Browns team president Alec Scheiner was on the radio yesterday and was asked if he could ever see the Browns coming out with a “cutting-edge” uniform set like the one the Bucs just unveiled. Scheiner’s response, which you can hear at about the 4:30 mark of that audio clip, went like so (with thanks to reader Tim Ruschkowski, who sent the link to the radio interview):
I think we will — this is what I think we’ll do. We’ll have cutting-edge uniforms that link back to our history. So I don’t want to speak about the Bucs’ uniforms, but I’m really excited about our direction. We’ve been working with the NFL and Nike for almost a year now, and we have another year until we roll out our uniforms. I’ll be very surprised if our fans don’t love our new-look uniforms. I think we’re headed down a really cool path. … I don’t know exactly when [we'll unveil them], but it’ll be next year before the draft.
Okay, so we all know what that means: An “updated” helmet (maybe it won’t have a logo, but it’ll definitely have some sort of graphic flourish), a custom font that “tells a story” about Cleveland’s industrial past, and pants something like the ones the Bucs just got. It could conceivably look good (especially compared to this), but it’s far more likely to look like shite.
Scheiner’s comments are particularly interesting in light of an email I received from reader Bobby Fenton on Monday night, just as the dust was settling on the Bucs’ uni unveiling from earlier that day. Here’s what he wrote to me:
I’m a lifelong Buccaneers fan, but also a lifelong fan of the NFL. I was extremely concerned back when I originally heard that Nike was taking over the NFL contract, but I remember you saying that it wouldn’t be as bad as feared, that it was still the NFL, that the teams still had the final say.
I wanted to believe that, but after [the Bucs unveiling], it seems very hard to deny that Nike is doing what Nike does. You’re right that the teams can stop it, but with the exception of a few of the hardcore teams like the Packers, Steelers, etc., the rest are falling for Nike’s bullshit hook, line, and sinker.
They are picking off teams one by one. I shudder to think what the league as a whole will look like in 10 years. The XFL might seem tame by then.
It’s true that my party line when Nike took over the NFL’s uniform contract was something like this: “Nike can’t unilaterally do anything. They’re just a vendor providing a service to a client. The client has the final say, and in this case the clients are the NFL’s owners, who are some of the most conservative businessmen in America. They’ve built up huge equity in their brands — most of them won’t just blithely put those brands into the Nike centrifuge.”
As we approach our third season of the NFL-Nike alliance, I’d say I was mostly right — most of the NFL still looks like, you know, the NFL. But it’s also true that Nike seems to be, as Bobby put it in his email to me, picking off teams one by one. The Browns will be the next domino to fall (unless some other teams get the Nike treatment before then), and there’s definitely a greater symbolic significance in getting the most plain-Jane of teams to modernize its look. When we did the first edition of the Uni Watch Power Rankings back in 2012, my entry for the Browns began with, “Somewhere in the Nike offices, there’s probably a high-ranking executive whose entire job is to persuade the Browns to adopt a helmet logo and an alternate jersey. ‘Vice President for Browns Modernization’ or some such (good luck with that).” Looks like that exec has earned his paycheck.
But are there really just “a few hardcore teams,” as Bobby put it, holding out against the Death Star? Here’s a list of teams that, in my opinion, are unlikely to go for the full-on Nike treatment anytime soon:
(I included the Bills because they went for a retro redesign just a few years ago, so it’s hard to imagine them suddenly following that up with a Nike-style redesign. And I included the Eagles out of a possibly naïve sense of optimism.)
I’m not saying that these teams will have zero uni changes over the next decade, but I don’t think they’ve have radical, Nike-style changes. Add it up and you have 14 teams — close to half the league — that I think are fairly Nike-proof, at least for now.
Meanwhile, many of the other teams that Nike could “pick off” already look like crap. Seriously, how much worse could Nike make the Bengals? Or the Falcons? Or the Ravens? Or the Cardinals? If those teams get the Nike treatment, big deal — it’ll just be trading one shitty look for another. In some cases it might even be an upgrade.
I agree that Nike could do real damage to teams like the Saints, or the Rams, or the Jets, or the Texans (all of which have looks that I would describe as “could be better but could be much, much worse”), and they’ll likely do serious damage to the Browns as well. But it’s also worth remembering that Nike mostly improved the Vikings (I say “mostly” because of that incredibly annoying number font). They also improved the Jags’ logo (although they ruined everything else about the team’s look). And I can think of at least one team — the Lions — that would probably benefit from the full-on Nike treatment.
In other words, I think this situation, like most situations, is complicated.
One thing that’s becoming apparent is that the Nike is doing particularly bad work in the realm of typography. The number fonts for the Bucs, Jags, Vikes, and Dolphins have all been dreadful (although it’s easy to overlook the Jags’ font because the rest of the uni is even worse). Nike loves custom fonts because they “tell a story” — and, as commenter Mike Engle pointed out yesterday, because they’re hard for jersey counterfeiters to copy — but most of their custom fonts really, really suck, and it’s hard to have a good jersey when you have crummy typeface front and center.
Meanwhile, here’s something worth considering: One of the biggest constraints on Nike right now is the NFL’s “one helmet shell per player” rule. You might think it’s silly, you might think it’s just a case of the league covering its ass, and you might be pissed off that it cuts down on throwback games, but it’s also doing a good job of reigning in the Swooshkateers’ worst excesses because it keeps them from playing mix-and-match with multiple helmet designs like they do in the NCAA. We should all be grateful for that.
Attention NYC-area readers: I’m involved in two very cool events over the next couple of days. Dig:
• Tomorrow, 7pm, at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan, several other writers and I will be telling baseball-related stories to benefit the Photo ID Foundation, which works to put cameras and other media tools in the hands of critically ill children. Further info and tickets are available here.
