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Today's Tidbit... Disintegrating Football Pants
Early football players wore tight-fitting, all-purpose pants suitable for the gym or for other athletic activities, but as the game became power-oriented in the 1890s, they added quilted pads to the front of their pants.
The 1900s saw cane ribs integrated into the thigh pads to offer mechanical protection while the knees remained padded with felt or hair.
By the late-1910s, hip and kidney pads were added to the pants, resulting in the high-waisted pants common to the era.
Note that the three sets of football pants shown above had the padding integrated into the pants. Players could not swap one set of thigh or knee pads for another. They were part of the pants.
An alternative approach came in the late 1910s when manufacturers began separating the pads and pants. Goldsmith took one direction with their Inner Harness, which included kidney, hip, thigh, and knee pads in one unit paired with skeleton or shell pants, including an oilskin version for rainy days. (The era's cotton or canvas pants and felt pads were water-absorbent and became quite heavy when wet.) The Inner Harness used elastic loops to keep the knee and thigh pads in place, much like the elastic loops on shoulder pads wrapped around the upper arms.
Of course, once the pads separated from the pants, it made sense to separate the pads into individual parts as well, with Goldsmith's Hanley-Bachman or HB version adding pockets to the pants to insert thigh pads along with separate hip and hip kidney pads.
Several styles of hip pads were available, including the WPK, which used foam rubber, then a cutting-edge material for football pads.
So, while early football pants were integrated units, they began disintegrating in the late 1910s. Teams favored pants made of silk, airplane cloth, and various synthetic materials over the years, and the materials used for pads changed dramatically. Still, pants and pads have gone their separate ways since they first disintegrated.
Football pants that do not reach the knees are increasingly common today and are not new. They are as old as the hills. Check out their story below.
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