A detailed, illustrated history of Cincinnati Bearcat football’s home since 1901.
Remembering the most miraculous team in Bearcat history
Debating the four most influential figures to come from UC in the past 198 years
A definitive ranking of the best Bearcats of the modern era
A brief history of Cincinnati basketball and the building that built the madness
A quick history of the football series between the Bearcats and Thundering Herd
I spent a long time rooting around for Bearcats stuff in the Getty Images archives. Here are my findings.
I love Bearcats history and old UC photographs. There aren’t many available online, so sometimes it feels like I’ve seen everything. However, the Getty Images archive is a treasure trove of UC history. I spent some time looking through their oldest offerings and grabbed some samples of cool and historically significant Bearcats shots.
Left: Cincinnati professor Dr. Albert Sabin is famous for having creating the oral polio vaccine. Here he is sitting at his desk in his laboratory at UC.
Right: I believe this is from a series of photos taken of Oscar Robertson before his first varsity season in 1957. This is notable because he’s wearing #23, not the #12 he became famous for in Clifton that hangs on the wall of The Shoe today.
Left: UC archery club member Alice Kern poses against a target.
Right: A long time ago, UC students used to do something called Flag Rush. Think of it as giant game of caputure the flag that pitted the freshman against the sophomores. It started in the 1870s before ending around WW1. The game would sometimes last for days. Here, in 1908, is Flag Rush. This picture is taken on Carson Field (where Nippert now sits) and you can see the original McMicken Hall looming behind the fence in the background. For its age, the quality is phenomeal.
Left: 1916 photo of a student in the Pi Kappa Alpha house at UC.
Right: 1921 photo of girls in Greek costumes competing in the “Grecian Games” to benefit the UC athletic fund.
Left: President Roosevelt speaking in the rain at Nippert Stadium, October 1936.
Right: 18-year-old UC pitcher Sandy Koufax signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers just before Christmas 1954.
Left: Oscar Robertson after a workout at UC, 1958.
Right: Oscar Robertson vs Iowa at Madison Square Garden for LIFE Magazine. He scored 50 points.
Left: Oscar Robertson bent over in pain after getting poked in the eye in a game against Iowa.
Right: Oscar Robertson reads a newspaper while in NYC for a holiday tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Left: Oscar Robertson shakes hands with George Smith as his jersey is retired.
Right: UC’s Paul Hogue faces off against Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas as the Bearcats win the 1961 NCAA Championship.
Left: Bearcats vs North Texas, November 1968. This was the last season UC’s wore blank helmets for each game. (They also wore blank red helmets in 1967, but without the white stripe.)
Right: UC professor Neil Armstrong steps out of his office for his first day as professor, 1971.
Bearcat quarterback legend Greg Cook faces the Ohio Bobcats at Nippert Stadium, November 1968.
Left: Bearcat basketball legend Pat Cummings takes one to the hoop against Eastern Kentucky at Riverfront Coliseum, circa 1978.
Right: Nick Van Exel drives to the basket against Michigan State in the second round of the 1992 NCAA Tournament in Dayton.
Nick Van Exel vs Michigan, 1992 Final Four.
Left: Penn State’s Richie Anderson flies into the endzone in a 1992 game at Nippert Stadium.
Right: President Bill Clinton reacts to a call during UC’s win over the Arkansas Razorbacks, December 1995.
Nick Van Exel runs the point, hoists a shot at Fifth Third Arena.
Left: Melvin Levett, February 1996.
Right: Danny Fortson, February 1996.
Left: Melvin Levett rises for a huge block, February 1996.
Right: Current UConn coach Kevin Ollie runs the court in a game against the Bearcats, March 1995.
Kenyon Martin reaches for a rebound and the Bearcats hoist a trophy for knocking off #1 Duke in the 1998 Great Alaska Shootout.
Left: Kenyon Martin sits injured on the bench during the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
Right: Kenyon Martin NBA Draft photo.
Left: Tony Bobbitt soars for a dunk against Oregon, December 2002.