• The City Reliquary, the small Brooklyn museum that I’ve long been involved with, is about to open a new exhibit of original drawings by the sports cartoonist Burris Jenkins Jr., whose work was very much in the style of Willard Mullins. I wrote one of the caption placards for the exhibit, and I plan to attend the opening reception this Saturday evening. Hope to see you there.
Tick-tock: Today’s Ticker was compiled and written by Mike Chamernik, except for ’Skins Watch, which was handled by Paul.
’Skins Watch: Someone is selling a “Keep Chief Wahoo” T-shirt (from Jake Baechle). … The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s recent call for the Indians to retire Wahoo led to a fair amount of pushback (from Jody Michael). … Back in the 1970s, The Washington Post’s sports section apparently thought it was hilarious to show a “redskin” tossing back a mug of beer (thanks, Phil). … The Saskatoon Public School Board voted last night to retire the team name “Redmen” from one of its schools. “As the fourth generation of my family to attend that school, this is obviously coming as quite a shock,” says Joey Tkachuk. “But I do see both sides of the argument.”
Baseball News: Rajai Davis normally wore stirrups before joining the Tigers, but he might not wear them anymore (from Jeffrey Sak). … Todd Radom wrote about the history of the Yankees’ top hat logo. … David Firestone scored some cool pendants made from game-used baseballs on eBay. … Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello wore a modified Cubs jersey backstage last week (from Gordon Blau). … Here’s a piece on the best and worst items in the White Sox online shop. Great stuff, truly recommended. (Okay, fine, I wrote it.)
NFL News: A zinc recycling company in Pennsylvania is using the Broncos’ logo. Fitting, because they’re into recycling and all (from Andrew Greenwood). … What if the Giants, Jets, and Eagles got Buccaneers-esque makeovers? (From Phil).
College Football News: Bill Cosby wore an Oregon jersey the other day. … In case you didn’t know, LSU got its purple and gold color scheme from Mardi Gras. … Speaking of LSU, the school is phasing out its cartoon tiger logo (from Christopher LaHaye). … Western Kentucky has a new end zone paint scheme (from Josh Claywell).
Hockey News: On Tuesday night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin Scherbatsky (played by Cobie Smulders) wore a logo-less Atlanta Thrashers jersey. “It seems odd as there’s no connection to Atlanta on the show (as far as I know) and Robin has already been established as a Canucks fan (Robin is Canadian — as is Cobie, for that matter),” says Michael Rich. … Brian Codagnone saw this still from Wayne’s World and noticed the font on Wayne’s Blackhawks jersey was incorrect. The “2″ should look like this. “You’d think a Canadian boy would know better!” he says.
Soccer News: Lots of MLS stuff, beginning with the Chicago Fire, who have (has?) a new home kit. … The New England Revolution revealed their 2014 kit. … Real Salt Lake has new kits. … Sporting KC has a new secondary kit (Here’s a shot of the slogan on the inside of the shirt and Sporting KC’s full jersey set). … Portugal has a new “100 Years of the Portuguese Football Federation” kit. … Here’s pretty much every kit that will be worn at the World Cup this year (thanks, Phil). … Related: Some Redditor has already redesigned all 32 World Cup teams’ jerseys. … This is what the interweb is for: Photoshops of dogs wearing national team soccer shirts (from Brinke). … Trevor Williams was wondering about the story behind Scotland’s jersey colors and he found this explanation: The pink and amber are “the racing colours of racehorse owner Archibald Philip Primrose, Lord Roseberry, who was an early patron of the game north of the border in the late 1880s.”
NBA News: The Raptors are indeed bringing back purple into their 20th-season logo. … The Nuggets will wear 1994 throwback jerseys March 17. … Clippers’ forward Danny Granger is wearing a Photoshopped 76ers jersey in his ESPN profile pic. Compare the pic to his actual Pacers photo and to what the Clippers and Sixers jersey collars look like. Granger was traded to the Sixers at the trade deadline, but he was bought out and joined the Clips (thanks, Clifford Baxter).
Grab Bag: Olive Garden changed its logo (from Jason Hillyer). … The Lowndes County High School (GA) teams are known as the Vikings, but the girls’ basketball team is the Vikettes. “I’ve seen ‘Lady’ Cats or Vols or Tigers a million times but not sure if I have seen something like ‘Vikettes,’” says Mike Raymer. … Lost Letterman counted down the best old college sports team logos (from Chris Mahr). … The Michigan Panthers are the newest team to join the A11FL, and they took their name, logo. and color scheme from the USFL team of the same name (from Eric Wright). … Adidas will provide the US golf team’s uniforms in the 2016 Olympics (from Phil). … The Military Channel has changed its name to the American Heroes Channel (from Hugh McBride). … A site that Brinke writes for has a new design.
What Paul did last night: Last couple of days have been really frantic, work-wise and otherwise, so last night the New Girl and I went out for a much-needed beer at the exceedingly wonderful Jimmy’s Corner, one of the few remaining non-loathsome taverns in NYC’s increasingly douchebaggified bar scene. And who should we bump into but Miles Seligman, who was the sports editor of The Village Voice back when Uni Watch debuted there in 1999. As I had been explaining to an interviewer just a few hours earlier, Miles embraced the idea of Uni Watch and gave it a chance when other sports editors I’d approached were scratching their heads and saying, “You want to write a column about what?” Fifteen years later, it’s no exaggeration to say that everything Uni Watch has become can be traced back to the day Miles took a cold call from me, heard me out, and said, “Yeah, I like that — let’s try it.”
Miles did a great job of shepherding Uni Watch through its first two years. He then got out of the media/journalism game and moved on to other things, but he’ll always been Uni Watch’s editor emeritus. It was great to bump into him last night. Here’s to you, buddy!