Uni Watch Bookshelf: The Great NFL Fun Books

For all photos, click to enlarge

Our “Collector’s Corner” columnist, Brinke Guthrie, recently made me aware of something called The Great NFL Fun Book, a Scholastic title that was published in 1978. I soon learned that there was also a 1981 follow-up edition, The Great NFL Fun Book II (whose cover artwork, sadly, includes some two unfortunate Native American caricatures as part of an otherwise excellent illo by the great Jack Davis).

I was already in high school when these books came out — a bit too old for Scholastic — which is presumably why I’d never heard of them before. But as I looked through a few photos that were available online, I could see that both books appeared to have a fair amount of fun uni-related content, so I ordered a few used copies from the internet so we could all take a closer look.

I’m not going to show you every page — just the stuff that seems appropriate for Uni Watch. Let’s start with the first volume:

• There’s a short segment on the evolution of the NFL ball:

• An article on players’ pregame rituals leads with Raiders wideout Fred Biletnikoff’s habit of applying stickum to his uniform:

• An article on gameday preparations includes a shot (at far right) of a player getting taped up:

• Some fun illustrations in this piece about players’ nicknames:

• Most of the book is in black-and-white, but there’s one section of pages with a color card/stamp for each team, with team-history info on the back of each one. It’s interesting to see how they chose white jerseys for some teams and colored jerseys for others:

• Next comes the section I would have totally geeked out over as a kid (and can still get pretty excited about today) — a detailed look at the history of the uniform, including the helmet, facemasks, pads, and more. Dig:

As you can see, the original owner of my copy began drawing his own helmet logo but apparently thought better of it.

• I’ll admit it: I used to stand in front of a mirror and practice football penalty signals, because they looked so official. I’d use guides like this one for reference:

That’s it for the uni-related stuff in the first volume, let’s move on to The Great NFL Fun Book II:

• A feature called “A Cartoon History of the NFL” has some sensational illos (although, like the cover, it’s too bad about the Native American caricatures), including one of Fred Gehrke painting horns on the Rams’ helmets:

• A feature on quarterbacks with at least 25,000 career passing yards includes a shot of Bob Griese, and for some reason they chose an image from the brief period when he wore glasses on the field:

• A photo accompanying an article on NFL officiating crews reminds us that the officials briefly wore their full position names on the back of their jerseys (according to the Gridiron Uniform Database, this style was worn only in 1979, ’80, and ’81):

• Double Mike-Mayer alert! That’s Colts placekicker Steve Mike-Mayer on the left, and his brother Nick Mike-Mayer of the Bills on the right:

• Here’s a good feature on the making of NFL footballs at the Wilson plant in Ada, Ohio (which I visited for an ESPN story back in 2011):

• Just like the first Fun Book, the second volume includes stamp/card thingies for each team. When appropriate, uniforms were updated and the text on the back was revised:

• Here’s a nice gallery of all 15 Super Bowl ring designs that existed at the time:

• An “Amazing but True” segment leads with the story of Colts wideout Raymond Berry’s goggles:

• The first Fun Book had a “Design your own helmet” page, but Fun Book II lets you design the entire uniform:

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Good stuff. I would’ve pored over every square millimeter of these books if I’d had them as a kid! Did anyone out there grow up reading them?

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Click to enlarge

Fun creative project: The jersey mural at the Texas Rangers’ ballpark has appeared a few times in the Ticker since debuting last year. It made a big impression on Uni Watch reader Mike Trautman, who checked in yesterday with the following:

I’m a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, but I love the jersey mural the Rangers have in their new stadium. Ever since I saw a photo of it, I wanted to do a Phillies-themed take on it. Then the surface of my office table got boogered up, so I decided to sand it down and get it done. Theirs is better, surely, but I’m happy with the outcome.

Nicely done, Mike — thanks for sharing!

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Click to enlarge

Pin clearance reminder: In case you missed it earlier this week, prices on the remaining Uni Watch pinventory have now been cut to just $3 apiece for the first eight pins and just $2 for each pin after that. Full details here.

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The Ticker
By Lloyd Alaban

Baseball News: Here’s full MLB uni tracking through April. … Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts went with a navy undershirt last night instead of the usual red (from Colin McDonough). … The Mets wore plain white pants — sans pinstripes — with their blue tops yesterday. That’s a change from the pinstriped pants they’d been wearing with that jersey (from multiple readers). … No picture, but White Sox P Liam Hendriks was apparently warming up in the bullpen last night while wearing the wrong jersey, so someone had to go get the proper jersey for him (from Bob Gassel). … Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown threw out the first pitch at last night’s Phillies game while wearing a custom Phillies jersey (from Timmy Donahue). … Atlanta will wear 1974 throwback unis this Friday and Saturday against the Brewers, part of a week honoring Henry Aaron (from our own Phil Hecken).

