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What to Wear to the City-Poly Game: Football That Goes Way Back

 by Norah Worthington, Fashion Archives Intern, Summer 2018.

One of the most time honored traditions in Baltimore is the annual Baltimore City College versus Baltimore Polytechnic Institute football game. Sometimes played on Thanksgiving Day, and often played in Memorial, or later M & T Bank Stadium, the game is one of the oldest high school rivalries in the United States. According to James Chancellor Leonhart in his 1939 book One Hundred Years of Baltimore City College, the first City-Poly game was between the JV teams and was played in Clifton Park and City won it.1

But what did players wear in those early days? A photo in the Maryland Historical Society's H. Furlong Baldwin Library Collection shows the 1896 Baltimore City College football team in their uniforms. Sweaters with the school's initials, and padded knee pants worn with shin guards are the standard looks of the players. Clearly, individuals added the letters to their sweaters, as seen in the variety.


Photo of the City College football team, ca. 1895, Maryland Historical Society, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Baltimore City College Photograph Collection, PP278.1582, MdHS.

In the Fashion Archives, there are three pieces of just such an early football uniform. A leather football helmet, padded canvas knee length trousers, and a single shin guard show hard use, and it is no wonder; the donor, Robert E Lee Hall, Jr., actually played in the 1901 City Poly game. A ticket from the game is in the MdHS H. Furlong Baldwin Library's sports ephemera collection.


Ticket to 1901 Baltimore City College- Baltimore Polytechnic Institute football game,  Maryland Historical Society, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Sports Ephemera, Box VI A-F PE/Sports 

The Helmet is a ring of padded leather with a small pad on top and padded leather ear flaps. The ear flaps have holes pierced in the sides. There are remnants of a chin strap on one side and an elastic strap with a D ring on the other side. 


Football Helmet, c. 1901, leather, metal, wool, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Robert E. Lee Hall, Jr., 1975.112.1.2

The pants are canvas with large squares of quilting stuffed with batting. The right leg shows a rough repair with large stitches holding extra padding in the knee and thigh area. It seems Mr. Hall needed some extra padding on that leg. The pants close with a laced fly in the center front. On the back of the left leg the letters BCC are inked in. The pencil lines the writer used to mark the letter height can still be seen on the pants.

1978.112.1.1-1              1978.112.1.1_3-1

Front and Back of Football pants, c. 1901, cotton, wool, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Robert E. Lee Hall, Jr., 1975.112.1.1

pants closeup (2)1978.112.1.3-1

Shinguard, c. 1901, cotton, leather, wood, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Robert E. Lee Hall, Jr., 1975.112.1.3

The single shin guard is  canvas quilted with strips of wood bound with leather. The straps to buckle it on are lost, but the guard looks much like the one on the center player in the 1895 photograph.

close up guard

Close up of  photo of the City College football team, ca. 1895,  Maryland Historical Society, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Baltimore City College Photograph Collection, PP278.1582, MdHS.

It is hard to imagine the rough and tumble game of football being played with so little protection, but even today, equipment is evolving to meet the needs of the players. Not just the equipment is evolving; the 2017 City-Poly game was the first to have a female player take the field. Junior Jacey Lee plays defensive tackle.2

Hard to imagine what the players of 1901 would think of that.

For more on the history of the City Poly game see:


To learn how you can help us preserve our collection by adopting garments like this football uniform, please check our Adopt-A-Box program below!

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1. Leonhart, James Chancellor (1939). One Hundred Years Of Baltimore City College. Baltimore: H.G. Roebuck & Son. P. 20

 2. MacLaughlin, Corey, History to be made at Poly-City game. Baltimore Magazine 11-3-2017