In the 2004 movie “Miracle,” the thrilling movie about the gold medal-winning, 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team, coach Herb Brooks told his team that the “name on the front of the jersey is hell of a lot more important than the name on the back.” This made me wonder: when did the four major sports leagues begin requiring teams to put players’ last names on the back of the jersey. Here is the breakdown:
NFL: Started in 1970, with the creation of the NFC and AFC in the newly-merged and minted National Football League. The AFL (the AFC’s predecessor) had started the practice, but the NFL stubbornly held out throughout the 1960’s (even during the NFL’s 50th anniversary season of 1969).
NBA: Started in 1971-72: Prior to then, some teams had last names on the back, some didn’t. If I am watching highlights of Boston Celtics center Dave Cowens, I can tell if the footage is from his rookie season of 1970-71, because his name is not on the back of his jersey.
NHL: Started in 1977-78. Prior to then, some teams did, some teams didn’t. Starting in 1973-74, the Philadelphia Flyers wore “bumper sticker-like” last name tags on the backs of their jerseys during NBC’s Hockey Game of the Week broadcasts. But these soon peeled off because the Flyers were involved in so many fights.
MLB: To this day, teams have the option of not putting names on the backs of jerseys. For example, the Red Sox put players’ last names on the team’s road jerseys, but not home. The Yankees’ never put last names on the back. The Indians’ old school home uniforms do not have last names. The other variations do.