|1960 Action between Ottawa and Toronto at Exhibition Stadium|
What information could be determined about the participants from the vintage CFL game action photograph above, if it was not captioned? If you are well versed in Canadian football history you could identify Ottawa from their distinctive uniform pant stripes and Toronto from their light helmets and perhaps even that the game was in Toronto because that is what the North stands at Exhibition Stadium looked like. The style of uniforms with the two bar facemasks should lead you to estimate a late fiftiess or early sixties time period. Other than that, despite the fact that the players have jersey numbers on the fronts, backs, sides and helmets, the participants are fairly anonymous because you don't have a key as to who wore what number for each team in this era.
|Queen's vs Ottawa Grey Cup Semi-Final Program - November 28, 1925|
Jersey numbers appear to have been first worn in football or football derivative games in other parts of the world around 1910 with some photographic evidence of outlying earlier occurrences. I don't know exactly when numbers were adopted onto Canadian football jerseys (likely first in Ontario regionally and then rapidly adopted elsewhere) but this would be an interesting question to research for the answer. Quickly scanning some of my image archives I see that pictures of at least some of the Queen's Grey Cup Championship teams of the early twenties do not appear to be wearing numbers, but by 1925 the program above shows that the players were assigned numbers.
|Ottawa game program player pictures - November 5, 1932|
Using Ottawa as an example by the early thirties you could see that the player numbers were listed in the program but judging from the pictures they must have just been worn on the backs of the jerseys. A couple of years later and photographic evidence from an opponents program shows that the players had numbers on the fronts of their jerseys by then as well.
|Montreal game program pictures of Ottawa players - October 20, 1934|
So if you attended the game you could buy a game program to see the lineup and determine which player wore which number for your viewing appreciation. Depending on how big a fan you were you might have even memorized a few of your favorite star players numbers, or possibly even most of the team (as they had much smaller rosters in those days). But what if you did not attend the games or you lived in a region where no Canadian football team was close enough for you to travel to the stadium?
|Ottawa Citizen game day story and probable lineups - September 16, 1937|
Probably Late Thirties London Life Rugby for Radio Listeners guidebook
In that case the local papers would provide you with the numerical roster and with the help of booklets like the London Life Rugby For Radio Listeners series you could follow along to the radio broadcast, although the announcer would likely have used the players names rather than their numbers more often than not while describing the play.
Sometimes a player roster was available from other sources such as the thicker cardboard combination numerical listings and season schedule for the Big Four in 1949. Unless this was part of a larger piece of ephemera then why something this meager would have rated a 10 cent charge in 1949 is a bit of a mystery.
|1949 Big Four Schedule & Roster Card|
Once Television became the primary medium for fans who were not in attendance to consume sporting events in the early fifties, the viewer's problem was compounded as now you could see anonymous numbered players all over the field all game long. You can read about the relationship between TV in Canada and Canadian football at this informative site.
|Ottawa Citizen weekend rosters - October 22, 1954|
Newspapers continued to provide the necessary links between players and their jersey numbers for the almost two decades where games were televised and players were identified only by numbers on their uniforms. Now if you weren't in a position to buy game programs you might have expected to try your luck with some different publications assuming you could get your hands on them.
|1964 Ottawa Rough Rider Media Guide - roster without jersey numbers|
Media guides were chock full of information about the team and the players, unfortunately jersey numbers were not always part of the content. Media guides were also typically not available to your average fan and numbers produced were roughly consistent with those that needed to be made available to the various media outlet personnel.
Eventually some of the fan publications would start to provide rosters in pre-season guides that you could save and refer to during the game. Naturally these would tend to become somewhat inaccurate as player changes were effected over the course of the season.
|1969 Sports Canada - Ottawa roster page|
Finally towards the very end of the era where players wore no nameplates on their jerseys CFL Properties realized that here was a niche they could fill with a specialized product. Beginning in 1970 the New! Official Roster Packet was advertised in some (but curiously not all?) of the local insert portions of the CFL illustrated programs.
|Roster Packet Advertisement - New! for 1970 yet thousands loved it the prior year?|
These are pretty rare today as perhaps not that many were produced and even fewer survived. I recently saw a near mint set for the first time on ebay from the 1970 season and snapped it up, it did not come cheap as with all the fees it came in at around $150 for the set (I offered about half the initial buy it now), but following the old adage, if you want this sort of hyper rare CFL item then buy it as soon as you see it, or forget it...
|1970 Header Card and Ottawa Rough Rider Card - Schedule Side|
The cards were small at 2 1/4" X 3 1/2" and were designed to be used during game times by positioning the two teams involved in the plastic holder (2 3/4" X 3 13/16") with the rosters for both teams on opposite sides. Offensive players were printed in blue with defensive players printed in red.
|1970 Header Card - reverse and Ottawa Rough Rider Card - Player Roster Side|
Now one of the reasons I was so interested in these roster cards was I recall having a set as a kid watching the games, however I remember them as larger than these cards and it seemed to me that my set was 1971 or later and I could have sworn that I saw a post 1970 set advertised in some CFL publication, but naturally I cannot locate it now that I need it no matter where I look. So lacking any firm proof and not willing to trust my memory that far back, at the present time only one year of these interesting curiosities is confirmed.
|1970 Grey Cup game action - QB Sonny Wade and QB Jerry Keeling sporting just numbers|
A quick look at the old video shows that the 1970 Grey Cup game was played in the jerseys with no names, while the same exercise for the 1971 Grey Cup game shows that putting the player names onto the jerseys had finally been adopted in the CFL at some point during that season.
|1971 Grey Cup game action - QB Joe Theismann and TE Herm Harrison sporting names|
So pending the confirmation of potentially a second set of roster cards, it would appear that this product had outlived its usefulness after only one or maybe two seasons at most. Once the viewer could plainly see the names associated with all those jersey numbers there was no point to the roster cards and they faded into obscurity.
I hadn't originally intended to make this post so Ottawa specific with regards to all the roster listings, but it fell into place early and then seemed logical to just stick with it to the end.