Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Brief History of Cooperalls - From the Broad Street Bullies to Brass Bonanza

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the sartorial splendor widely known as Cooperalls, for on this date in 1981, they made their NHL debut when the Philadelphia Flyers took to the ice in their full-length pants versus the Detroit Red Wings.

Cooperalls logo

While many scoff at and scorn the Cooperalls, ranking them with other such sports uniform misfits as the 1976 Chicago White Sox shorts, we here at Third String Goalie embrace not only the concept of the Cooperalls, but their look as well. In our opinion, they made the players look taller and sleeker. If football and baseball players can look good in long pants, why not hockey players?

Mark Howe Flyers Cooperalls 1981-82 photo Mark Howe Flyers Cooperalls 1981-82.png
The Flyers innovated the use of the long pants, seen here on Mark Howe

Even the basic idea of long pants for hockey players just makes so much sense to us. Why players would ever wear short pants for a winter sport played on ice, we will never quite understand...

The Cooperalls were first developed in order to increase player safety and protection, as the pads under the Cooperalls were held tightly to the body, unable to shift out of place like the current pads of the day, which would leave the player exposed to injuries, their tailbone in particular.

The original "Cooperalls" worn by the Flyers in 1981-82 were black with an orange stripe trimmed in white which ran down the length of the leg and were actually not Cooperalls, but a CCM version of the Cooperalls called CCM Pro Guard. Philadelphia completed their first season in the long pants with a 38-31-11 record, which was good for 87 points, placing them sixth in the Wales Conference.

Sittler Flyers Cooperalls 1981-82 photo Sittler Flyers Cooperalls 1981-82.png
The first year 1981-82 "Cooperalls" with the orange stripe down the leg

Cooperalls were also reportedly worn by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1981-82 pre-season, but despite a reported game worn pair of actual Cooperalls, not the CCM Pro Guard version, for sale on ebay, no photographic or video evidence of game action to support this claim is readily available.

Maple Leafs Cooperalls
A supposed pair of Maple Leafs Cooperalls

For the 1982-83 season, the Flyers long pants returned, only this time in solid black, adorned only with a large Flyers logo way down at the ankle of each leg. Philadelphia rose to a 49-23-8 record, good for a Patrick Division title and second overall in the Wales Conference. Unfortunately for the Flyers faithful, they would be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs both seasons while wearing the CCM Pro Guard pants at the hands of the New York Rangers.

Flyers 82-83 Cooperalls
The 1982-83 season pants were black with a team logo on the ankle

The Flyers were joined by the Hartford Whalers in wearing "Cooperalls" for the 1982-83 season, with the Whalers version featuring a full-length pair of blue stripes surrounded by three white stripes, which again were actually the CCM version as evidenced by the vertical CCM logo near the bottom of each leg.

Hartford Whalers Cooperalls 1982-83 photo Whalers Cooperalls 1982-83.png
The Whalers were the second team to wear long pants in the NHL

The Whalers did the full length pants look no favors with their on-ice performance, as they tied for last in the league with 45 points following a 19-54-7 record.

Following the 1982-83 season the NHL outlawed the long pants on the grounds of player safety, as the outer fabric of the pants was made out of slick material comparable to a nylon windbreaker which was more slippery than the traditional hockey pants/knit socks combination. Any player who fell while wearing them would find themselves skidding relatively unabated into the boards at a much higher speed than previously.

Cooperalls fall
The long pants were outlawed by the NHL on the grounds of safety

Still, it wasn't just the Flyers and Whalers who wore the "Cooperalls", as Canada's junior leagues and high schools in Minnesota also wore them for a period of time.

Shanahan Knights
Brendan Shanahan of the London Knights in his Cooperalls

Brett Hull Penticton Vees Cooperalls
Brett Hull of the Penticton Vees sporting his Cooperalls

For those of you who think that 1983 was the last of the "Cooperalls" on NHL ice, think again, for it was on Halloween night in 2002 that Jeremy Roenick hilariously took to the ice during warmups for the Flyers upcoming game against the Phoenix Coyotes wearing a blond wig, blacked-out front teeth, striped "Cooperalls" and a #16 Bobby Clarke sweater!

