Cal Uni Countdown: Four on the Floor

As we get closer and closer to the new uniform unveiling on April 10, we get down to the nitty gritty, with the No. 4 Cal football kit in our Cal Uni Countdown, but don't ask us to scream it from a Memorial Stadium balcony.

Cal Uni Countdown: Polar Bear Checks in at No. 10
Cal Uni Countdown: Far From Cloud Nine
Cal Uni Countdown: The Ocho
Cal Uni Countdown: Lucky Number Seven
Cal Uni Countdown: Gold Reserves Check in at No. 6
Cal Uni Countdown: High Five

CHIME IN ON THE MESSAGE BOARDS

With the California athletic department unveiling a new, unified look on Wednesday, we've now entered the top four, and this look is about as classic as you can get.

From 1947 to 1956, Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf guided the Bears to a 67-32-4 record, the second-most wins in school history (behind Jeff Tedford), with three Pacific Coast Conference titles (two outright), four AP top-15 rankings, three top-five AP finishes and two Rose Bowl appearances.

While Waldorf's final four seasons in Berkeley were, to say the least, disappointments, considering his earlier success (a 14-23-3 record compared to his 53-8-1 mark from 1947 through 1952), the uniforms the Bears wore in his final, 3-7 campaign were snazzy enough to check in at No. 4 on our Cal Uni Countdown, as we reach the Goldilocks portion of our list, because as far as stripes go, this one isn't is neither too hot nor too cold. No, this amount of stripes is just right.

NO. 4: PAPPY'S SWAN SONG


Joe Kapp runs the ball in the 1956 Big Game. Courtesy Cal Athletics, colorized by Ryan Gorcey.

Why it worked

First, let's start off with the man himself. Clearly, he had a grand sense of style. Stripped stirrups are just the peak of fashion in sports. Simply put: He. Pulled. Them. Off.

In 1949, Cal had a bit of an identity crisis, as football moved from leather helmets to plastic shells, but they were still Navy blue, even if there were a few players still holding on to the good old days before concussions were a thing.

In the earlier part of the decade, Cal had a very simple look at home: Blue tops, gold numerals and blue helmets, all unadorned, as we can see from this shot from the 1951 Big Game.

That same year, the Bears sported an equally classic look on the road, with white tops bearing blue numerals and Northwestern sleeve stripes with gold pants and black spikes (ah, the days of innocence before logo creep). Cal wore the same away togs in 1952.

As the years wore on, though, the Bears took their road stripe look and brought it to the home uniforms, and in 1954, we got this look.

Awesome-adjacent, but still fairly bland. You know what this needs? Accessories! In his final season, Waldorf brought a bit of spice to the Cal headwear, adding uniform numerals to the sides of the helmets, and voila, we have the first ever Bears helmet art. The only other conference schools to have anything on its helmets other than stripes at the time were Oregon, which also had numerals, and Stanford.

Unlike other schools with uniform numbers on the helmets at the time (Alabama did not introduce numbers until 1957), these had a little flavor.

Devil in the Details


Replica of 1956 helmet.

At this point in the countdown, there's not much to say about why uniforms didn't work, so instead, we'll skip that portion and go straight to what made these uniforms so slick.

First, let's take a gander at the helmets. The font used on the shells was a modified stencil look, and it gave the Bears a bit of an edge, as far as a tougher, rougher look, particularly when paired with a single-bar facemask. It was a new, distinctive take on a style already in use, and for that, whoever came up with the idea should be lauded. It wasn't just another (pardon the pun) paint-by-numbers template. It wasn't blocky, it wasn't entirely smooth; it was distinctive.

The numbered look would only be used for that one season, though, and in 1957, new coach Pete Elliot simplified things, going to a single-stripe brain bucket with no other adornment, and the Bears would wear that look for three seasons, before going back to plain blue until 1962. For parts of the 1962 and 1963 seasons (there's precious little photographic record from that time period), Cal resurrected the numbered look with another font, though it's unknown whether it was gold foil or athletic gold (yellow), seen in the previous link in 1963. At times in 1963, though, the Bears went numberless. Points are deducted from that period for not matching helmet fonts to uniform fonts. It also appears as though the 1962 helmets bore a font similar to that used by the southern branch.

Back to the matter at-hand, though. In 1957, Cal went 1-9, but in 1958, they went 7-4, earning a trip to the Rose Bowl, before suffering through nine seasons of five wins or fewer.

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