Right: Bob Huggins argues with an official during what would be his final game with the Bearcats, March 2005.
Basketball illustration from the 1907 edition of The Cincinnatian. (UC Libraries)
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly chipping away at it. This is a really time consuming project that I would have preferred to complete all at once. However, you’ll noticed I stopped at 1971. The ’70s and ’80s are a weird dead space for UC history because it’s the period after early history (which is cataloged online) and it’s before recent history (which is cataloged online). I can find every uniform starting in the ’90s pretty easily, but that dead zone will be hard to fill. If you have any photos from the ’70s and ’80s, or ideas on where to get them, feel free to let me know. I’d love to finish Part 2 of this.
If you have a question, or if you see something I’ve messed up, let me know. I’m not perfect, this was a cumbersome project, and history can get murky. I’d rather just get everything correct.
A huge thanks to the online archives of the UC Libraries. I believe every image is from them. They’re the best.
Tip: Use CTRL+F (or command+F on Mac) to quickly jump to a specific year.
[NOTE: This wasn’t even a varsity team. (The first varsity team on record isn’t until 1901–02.) It’s not listed in the basketball media guide, but the 1897–98 edition of The Cincinnatian has a photo and team roster of what appears to be the first UC basketball team. They played one game that season, and it looks like it was an scrimmage against another UC club team. The game ended in a 2–2 tie.]
They didn’t have uniforms. What you’re seeing are the football uniforms.
Solid black with a Block “C”. The turtlenecks are what was worn by the football during that time period, so it looks like they just copied those.
Solid black with subtle striping. It’s hard to say for sure what the colors were, but UC hadn’t adopted red and black as official colors yet. They really could be anything.
1904, 1905, 1906
Solid black with “UC” inside a circle. I think it’s interesting how the wide shoulders resemble the more modern cut jerseys worn in the Adidas era. I also find it interesting that the team returned to pants after wearing shorts for three seasons. I can’t imagine anyone playing basketball in shorts and deciding heavy football pants were better.
1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911
Very similar to the 1904 uniforms, but now with just a “C” inside a circle. Again with heavy football pants. These even look like they have pads in them.
1912, 1913, 1914, 1915
Solid black with script “Cin’ti.” I don’t know the etymology of that, but it’s an abbreviation for Cincinnati that you see fairly often on older postcards and things of that nature. It’s the equivalent of a “Cincy” jersey nowadays.
Black and white stripes.
1918, 1919, 1920, 1921
Completely blank. Solid black and solid white. I’d like to see a team brave enough to try turning these into throwbacks. Imagine blank uniforms on ESPN.
Solid black with an elongated Block “C”. Since one player is wearing the same jersey in white, I’d assume they had home and away uniforms with the same design.
1926, 1927, 1928
1926 was the first time “Cincinnati” appeared on the front of Bearcats basketball jerseys. It was black font on a black uniform.
1929, 1930, 1931
1929 added black (or maybe even red) piping on white uniforms around the shoulders and at the bottom of the shorts. Piping around the shorts is still common to this day, and we first saw the trend on UC uniforms in 1929.
[Note: I couldn’t track down good enough photos of the 1930 team, so I can’t say for certain that they worse these uniforms. Based on the fact that they wore them in ’29 and ’31, I feel comfortable assuming.]
1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936
In 1932, uniforms featured a prominent belt buckle as well as something resembling modern sneakers. Those are the only two differences separating these from the 1926 uniform, as far as I can tell.
Similar to the 1929 uniforms but without piping around the shoulders, the addition of black belts, and black-striped socks.
Same as 1937, but minus the socks.
1939, 1941, 1942, 1943
Very similar to the 1932 uniforms, but it looks like shiny (silk?) shorts were standard starting in 1939.
In 1940, at least one uniform featured mismatched jersey and shorts. I’m not sure if the black road uniforms had white shorts.
1944, 1945, 1946, 1947
Similar to the 1938 uniforms, but these don’t have black piping around the shorts. “Cincinnati” is also changed, and this new version reminds me a lot of old Reds uniforms, for whatever reason. A much more subtle arc to the word itself.
