Numbering players and now adding “YALE” in barely visible lettering are two major changes in Yale’s football jerseys, 100 years apart

By Joel Alderman

Since the beginning of the current football season there has been a unique change in the look of the Yale football uniforms, though relatively few have grasped its significance, if indeed they have noticed it at all.

Like the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball’s only team that does not put players names on their uniforms, (and they say never will), the attire of Yale football teams has been ultra traditional and resistant to change. The wearing apparel of the Bulldogs, except in the striping, the shade of blue, color of the pants, and the inclusion of some small logos, has basically stayed the same, as least since the opening of the Yale Bowl in 1914.

Yale has never made a point of self promotion. Therefore, it took this old grad (1951) by surprise when the new Under Armour design included the esteemed Ivy League university’s name on the front, above the numbers.

Sebastian Little had two pass receptions against Brown. His number 4 is under the name “YALE,” being displayed by the Bulldogs this season for the first time.
Sebastian Little had two pass receptions against Brown. His number 4 is under the name “YALE,” being displayed by the Bulldogs this season for the first time. (Photo: Yale Athletics/Jack Warhola)

Hardly necessary!

Granted, the name “YALE” on the uniforms is barely visible to the average naked eyes from most of the seats in the Yale Bowl or the other stadiums to which the Bulldogs journey. But the lettering comes out more distinctly on television and in printed or online photographs.

Could this have anything to do with apparel marketing by Yale and/or Under Armour? Perhaps. Otherwise, what is the justification for Yale to break tradition and mock many other colleges, who must think the public needs to be reminded which team it is watching unless its name is spelled out on the uniforms.

The last big uniform change by Yale was 100 years ago

This is not the first time Yale has made a major change on its football jersey. But we would have to go back 100 years to 1916, two years after the Yale Bowl’s first game, when the other one took place. Unlike putting Yale’s name on the players’ jerseys, that change had more practicality.

Who played was often a mystery

Imagine a game in which the players have no numbers. That’s the way football began, however. The first colleges to put numerals on their team members were the University of Pittsburgh and Washington and Jefferson, both in 1908.

In the years following it was a controversial matter among Yale people whether its footballers should do the same. Much of the resistance came from the captains, who had a high degree of influence in that era. Cupid (“Cupie”) Black, the legendary 1916 captain, was vehemently against it, but ultimately relented.

In March of that year the Yale Daily News editorialized against numbers. The student paper claimed that “the plea and not infrequently the demand for numbering players has come from sporting editors who have actuated in their requests principally because such a system would be very much to their advantage in reporting the games.”

thumbnail yale football 1912 action from harvard university archives Numbering players and now adding “YALE” in barely visible lettering are two major changes in Yale’s football jerseys, 100 years apart
As you can see in this 1912 photo provided by Yale University, players’ uniforms did not have numbers in the early days of Yale football. (Click to enlarge).

Games were for the college only; numbers unnecessary

In its opposition to numbers, the paper wrote that “games are played for the college, not for the sporting editors; for Yale and not for the general public.”

It quotes Captain Black as saying “If the spectators at a football game are not interested enough to learn who the players are without their being numbered, they will not be interested enough to learn who the players are when they are numbered.”

Black, who once amazingly scored a touchdown on his own kickoff, concluded that going numberless “is not so much a matter of sound logic as a question of good taste.” That was how the thinking went in the early days of the sport.

thumbnail coy field goal master 1 Numbering players and now adding “YALE” in barely visible lettering are two major changes in Yale’s football jerseys, 100 years apart
This photo from 1909 also shows the lack of numbers on players’ uniforms. (Photo courtesy: Yale University) Click to enlarge.

Yale relented and had numbers in 1916

It was finally decided in September of 1916, just before the season-opening game against Carnegie Tech, that the Yale players would henceforth be numbered.

Of interest to historians, here is the original roster of players’ names with their numbers, as published in the Yale Daily News the morning of the Carnegie Tech game. Note that the digits are consecutive from 1-29, and apparently had nothing to do with the playing position of each man. The only apparent concession was that the captain was given the honorary number 1.

Yale Football’s first numbered roster- 1916

(first names added where available)

1. Cupid Black (Capt.), LG
2. Zenner, sub
3. Carter. sub
4. C. Galt, RG
5. Baldridge, RT
6. Charles Taft, sub
7. C. Sheldon, LT
8. Coxe, sub
9. Callahan, sub
10. Vorys, sub
11. M.R. Smith, C
12. Gates, LE
13. George Moseley, sub
14. Church, sub
15. Charley Comerford, RT
16. E. Travis Smith, QB
17. Ames, sub
18. Bob Bingham, QB
19. Harry LeGore, RHB
20. Jacques. FB
21. Rex Hutchinson, sub
22. Stewart, sub
23. Joe Neville, sub
24. Waite, sub
25. Metcalf, sub
26. Omitted
27. LaRoche, sub
28. Potter, sub
29. Durfee, sub

As a result of Yale including numbers on its uniforms starting in 1916 and a hundred years later first showing its prestigious name above the numbers on the front, spectators and TV viewers are now not only able to identify players by their numbers, but they will also get to know that Yale is one of the teams they are watching.

Isn’t progress wonderful?

Somehow Cupie Black may have had a point back in 1916. We should root for a team as a unit, not for the players as individuals. Football was, over a hundred years ago, and last I knew still is, a team game.

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