Football News: New rookie numbers for the Ravens. … Cross-listed from the baseball section: Eagles WR A.J. Brown threw out the first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies game last night while wearing a custom Phillies jersey (from Timmy Donahue). … The next three items are from our own Phil Hecken: New numbers for the Jaguars. More details here. … The Bengals have announced numbers for all six of their draft picks. … Here’s a history of Notre Dame’s helmets. … Ferrari’s F1 team posted a graphic on social media that featured Ferrari football uniforms ahead of F1’s race in Miami (from Ed Zelaski). … The warning/disclamer decal on the back of Tulsa’s helmets will now be shaped like the state of Oklahoma. … Looks like the Lions may be the latest Detroit team to start repping the city’s area code. The NBA’s Detroit Pistons have been leaning in on that theme over the past year or two (from Dan Kennedy). … New rookie uni numbers for the Bills.

Hockey News: A fan at last night’s Preds/Avs game wore an Avalanche sweater and a Nordiques cap (from John, who didn’t give his last name). … The Montreal Gazette honored the late Guy Lafleur with a logo incorporating his No. 10 into the Habs’ logo (from Moe Khan). … Lafleur’s name was also added to the cockpit of a CF-18 plane that performed a flyover at his funeral yesterday (from Andreas Papadopoulos). … Also from Andreas: Lafleur’s coffin was draped in a Habs flag. … The new NAHL team in Eagle River, Wis., will be named the Wisconsin Windigo (from Jerry Nitzh).

Basketball News: The WNBA is planning to add Phoenix Mercury C Brittney Griner’s initials and No. 42 to all its courts, as she’s been held in Russia for several months now (from our own Jamie Rathjen). … FAMU will become the first HBCU to have LeBron James’s personal logo on their uniforms. … New unis for Louisville men’s (from Mitch Wiley).

Grab Bag: Cross-listed from the football section: Ferrari’s F1 team posted a graphic on social media that featured Ferrari football uniforms ahead of F1’s race in Miami (from Ed Zelaski). … Connecticut lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow police officers to wear religious head coverings (from Timmy Donahue). … Supercross racer Jerry Robin has been wearing custom graphics and kits based on the local teams at his race locations, including the NFL’s Denver Broncos and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, and L.A. Lakers (from John Flory). … Here’s a timeline of Massachusetts license plate designs (from John Vieira).

45 comments to Uni Watch Bookshelf: The Great NFL Fun Books

  • Memal | May 4, 2022 at 8:42 am |

    It was Tecmo Super Bowl on the SNES and a book like the ones featured today that got me interested in the NFL and football. This post made me realize I need to keep my eyes open for something similar for my son who is almost of an age for this sort of thing. Great piece today!

  • Jeff Ash | May 4, 2022 at 8:43 am |

    That cartoon history of the NFL is drawn by the great Jack Davis.

    • Perry | May 4, 2022 at 5:00 pm |

      Thank you! I took one look and immediately thought “I’ve seen that guy’s work in Mad magazine,” which I read regularly in the late 60s and early 70s, but didn’t remember his name.

  • BvK | May 4, 2022 at 8:55 am |

    Today’s lede was a fun blast from the past for me. I had the Great NFL Fun Book II as a kid. I would have gotten it in the fall of 1981, when I was in fifth grade. I wasn’t quite as avid of a sports fan as I would become later in my teens, but I still Got It(TM) enough to be fascinated by the same uni elements that caught your eye, Paul.

    In particular, I remember being captivated by the Super Bowl rings section. I think that may have been the origin of an interest that compels me to this day to submit items about championship rings for The Ticker.

    • Jon | May 4, 2022 at 3:40 pm |

      Same- got the second book in 81 or 82 when I was in 4th grade and spent a lot of time looking at those Super Bowl rings. I remember that I designed a pretty ugly uniform in that book.

  • Greg | May 4, 2022 at 8:55 am |

    That NFL book is amazing.

    As a follow up to yesterday’s note of the Camo pandering Memorial Day Armed Forces MLB gear. My small town decided to have Patriotic House Decorating contest for Memorial Day this year. Seemingly confusing stars and stripes patriotism with the actual reason for Memorial Day. Which is surprising given the town has held a solemn tribute service on Memorial Day for years. I understand the draw of community events, but how about you hold that one back until Independence Day, where it is more appropriate.

