Whenever I scroll through Facebook these days, one of the more interesting pages I come across are those dedicated to the NFL eras of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Most of the posts in these pages are random memories — a post or a clip from a game, or a photo of a player — and a quick blurb from the person who posted it.
It’s interesting to read the personal stories associated with watching a game. One person might have been there and has a funny story from the stands. Another shares a heartwarming tale about it being the first game they saw on TV. We all saw the same game, but in a lot of different ways.
Occasionally, there will be a post that sparks curiosity. The various Super Bowl matchups are well known, and some of the conference championship games are just as famous for one reason or another. But then there are games from earlier in the playoffs or the regular season that make you go, “Wait, those two teams played each other that year?”
One such post, about an Eagles-Buccaneers playoff game from 1979, led me to watch a 20-minute condensed version of it.
Perhaps most fascinating is the detective skills the people in the group possess. Post any picture, from any game, and they can often determine within a matter of minutes what season it’s from, who the players are, and even what specific play in the game it is.
Anything from a uniform patch worn only in a specific season, to a unique interconference matchup, to the background of the picture that identifies the stadium is a telltale clue. From there it’s just a matter of figuring out when and where the specific players crossed paths.
There was one picture of the New York Giants, for example, in which they wore a “disco” version of their famous “NY” logo on their helmets. It was only worn for one season, which pegged the game as being from 1975.
Another picture from a Dolphins-Cardinals game was identified as Week 1 of the 1981 season because of the players involved, the astroturf of Old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and because of a special uniform patch worn by the Cardinals that season only.
Going through those old photos and videos is a bit like stepping down a rabbit hole, or even a time machine. It gets you curious about that game, and then perhaps those players, and before you know it you’re watching highlights of a random Week 6 game from 1974 and marveling at the different uniforms and equipment — styles that would be considered “throwbacks” in 2021, but are original and fresh in these clips — and seeing players you’ve only heard about.
I find myself learning a lot about the history of the league. Even better, for a brief moment it makes me feel like a kid again, which is perhaps the best thing about sports.
Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org