Sonics by adopting their colors. I used the color scheme from the Sonics’ late 90’s uniforms because I liked those unis a lot.
Cardinals – Diamondbacks Set:
This probably won’t make me any friends here, but purple’s my favorite color, and I love it when sports teams wear purple uniforms. I especially like the purple and turquoise the Diamondbacks used when they entered the league, so I wondered what it would look like if the Cardinals resurrected that Arizona color scheme.
Cowboys – New Mexico Set:
I’m from Albuquerque, and because New Mexico has no major league sports teams (a point of much grief for me), a large majority of New Mexico football fans support the relatively nearby Cowboys. I wanted to make a uniform set that the Cowboys could wear if they wanted to honor their New Mexico fan base. It uses red and yellow from our flag with accents of turquoise from our license plate.
Dolphins – Cuba Set:
A Dolphins uniform set recognizing Miami’s large Cuban population. It uses the blue and red from Cuba’s flag. I also replaced the logo on the Dolphins’ sleeves with the Cuban flag, serving as stripes.
I also feel like I messed up on the Colts’ Mayflower set from my last set of tweaks, so I modified it a little. This modification included making both the road and road alternates colored for the hell of it.
That’s it for this week. Thanks to all of today’s tweakers — back next week with more.
And with that, lets put this one into the books. Everyone enjoy your Sunday and the (hopefully) fantastic football we all have in store. I want to thank each and everyone who posted in yesterday’s comment section of What kind of fan are you?. I really appreciated the great stories and tales of what makes you the kind of fan you are today. I really felt I got to know many of you a lot better, and I appreciate the honest, forthright and civil dialog we all engaged in. You folks pepped me up when I was feeling down. Uni Watchers really are the best.
I also want to wish Spanks a safe flight out to Arizona — enjoy the fantasy baseball
you lucky bastard, you have no idea how jealous I am buddy! And of course, a safe trip back to New York to Paul, who will be busting his hump on that Ada, Ohio, NFL football story.
***ONE LAST THING: Since Paul will be very busy today with his project, can you folks please POST IN THE COMMENTS or e-mail to me any MMUW (Monday Morning Uni Watch) screen grabs and news. Also, if you send Paul something for the ticker, if you want to cc: me (same addy as the link above), we can make sure (or try) to get it in Monday’s post. Thanks!
My dad (Yanks fan) always threatens to accidentally set my Mets apparel on fire, and trust me sometimes after the season I may be the one holding the match. — “ROACH77”