In the wake of the Bucs’ uniform unveiling last week, lots of observers — some of whom liked the design, others of whom didn’t — have issued a series of statements that more or less reduce to the same basic sentiment: “This is the way things are now. Love it or hate it, but get used to it.”
This happens pretty much any time a newfangled design emerges from Nike or Under Armour. The traditionalists wring their hands and say, “This sucks but whaddaya gonna do,” and the futurists get all excited and say, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” The underlying message from both camps is the same: Change is inevitiable.
But is it?
There’s no denying that we’re currently witnessing an era of change in uni design, especially as it pertains to football and possibly basketball (I say “possibly” because I’m not yet sold on the sleeves being here to stay). When did it start? I’d say 2005, when Nike brought out the mismatched orange sleeves and the diamondplate. You could argue that it might have started a year or two earlier, but either way I think we can agree that this era of change has been with us for about a decade.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an era of change. In the 1970s, baseball uniforms underwent a design revolution every bit as momentous as what we’re now seeing in football. Fabrics changed from flannels to stretch-knits, jerseys changed from button-fronts to pullovers, pants changed from belted to sansabelts, road uniforms changed from gray to powder blue. There was Houston’s tequila sunrise, the Chisox’s untucked leisure suit, Cleveland’s blood clots, and more. If Uni Watch had been around back then, I’m sure we would have seen the same love/hate split between the futurists and the traditionalists, with both sides accepting that “this is the way things are now, because change is inevitable.”
Similarly, NBA uniforms got pretty wacky in the 1990s, especially in Vancouver, Toronto, Atlanta, Philly, Detroit, Sacramento, Cleveland, and Milwaukee. Again, if there had been a uni-centric community back then, I’m sure the responses would have been similar to what we’re hearing now: “It’s the new way — get used to it, because change is inevitable.”
But it’s worth remembering how those other two eras of change played out. By 1993, pullovers, sansabelts, and powder blues had all disappeared from MLB diamonds. And by the early 2000s, all the NBA teams listed in the previous graf had jettisoned their outré designs and replaced them with more conventional looks. In both cases, the radical designs are now viewed with a mixture of “What were they thinking?” disbelief and a fond but condescending sense of nostalgia.
So maybe the real lesson here is that an era of change tends to spawn an era of retrenchment. This theorem suggests that while change may be inevitable, so is the reaction to change. Maybe this is because people get tired of the fancy new thing and end up wanting to re-embrace the familiar thing. Or maybe it’s because futurist design ends up painting itself into a “How do we top that?” corner that leads back to more conventional design. In any case, the historical evidence suggests that when the pendulum swings radically in one direction, it’s bound to swing back the other way.
I’m not saying that’s definitely going to happen in our current era of change, but it’s certainly a plausible scenario, especially since we’re only about a decade into this current era. (The MLB excesses of the 1970s took much longer to self-correct.) Consider, for example, that several teams in various sports have recently gone back to “classic” designs for their primary looks, including the Houston Astros, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Buffalo Bills — a strong indication that classicism isn’t dead.
But is our current era of change different from those previous ones? Could it be that the pendulum won’t swing back the other way this time? Yes, I think that’s a plausible scenario as well, for three primary reasons, all of which are interrelated:
1. The merch machine. Jersey retailing didn’t yet exist during MLB’s era of change in 1970s, and it was still in its infancy during the NBA’s era of change in the 1990s. The teams, leagues, and manufacturers have now done a much better job of identifying who is (and isn’t) willing to shell out $200 for a polyester shirt. That demographic skews young-ish, so there’s now a greater incentive to create uni designs that appeal to the younger set. There’s no percentage in coming up with something that appeals to, say, 55-year-olds, because they’re not going to buy a jersey anyway. (As an aside, I find this use of uni design as a generational wedge to be very, very sad. Sports are supposed to be for everyone. As most of us have experienced first-hand, sports are among the few things that can unite generations. One of the worst things about our current era of change is that it has created a sense of “us vs. them” generational conflict, whether it’s me complaining about 17-year-olds liking “shiny objects” or younger fans slapping the “Get off my lawn!” tag on traditionalists.)
2. The hype machine. Uniform changes are now part of the media world’s relentless hype-o-rama approach, where every! moment! must! be! filled! with! breaking! news! Meanwhile, more and more teams are seeming to accept the notion that getting attention for anything, no matter how ridiculous, is a self-validating media strategy. All of this points to a greater incentive for outrageous uniforms rather than sedate ones.
3. The sportswear-industrial complex. The previous eras of change were driven largely by the teams and the leagues, not by the sportswear outfitters (or if the outfitters were involved, they were largely behind the scenes). But the changes that are currently afoot are being driven by Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, who have come up with — and, disappointingly, have gotten teams, leagues, and fans to go along with — the idea that the company brands are at least as important as the team brands. These companies have staked their identities on the pendulum continuing to go in one direction, so they’ll presumably do what they can to make sure it keeps swinging that way.
So what’s going to happen — will the pendulum keep swinging, or will it swing back? Discuss.