    • Greg | May 4, 2022 at 8:56 am |

      Looks like I messed up the coding. Only the first mention of Memorial Day, in reference to the MLB camo hats, was supposed to be strikethrough.

  • John | May 4, 2022 at 8:57 am |

    Great post! I bought the NFL Fun Book in the 4th grade back in 1981-82, it’s still on my bookshelf and I browse occasionally from time to time to look at the team uniform pages and the funny referee quiz.

  • R. Scott Rogers | May 4, 2022 at 9:02 am |

    My dad got me the II edition of that book when we moved from Iowa to Philly. Dad moved out East first by a few months to start his network job, then mom & I followed on a three-day trek in her bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Including a stop to visit then-President-Elect Reagan’s childhood home in Illinois. Anyway, when we arrived at our new house, dad had decorated my room with all kinds of NFL posters and pennants and waiting on my bed was an NFL fan club membership packet and the Great NFL Fun Book II. Dad really wanted me to get into gridiron football now that we were going to live in an NFL city. And he was working for the station that carried Eagles games. Despite loving the Eagles’ kelly green uniforms and especially the helmet, I never got into gridiron football as a sport beyond enjoying watching games with my dad, but I loved the Fun Book. Mostly for the MAD Magazine style art and cartoons. I was big into MAD at that age.

  • Brian E | May 4, 2022 at 9:09 am |

    On the Mets’ pants:

    That’s the first time they’ve worn the blue alt with white pants (with blue piping) since 2014. They paired the blue home alt with white pants from 2012-2014, but once they mothballed the snow white jerseys after the 2014 season, they just went with the pinstriped pants (insert the Wilpons were cheap joke here). Now that the black jerseys are a part of the regular rotation again and they are wearing plain white pants to go with those, maybe they’ll use the plain whites with the blue jersey going forward. It’s worth noting, though, that it was the second game of a doubleheader, which may have influenced things (though the Scherzer picture reference from Twitter was ALSO from a DH).

  • Adam H. | May 4, 2022 at 9:18 am |

    I absolutely had the Great NFL Fun Book II as a kid! I wish I could find it, I’d love to remember what uniform/helmet I scrawled inside.

  • Rob S | May 4, 2022 at 9:26 am |

    Can’t say I recall those books, but they look pretty fascinating.

    It would be really nice if the Brewers broke out some Hank Aaron-era-appropriate block-M hats and powder blue unis for that series in Atlanta.

    The red color of the Nordiques logo on that hat looks like the Avalanche’s burgundy, which would suggest it’s a Reverse Retro-themed hat.

    • ChrisH | May 4, 2022 at 12:15 pm |

      I probably ran across those NFL Fun Books as a kid, but I don’t remember them. Great content, thanks to Brinke and Paul for sharing!

      I wouldn’t mind if the Brewers dressed as the Milwaukee Braves for one of those games…well, maybe I would a little even though a Braves vs. Braves throwback game has been done before.

      It’s a real shame that the Avs didn’t resurrect the Nordiques’ original powder blue/red color scheme when the franchise moved to Denver.

  • MC | May 4, 2022 at 9:37 am |

    How about the Droste effect on the cover of Fun Book II?

  • Bill Schaefer | May 4, 2022 at 10:28 am |

    My copy of ‘II’ is likely in my parents’ attic. I got mine as part of the NFL Kids Club back in the early 80s.

  • Daniel Gipson | May 4, 2022 at 10:28 am |

    Oh boy Those Fun Books! That was my wheelhouse. Got to order that in the 6th grade (1976-77) along with my subscription to DYNAMITE Magazine!! Couldn’t get enough of that book, especially the section of helmets/uniforms. Great memories. BTW…I believe the image of Griese and Cardinals QB Jim Hart were done by Chuck Ren, who was an insane artist who created all those sweet NFL posters from the late 70s

  • Ed | May 4, 2022 at 10:33 am |

    I definitely had the first volume when I was a kid – I remember the cartoons for Night Train Lane, Mercury Morris, and Hacksaw Reynolds. Thanks for the memories!

  • Jason S | May 4, 2022 at 10:44 am |

    The Great NFL Fun Book II was the first domino in the chain that led me to become a UniWatcher. Thanks for bringing back those memories, Paul and Brinke.

  • WFY | May 4, 2022 at 10:57 am |

    The NFL Fun Book II came with NFL SuperPro Club membership. 1st grade me loved it! It included that book, a standings board with static cling helmet stickers, a iron on logo, probably team stickers.