The road uniforms were black on black, and thus nearly impossible to see in photos. Additionally, you can tell in the photo below that some jerseys had a number on the front but no “Cincinnati.” This happened on and off from 1944–47.
1948 is when the uniforms started to resemble what we picture when thinking of Bearcats throwbacks. The shorts featured piping with a triple stripe (white, black, white). The warmups were really spiffy, and are adorned by my favorite version of the bearcat.
1950, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959
These were a common version of the ’50s and ’60s era uniforms. The triple stripe piping on the shorts appears to be black-red-black. “Cincinnati” appears to be red outlined in black.
Below is a game against Cedarville in 1950 when at least one player wore mismatched jersey and shorts. I couldn’t find evidence of this being a trend, so I can’t say with confidence if this was something that happened for one game, one season, multiple season, or was nothing more than a wardrobe issue by a forgetful equipment manager.
These appear to be the same as the 1950 uniforms, but with solid black piping instead of the triple black-red-black. After a couple seasons, they abandoned that until 1966.
1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965
These are the classics, in my opinion. Simple and perfect.
The shoulder piping was nothing more than a heavy black stripe. The piping along the shorts appears to be a triple stripe of black-red-black. “Cincinnati” is now a solid, flawless black.
They wore these for five consecutive Final Four appearances and back-to-back National Championship victories. The Bearcats revived these (or something based off of these) in 2010–11 and 2011–12.
1966, 1967, 1968, 1969
Starting in 1966, the uniforms were essentially a combination of the 1960 uniforms (same jersey, it would appear) and the 1950 uniforms (similar single black stripe piping on the shorts).
These seem like a half-step away from the ’50s and ’60s standards, and the next edition in 1970 completes the full step.
Another small set of tweaks to the 1966 uniforms results in a completely different set of duds than the ones worn from 1948–1965. These uniforms are fine, although nothing special. They’re essentially a standard ’70s version of what was worn in the previous 20+ years.
1893 Bearcats football team (UC Libraries)
Bearcats football took the field for the first time on October 23, 1885 in a game against Mt. Auburn. 1885 is a long time ago, and UC football is older than every FBS team but nine. As an ardent lover of old things and Bearcat one-upmanship, I had to seize the opportunity.
The ‘Cats have a bye week and UC football’s birthday is just around the corner, so I figured I’d make a short list of things that came right after Cincinnati football did:
- Footballs in Cincinnati. This is one of my favorites. The 1927 issue of The Cincinnatian lays out the early days of Bearcats football, and credits Dr. Arch Carson for founding the team. Among other contributions, after all, “it was he who sent away to a big commercial house in the east for the first football, because there were none in the city of Cincinnati at that time.” That’s right. In 1885, footballs themselves weren’t even a thing in Cincy, but UC football was. (Also our colors were Blue and Brown at the time.)
- 12 states. North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii all came after UC played its first football game.
- Coca-Cola. John Pemberton began serving it at his drugstore in Columbus, Georgia in May 1886.
- The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in October 1886, just over a year after UC football’s first game.
- Ballpoint pens. The ballpoint pen was invented by John Loud in October 1888.
- Kodak cameras. The first Kodak box camera was invented in 1888, bringing simple and inexpensive photography to the world.
- Inflatable tires. John Boyd Dunlop of Scotland invented the inflatable tire in 1888.
- Dishwashers. The first dishwasher was invented by Josephine Garis in 1889.
- The Eiffel Tower was opened in Paris in March 1889.
- The zipper was invented by Whitcomb Judson in 1891.
- The radio. The invention of radio is a disputed thing, but the internet credits a variety of people for creating radio some time between 1893 and 1900.
- Airplanes. The Wright Brothers’ infamous flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina was in 1903.
So now if you were a real loser you could say something like, “Hey, do you know why UC’s first football uniforms didn’t have zippers? Because they weren’t invented yet.”
You’d probably come off really smug but it’s worth a shot anyway.