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By Brinke Guthrie
Had this very item, and they were excellent! They were called “Flip-Charts.” You’d go to the Texaco every week and they’d give you one of these for that coming Sunday’s game. You’d fold each side of the chart so the offense faced the defense. Notice it’s an NFLPA item — no mention of Cowboys, Bills, or any team logo. This game was played at Buffalo on Sept. 19, 1971, so I can see myself actually going to the local Texaco around the corner on Marsh Lane, about the 14th or 15th. Amazing.
Here’s the rest of this week’s haul:
• Mixed bag of items today from reader Michael Clary, beginning with lamps for the Houston Oilers, New England Patriots, and that Washington team. Then there’s a rather strange-looking Winnipeg Blue Bombers bobble, a football-shaped seat cushion for the 1974 Philadelphia Bell WFL team, and an overpriced set of 1970-1971 mini-hockey sticks.
• Nice retro vibe on this 1972 Oakland A’s World Series program. (Notice the word “Cincinnati” is missing from the Reds running man logo.) And look at this Reds 1972 Series ticket stub. (I have this one.) The cost of the ticket was $10! To go to the Series! Forty-two years later, the seller wants almost four times that amount — just for the stub!
• Get a Fresh Start With Bart, with this 1960s Packers button. [So unusual to see a left-facing helmet, instead of the usual right-facing! — PL]
• If you were an MLB National League Player Of The Week in the 1970s, you know what you got? This watch.
Here’s an “NFL on TNT” promo foam football.
• Well, here’s the 1970s San Francisco Giants bullpen buggy I’ve been looking for. Too bad it’s $75!
• And here’s one for Uni Watch HQ: a 1960s New York football Giants poster. Can’t tell who the artist is, but it’s not Dave Boss. Still nice, though. Staying in the NYC metro area, keep your Jersey on for the Nets with this 1970s bumper sticker.
Seen something on eBay or Etsy that you think would make good Collector’s Corner fodder? Send your submissions here.
Did you ever wonder why pears — and only pears — are often partially wrapped in paper when they’re displayed at the supermarket or green grocer? I did, so I looked into it and wrote an article about it. The answer surprised me, and will likely surprise you as well!
Meanwhile, I’ve also written a new Permanent Record entry, which tells a fascinating story based on a student’s mid-1920s report card. This piece is a follow-up to the piece I linked to yesterday — in case you missed that one, here it is.
Tick-tock: Today’s Ticker was written and compiled by Garrett McGrath.
Baseball News: Bacon sells: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have sold 3,300 bacon hats and 1,500 bacon-strip scratch-and-sniff T-shirts that promise to smell through at least 10 washings. … Yesterday’s wire photo entry included this shot of Gene Alley and Bill Maseroski “Hoovering” ground balls. Denis Repp commented, “I’m going to bet that the Hoover people had almost nothing to do with this. Legendary broadcaster Bob Prince had a number of catchphrases during his tenure with the Bucs, and one of them was some form of ‘We need a Hoover!,’ often invoked during some late-inning tight situation when the opponents got a man or three on base. With Alley and Maz up the middle, his request was often answered.” … Another follow-up from yesterday: The photo of Willie Mays’s Minneapolis Millers jersey the with the “Golden Jubilee” patch prompted Frank Fulton to show us how that patch looks in color. … Trevor Bell is a minor leaguer in the Reds system and has memorialized his grandfather’s likeness in a tattoo. The kicker is that his grandpa was Bozo the Clown (from Patrick O’Neill)… The Nebraska Cornhuskers wore an alternate that seem to be inspired by the Astros’ old tequila sunrise unis. … In a related item, the Peninsula Pilots — that’s a college summer team — have tequila sunrise-esque jerseys and matching socks! (From Gerry Dincher.)
Football News: Texas Tech will be wearing a mini-camera in their helmets this upcoming season (thanks, Phil). … The LA Kiss, the arena football team owned by members of the rock band Kiss, unveiled their uni design yesterday, and it’s about what you’d expect under the circumstances. Let’s hope they have some cool pyrotechnics to distract from the design disaster (from Tom Currie).
Hockey News: Tim Thomas made his Dallas Stars debut in Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild but still looked like he was a Florida Panthers goaltender. He wore his Panthers pads and goal mask along with his green Stars jersey. … On Sunday, Phil covered the Stars retiring Mike Modano’s No. 9 but the current Stars players warmed up wearing Modano jerseys from every era of his North Stars/Stars career (from Kevin Wang). … The goalie for the Pawling (NY) Bantam A’s wore pajama pants under his pads the other day (from Jake Elwell).
Soccer News: The New York City FC is allowing fans to vote to determine the club’s official team badge through Thursday (thanks, Phil). … “A visual artist named Mark Willis has some cool thoughts and designs on what the NYCFC crest could have been,” Kevin Bailey adds. … Two from Yusuke Toyoda: Adidas and Nike are both developing shoe/sock hybrids, and scientists think the flight of the new World Cup ball will be less erratic than the 2010 version. … Oklahoma City Energy FC, which will begin play this 2014 USL Pro season, have released their inaugural jerseys (from Brandon Ponchak).
Grab Bag: Last week Paul mentioned that Honest Ed’s, a Toronto department store, was selling off its old inventory of amazing hand-painted signs. Here’s a slideshow showing a bunch of those sign designs (from Ben Trattner). … The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia is opening a new baseball-themed exhibit (from Adam Herbst).