  • Erik | May 4, 2022 at 11:02 am |

    I cannot believe the memories that you have created today. I had those books as a kid. I read them almost daily. They were amazing! I used to track schedules and playoffs with the standings board. You made me a little 1st and 2nd grader in small town Utah poring over these books again.

  • Kevin | May 4, 2022 at 11:11 am |

    As a kid I read The Great NFL Fun Book about a million times. I love the Pack but was always disappointed in the #62 Packer guy. The dude looks wimpy and does not have the appropriate facemask for his position on the line. As a ten year old I would contemplate if it was really possible to “hack saw” a jeep in half. And if so how long would it take? And why did no one try to stop Reynolds??? Good times! :)

  • albert | May 4, 2022 at 11:20 am |

    A friend two houses up the street had the first Fun Book and gave it to me because they weren’t much of a football fan, then my brother tried to claim it was his.

    The page about Biletnicoff talked not only about Stickum but also his superstition around gum. He had to have certain combinations and the packs had to placed in a certain place and the trainers had to actually put it in his mouth but only while Fred was looking at the field.

    The section devoted to the padding that players wore is interesting because of how almost all of it has disappeared from the game, because players think it makes them slower. Of course you had teams like the Raiders who took advantage of the padding and had casts made which were, shall we say, a bit more reinforced than was probably legal.

    The facemask section is also cool, one thing I DON’T like in todays football is the lack of variety among facemasks. Marino and Manning and Young with the half cage look at qb, the full cage for linebackers and lineman, now it’s all just the lame double bar garbage.

  • Shawn | May 4, 2022 at 11:23 am |

    Since the return of the NHL after covid, the NHL has allowed broadcasts to show computer ads below the blueline. I don’t know if this has been mentioned yet, but until now, I’ve only seen this on US broadcasts (NBC last year and TNT/ESPN this year). I may be the only one, but I find it very distracting. I don’t like computer generated anything when it comes to watching sports on TV. The CFL on TSN in Canada has taken it to an extreme and even show a fake Argos logo at center field for their games. With the start of the NHL playoffs, SportsNet in Canada has started doing this too. Between the board advertising, the computerized ads behind the nets (and sometimes above the faceoff circles), this is getting worse and worse. I know that MLB and NBA now do it too, but it was nice in Canada when at least there was no fake ads on the ice…as bad as it looks in Europe, at least the ads on the ice are real ads, but this fake stuff really bugs me…sorry for the rant :)

  • Matt Beahan | May 4, 2022 at 11:27 am |

    I don’t think those NFL Fun Books made it over here, but once the sport took off in the UK in the 1980s an NFL Annual* was published every year with similar content – I think my first would have been 1987. Each one would have a 2-page spread for each team, a recap of the previous season and sections for basic stats, player profiles and little factoids.

    https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71YXEP37BrL.jpg

    *I’m not sure if you guys had Annuals in the USA or if they’re more of a British thing, but there was a time when EVERYTHING got an annual – cartoons, TV shows, films, sports teams & leagues, pop groups, celebrities… They’ve become less prevelant these days but if you grew up in the 1970s & 80s you’d be guaranteed to get a handful of Annuals on Christmas morning.

    • Chris Diamond | May 5, 2022 at 5:58 am |

      Hey Matt I remember those too! They were pretty much the only book available in the UK in the 80s apart from the Official NFL Record and Fact Book. They were written by Ken Thomas who was the editor of Touchdown Magazine (which I also got).

  • walter | May 4, 2022 at 11:32 am |

    Awesome project by Mike Trautman! Now I know what I’ll be doing the next couple of weeks: Murals of all the teams that haven’t been done yet.

    • BvK | May 4, 2022 at 3:53 pm |

      Let me echo walter’s praise of Mike Trautman’s awesome Phillies jersey mural! Well done! Walter, be sure to share your work when you finish, too!

  • Jay | May 4, 2022 at 12:28 pm |

    The puzzling thing about the FAMU announcement is they wore the same three uniforms with the King James logo this past season. It’s not new.

    https://hbcugameday.com/2021/11/08/lebron-james-florida-am-uniforms-revealed/

    Did someone drop the ball on this announcement? Or is the announcement that they’re now available for retail?

    • Jay | May 4, 2022 at 12:32 pm |

      There’s also 3 completely different uniform designs. All are nice, but that’s total overkill.

  • Jason | May 4, 2022 at 1:01 pm |

    Paul, Thanks for the trip down memory lane with the NFL Fun Book. I immediately sent the story to my brother and it really brought us back to our childhood in Brooklyn. . I bet my parents still have it somewhere packed away.