Roenick Clarke Cooperalls
Roenick on Halloween Night in 2002 paying tribute to Bobby Clarke

Perhaps it's now time to revisit the idea of the long pants. We're actually surprised that Reebok didn't taken this one on when they debuted the Reebok Edge jerseys in 2007-08. After all, they were bold enough to reinvent the hockey jersey, so why not change the pants while you are at it? Doing so certainly would have no doubt taken away some of the negative attention the jerseys received at the time.

Additionally, in the last 35 years there certainly have been many innovations and advances in fabric technology to the point that the basic excuse for banning Cooperalls in the first place, the slick fabric, could now easily be addressed by any number of equipment manufacturers.

After all, think of all the other men's sports at the Winter Olympics - alpine and cross-country skiing, bobsled and luge, curling, figure skating, speed skating, ski jumping and snowboarding - and just how many of those winter sports feature competitors wearing short pants? Right. Not one.

Even if the old guard would refuse to allow the return of the late, great Cooperalls full time, there was an opportunity staring them in the face that was seemingly just too good to pass up when the Flyers will play outdoors in the 2017 NHL Stadium Series in February of 2017.

With the Flyers having had so few changes in style of their sweaters over the last 50 years, the one thing that has changed has been their pants, and the time is right for a return to the Cooperalls/CCM PRo Guard long pants of yore. It is, after all, an outdoor game, and wouldn't a nice warm pair of long pants (perhaps lined with some modern high tech Therma Base/Polartec/Thermal Dri-FIT/Play Warm fabric) be just the thing to keep the players warm against winter's chill rather than shorts and socks? Roenick thought so...

Roenick Clarke Cooperalls

Perhaps we could be so bold as to suggest denim Cooperalls for that "old time pond hockey look" for this season's Stadium Series? Now we're talking!

Flyers denim pants
Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne and Braydon Coburn modeling the
Flyers 2010 Winter Classic jerseys, complete with long pants,
an idea whose time has returned!

Today's featured pants are the 1981-82 Philadelphia Flyers Bill Barber "Cooperalls". Not actually Cooperalls, but CCM Pro Guard pants, they were worn for only a single season. These pants, with their elegant long stripe down the leg, which served to accentuate that the pants were indeed full length, were a shock to the established look when they first appeared.

The stripe on the Flyers pants disappeared for the second season, with just a Flyers logo waaaaay down by the ankle of the otherwise all-black pants. Meanwhile, four hours to the north, the Hartford Whalers also adopted the long pants for one season and went all out to call attention to the full length of their pants with no less than five alternating white and green stripes.

While Philadelphia and Hartford actually both wore the CCM Pro Guard pants, the name "Cooperalls" has become the popular nomenclature for the full length hockey pants in the same way that all brands of tissues are commonly referred to as "Kleenex" while copiers are often referred to as a "Xerox machine" regardless of brand.

Philadelphia Flyers 81-82 Barber Cooperalls

Today's video segment begins with spectacular footage from the first ever NHL Cooperalls vs. Cooperalls matchup on December 11, 1982, a 7-4 win for the Whalers over the Flyers. The teams would meet two more times that season, a home and home pair of games on January 8th and 9th 1983, both won by Philadelphia for a grand total of just three all-long pants games in NHL history.


Next, the Flyers wearing their Cooperalls from the first season of use, noted by the orange stripe down the legs.


Here is a gem, a brief clip of Roenick dressed as Clarke during warmups on Halloween in 2002 with a Clarke jersey, big blonde wig and retro Cooperalls, much to Clarke's amusement.


This next clip from the WHL features Cam Neely of the Portland Winterhawks going toe-to-toe with Shawn Green of the New Westminster Bruins while both were wearing Cooperalls in the 1983-84 season.


In this next clip from the 1984 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, St. Paul Johnson takes on the Hill-Murray Pioneers during the Cooperall era. Note the clear boards of the old St. Paul Civic Center to complete the obscurity double!


Even French-Canadians and Soviets liked Cooperalls!

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