Exeter Deconstructed: Big Red

The school we love in detail.

Patrick Garrity
February 8, 2022

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and Exeter athletes wearing (at least some shade of) red.

So it has been since 1878, when the first Academy athletic team, a baseball team, took the field in red. On April 13, 1878, ahead of the first game against Andover, The Exonian reported: “The uniform of the school nine consists of the following: knee-breeches, sweat-shirt, square cut blouse, of white flannel trimmed with cardinal red, cardinal red stockings and a white flannel cap.”

The PEA football team also wore red for its inaugural clash with the Blue that fall, with The Exonian noting, “This bright color and the color of the Andover suits will make a very pretty contrast.” In 1884, the newspaper reported that the same Cambridge outfitter designing Harvard’s crimson varsity football jerseys “will furnish the uniforms for our 11.”

The “Big” part of “Big Red” came much later. Exeter teams were known as “the Red and Gray” through the 1950s. “Big Red” wasn’t popularized until the ’60s, when The Exonian sportswriters began using the term.

As for what color “Big Red” is, uniformity has proved challenging over the years. In 1964, a committee of the head coaches voted to standardize the “E” that varsity athletes would wear, “because 17 different letter designs varied in color from maroon, white, black, gray, and ‘20 shades thereof,’” Physical Education Instructor Nicholas Moutis said. “The varsity players could all be from different schools, for all you can tell from their letters.”

Today, Exeter athletes play in PMS 201 in the Pantone Matching System, a standardized color-matching system of more than 1,100 hues that is widely used in print and fashion design around the world. The Department of Athletics unveiled new uniforms for several teams this year, each featuring this consistent shade of “Big Red” intended to best represent those earliest Exeter teams.  

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2022 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.