Jackie Robinson’s ‘Unusual’ UCLA Uniform Design

This series of photographs featuring UCLA Bruins first string right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON showing off his ‘swivel hips’ move in a practice session specifically staged for the benefit of a contemporary local journalist armed with a so-called “Miracle Eye” camera appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 28, 1939, and is most fascinating for two very specific reasons. To begin with, Robinson appears in a certain distinctive style of uniform that UCLA stopped wearing at the conclusion of the 1938 NCAA campaign, one season before the would be Major League Baseball Hall of Famer actually arrived on the Westwood campus following his much ballyhooed transfer from Pasadena Junior College. And then there is the publishing date, itself, which just so happens to be very same day that Robinson scored his first two career touchdowns for the Bruins in spectacular fashion during a 16-6 victory over the visiting Oregon Ducks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Now, it was not uncommon at all during the late 1930s for college football players to appear attired in game day uniforms as part of staged ‘action’ shots taken in practice sessions, oftentimes for the specific purpose of distribution via the national wire service. The photograph that appeared with this blog’s very recent post on the subject of individual game participation for UCLA’s 1939 season, the one showing Bruins third string right halfback Clark George flashing a stiff arm while doing some high stepping, would be just one such example. As one might have expected given his high profile transfer from Pasadena, there were many such staged action shots featuring Jackie Robinson taken all throughout the fall of 1939, many of which have already been posted here at this blog in conjunction with previously written articles.

The above exhibit, which appeared in the Oakland Tribune on October 11, 1939, would be yet another example of a contemporary press photograph featuring a staged action shot. In this particular photo, Robinson also shows his stiff arm technique while wearing the ‘new’ uniform design that UCLA unveiled at the start of the 1939 NCAA campaign, the one that dispenses with the stripes and instead displays little patches of a Bruin sewn onto each of the two arm sleeves (even if they are basically impossible to see in this particular shot). Indeed, other such staged press photos from that same season reveal Robinson passing the football, punting the pigskin and even taking a handoff from another player – but none of the other numerous other staged action shots from that year showed the skillful Bruins right halfback adorning the game day uniform that UCLA had discarded after the 1938 NCAA season had finished.

As for Robinson’s efforts on the 28th of October in 1939, that was the date that saw the highly touted junior college transfer dash 83 yards from scrimmage on a reverse play to score one touchdown and then catch a long pass (one from Bruins left halfback Kenny Washington that reputedly traveled fifty-two yards in the air) to complete a 66-yard scoring play for another during UCLA’s convincing triumph over Oregon.


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