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Today's Tidbit... The Canadian Rugby / Football Pants Mystery
It is Grey Cup week, so all football fans should anticipate spending Sunday evening watching the Toronto Argonauts attempt to keep the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from winning a third consecutive Grey Cup. I’m cheering for the Blue or the Double Blue!
While there have been and remain differences between American college and professional football, the games have always been highly similar. Today’s American and Canadian football games are also quite similar in the grand scheme, but the two had more differences in the past as the northern game remained more rugby-like into the 1920s and 1930s. These differences cause me to ask the oddball question: Why did Canadian rugby/football teams of the 1920s wear a different pant style than those in the States?
For background, Canadian rugby was still rugby-like in 1909 when the Hamilton Tigers and Ottawa Rough Riders played an exhibition game in New York City. As seen below, their kit, including their pants, resembles the lightly padded gear American football players wore in the 1880s when the Yanks still played rugby.
By the 1920s, however, Canadian rugby was shifting toward football. They first allowed blocking (only near the line of scrimmage) in 1920 and snapped with their hands rather than feet in 1921. The forward pass entered the game in the 1929 to 1931 timeframe, depending on the province. So, Canada and the U.S. played the same and different games simultaneously.
Back to the pants. The image of the 1921 University of Toronto team shows most players wearing padded pants resembling those of hockey, but six players don football pants like those worn south of the border.
Here’s another image of an unidentified Canadian schoolboy team from 1927, all wearing hockey-like pants with separate knee pads.
So, the idea that hockey explains the difference seems straightforward, and yet, here's a picture of the Winnipeg Falcons team, winners of the gold medal at the 1920 Olympics. You would think the Falcons had the best gear available at the time, yet most wear shorts with less padding than the guys playing on grass, so the hockey connection is not quite as obvious as it first seems.
Finally, as I wrote here, the seemingly-recent fascination among American football players with wearing short football pants is not new. American teams have experimented with short pants since the 1920s or before, yet long pants remained the norm until recently.
I don’t know why there were CanAm differences in pants. Can anyone help explain this issue so I can sleep better at night?
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