  • FiteClub | May 4, 2022 at 1:23 pm |

    I had the first NFL Fun Book! I must have read it a thousand times because every page you posted looked familiar to me and brought back memories. I bought every one of those Scholastic titles that related to baseball and football during that era. I loved the yearly “All-Pro Baseball Stars of 19–” and they defined my early memories of the game’s biggest stars.

  • Special K | May 4, 2022 at 1:26 pm |

    Impressive undertaking to do complete uniform tracking for the entire MLB!

    • Gary | May 4, 2022 at 3:19 pm |

      It’s impressive, but my Tigers are missing. What gives?

  • Tom | May 4, 2022 at 3:34 pm |

    I was a tad young for those Fun Books but the helmet pictures remind me of the images I was obsessed with as a kid. Scholastic made posters of them, and you’d also find them in the program you’d buy at an NFL game. Every NFL helmet, organized by division, the “classic” quarterback facemask on the helmets. I remember sitting in Foxboro Stadium with my thumb holing the page of those images in the program, and whenever there was a break in the game or if the Pats were losing (a common occurrence back then) I’d open the magazine and look at the helmets, remembering the times I’d seen those teams playing in New England or wondering when I’d get to see them. I also remember the teams flags would fly on poles all around the top of the stadium, with the Patriots flag and the flag of whoever they were playing that week on poles above the scoreboard. The teams were in alphabetical order by location, and I remember my Dad not being as annoyed as I was whenever I spotted a flag that was out of order.

  • Brian | May 4, 2022 at 3:49 pm |

    I love the look of the helmets in those books. The two-bar facemask, the subtle shading. I wouldn’t mind seeing the current 32 NFL helmets rendered in that style…

  • David Staples | May 4, 2022 at 7:17 pm |

    I had the first one of those books! I definitely wore it out reading it over and over. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  • MIke C. | May 4, 2022 at 7:20 pm |

    That rundown of the NFL Fun Books brought back some great memories. Got them both from school book clubs when I was a kid, and cut out all the “cards” with the uniforms on them. I remember, I kept my eye out for the Fun Book III, but it never became a reality. Heck, if it came out later when I was in my 20s I probably would have found a way to purchase.

    P.S. Anybody recognize the guy with Biletnikoff in that photo from the first Fun Book? None other than Jim Rockford/Bret Maverick himself, noted Raider fan James Garner.

  • Jonathan McCardell | May 4, 2022 at 9:39 pm |

    That was definitely one of my favorite books that I kept for many many years. I was ten at the time it came out. It was fun to see it again here!

  • David Byrne | May 4, 2022 at 9:41 pm |

    I had (may still have) the original NFL Fun Book. It was awesome!

  • Mike Fudge | May 4, 2022 at 10:26 pm |

    I still have my 1978 NFL Fun Book!!!!!! It is how I already knew what the Bears 1936 Kersey looked like!

  • Mark in Shiga | May 4, 2022 at 10:48 pm |

    Regarding the referee jersey style in that NFL Fun Book, there’s actually something even more interesting going on than just the full position names on the backs: the NFL, in an effort to prevent referee numbers from reaching three digits, tried a renumbering plan in which each referee position had its own numbering, from 1 to 20.

    Then in the Super Bowl things got confusing with multiple referees wearing the same number, so they scrapped the plan and went back to individual numbers and embraced triple digits.

    One thing that stuck around after this plan was the referee positions: they were reduced to initial letters, but they stayed on the jerseys above the number.

  • Bill Kellick | May 5, 2022 at 12:28 am |

    I had the NFL Fun Book II. Paul, I would have loved the original version as it had a picture of Walter Payton’s Mill-Mont mouthguard, as you know, something close to my heart.

  • JOHN STEINHART | May 5, 2022 at 10:52 am |

    Absolutely clever way the artist depicted all 28 teams on the cover of the NFL Fun Book II. His idea of a Packer is funny. Liked how he used a subtle clue to set the Colts & Broncos apart. All of the bird teams are small and a brilliant way to get the Giants in there. Sort of like a Where’s Waldo challenge.

    • Mark in Shiga | May 5, 2022 at 11:33 pm |

      The Giants have by far the best depiction!

  • Rob Ullman | May 6, 2022 at 4:12 pm |

    I had the book with the Jack Davis cover…man, I pored over that thing constantly for years, drawing the helmets, the wordmarks, everything. Absolutely a foundational book for all this nonsense, and why I turned out to be someone who “Gets It”.

    I could be remembering it wrong, but I’m almost certain I had an MLB Fun Book at some point a little later. There was some kind of odd placeholder for the ChiSox pajama party uniforms, maybe a drawing instead of a photo, because they hadn’t been finished yet? I gotta find that book…