Today's Tidbit... Spot-bilt Shoes and O. J. Simpson
There was a time when Spot-bilt was among the highest-profile shoe brands in sports, and if you believe the stories, they nearly landed Michael Jordan before he signed with Nike. Had Jordan signed with Spot-bilt rather than Nike, Michigan football might not be wearing jerseys adorned with a basketball player's silhouette today.
Spot-bilt was an American brand that began production before the forward pass became legal. Over the years, they made shoes for track, bowling, baseball, football, and officiating, among other sports, and were particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Owned by Hyde Industries, which also acquired Saucony in 1968, the two brands shared a three-holed "S" logo and engaged in "badge engineering," much like General Motors sold essentially the same vehicle under different brands.
Late to the shoe endorsement game that adidas pioneered, Spot-bilt named O. J. Simpson their Vice President of Promotions in 1973 or 1974. Then among the most popular sports celebrities in the land, Simpson helped raise Spot-bilt's already high profile on football fields.
Spot-bilt's 1978 football catalog featured an image of Simpson on the front cover and a letter from the Juice on the inside front cover.
A combination of quality and coolness made the shoes popular. With shoes for synthetic turf and grass, their models were available in colors ranging from white to black. Why would anyone want shoes in other colors?
Of course, forty-five years later, we can look back and realize that the brand reached its high water mark on page 13 of the 1978 catalog, pairing the square-toed kicking shoe with the coaches’ or referees’ shoe, featuring the foldover tongue that was popular at the time. The square-toed shoe disappeared with the demise of straight-ahead kickers, and coaches realized they did not need shoes with ripple soles, but the shoe styles were glorious in their day. The fact that both shoes were made with kangaroo leather, just like Walter Camp's shoes, made things all the better.
Spot-bilt football shoes were still on the market in the early 1990s, not long before O.J. toured L.A. in his Hertz-owned white Bronco, but neither Spot-bilt nor O.J. are popular these days. Both saw the mountaintop but no cares about either one nowadays.
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I had a pair of Spotbilt officiating shoes when I started in 1994. They eventually were too small and I gave them to one of our older guys who was still wearing them 25 years later. One of my jr high coaches wore the ripple soles every day of his life, best I could tell.
I wore Spot-Bilts to officiate until 2006. Very high quality. I’ve since tried Reebok, New Balance and Adidas but none could stand up to the old Spot-Bilts.