The White Football
The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
Long before playing under the lights was considered prime time, it was an oddity that called for a most unusual piece of equipment. The Providence Steam Roller’s meeting with the Chicago Cardinals on Nov. 6, 1929, was the first NFL game played at night, and the teams used a white ball in case of foundering floodlights.
The white football—which a local newspaper compared to a large egg seeming apt to crack each time it was passed through the air—actually outlasted the Steam Roller franchise, being used well into the 1950s. It was showcased by Otto Graham and the Cleveland Browns on the evening of Sept. 16, 1950, when they made a roaring entrance into the NFL by stunning the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles; it even snuck onto a few football trading cards of that era.
But there were drawbacks: Players complained that it was slippery and hard to distinguish from white uniforms. By 1956, the white football was extinct in the NFL, rendered needless by high-watt floodlights and TV lighting requirements—a shame, if only for the fact that it could have been a star during the power outage of Super Bowl XLVII.
— Jenny Vrentas