Classic Sports Uniforms

What constitutes a “classic” sports uniform?

I started to consider this topic after watching a Serie A (Italian football) match where one of the teams (Palermo) had pink jerseys.

Yes, you read that right. Pink. Jerseys. Here, look.

Would Dick Butkus wear this?

Can you imagine Dick Butkus or Jim Otto playing in a pink jersey? How about Gordie Howe? No F’ing way.

I could go off in another direction here, about how some conventions and assumptions in American professional sports just, by definition, prohibit the use of certain teams names and/or uniform colors that occur in other countries. In fact, I will for a moment.

Unlike college sports, where unusual team mascots may have emerged and survived, professional sports teams’ names in this country tend to have a very narrow range of acceptability. Typically, they are aggressive names. Lions, Tigers, Bears, Vikings, Jaguars, Panthers, and so on. I don’t pay attention to the minor sports, like “Ultimate Arena Fighting Football Gladiators”, or whatever, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were teams like the Punishers, Maimers, BoneCrushers, WhackJobs, and the like.

Even our bird teams are aggressive: Eagles, Hawks, Ravens, Seahawks, Falcons. Even Blue Jays are nasty, aggressive birds. The only relatively benign birds I can think of are both baseball teams, e.g., Orioles, Cardinals (yes there are football Cardinals but only because they used to be from St. Louis and they were too lazy or cheap to change it). Oh, wait, there’s the Anaheim Ducks, but that was basically a promo for a bad movie. I can’t believe a team called the Ducks won the Stanley Cup – but that’s part of an anti-NHL rant that I’m not prepared to get into right now.

In any case, can you imagine a domesticated housepet-type-bird as the mascot for a real (i.e., not baseball) sports team?

Well in English football they have the Norwich Canaries. Yes, you read that correctly. Canaries.

Norwich City FC logo As it turns out, it’s a particular species of bird with a long history in the region. But still, as a sports mascot, it’s kind of…well… lame, isn’t it?

Does that strike fear deep in the heart of the competition? Ooohh…watch out for those Canaries. You might get peeped at, or get a nasty scratch. Somehow it doesn’t conjure up images of raptor-like violence or destruction. Even in Hitchcock’s The Birds, the canaries didn’t peck anyone’s eyes out, although they likely did cheer the perpetrators on.

Similarly, there are certain colors that are, or are not, acceptable for a sports team’s uniform.

There’s been a trend over the last ten years or so to adding BLACK to a team’s uniform – I guess to make it look meaner. Perhaps there’s a socioeconomic implication there but I don’t know and I don’t want to go there. Anyway, this guy did a post along these lines about NFL uniform redesigns which is pretty good and quite comprehensive. Another fellow did a nice listing of his top 50 classic soccer jerseys. I owe him the link to the Palermo jersey – thanks dude!

My point was, after viewing the travesty that was this Italian team’s pink jerseys, that it could NEVER happen here in the states. I mean, we’ve had some ridiculous professional sports team uniforms, typically during the decade of horrendous design also known as the 70s, but eventually these mistakes have been rectified. They’ve even undid the 70s logo change at NASA, for goodness sake.

So, what then constitutes a classic uniform?

For me, it comes down to a few key variables:

  • A certain consistency or longevity of use
  • Non-fugly throughout time
  • Non-fugly logo & clean number font
  • Tendency to be associated with great teams

I don’t have a comprehensive list thus far, but I know there are a few that I have tended to like over the years:

  • Montreal Canadiens
  • New York Yankees/Detroit Tigers
  • Chicago Bears
  • Boston Celtics
  • Los Angeles (Brooklyn) Dodgers
  • Chicago BlackHawks
  • Indianapolis (Baltimore) Colts

Many teams have had so many uniform and logo changes over the years that they can’t be considered. Many of those tend to blend into a sort of sameness that prevents a casual fan from knowing immediately which team is which. Others have redesigned their logos in a most noxious fashion. That’s why this tends to be a fairly short list.

Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens greatYvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens greatYvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens greatYou could see a picture of Jean Béliveau or Rocket Richard (or here, Yvan Cournoyer) and that Canadiens jersey looks the same as it does today. Looks distinctive in black and white, looks terrific in color with its blue stripe surrounded by white over a red jersey (OK, it’s hockey, call it a sweater).

Lou GehrigThe Yankees white with pinstripes, with the NY crossed letters logo over the left chest is timeless and classic. Even if you hate the Yankees now, it’s still the same uniform that Gehrig, DiMaggio and Ruth wore (though Ruth stretched it out a bit). The classic “D” on the Detroit Tigers uniform seems the same to me as well.

Butkus!The Chicago Bears black with three arm stripes is a great, ‘down and dirty’ classic that looks the same as it did in the 40s without being excessively dated. Similarly, the Celtics simple classicism has remained appealing without being dated.John Havlicek, Boston Celtics great

Dodgers UniformI always liked the scripted “Dodgers” logo, Dodgers UniformDodgers Uniformwhich to me is sort of an “All-American” icon. When you go abroad, and people wear weird “American-style” jackets that tend to say ridiculous non-English phrases on them, they still have some kind of scripted logo like the Dodgers logo. It’s just sort of classic to the eye and stays fresh even when it’s treated as a retro styling cue.

Bobby HullFinally, the Blackhawks and Colts have kept a consistent look throughout the ages even with some minor styling tweaks. The Blackhawks Indian Head logo is really cool, even in this PC age, and the Colts uniform is a model of simplicity and consistency.

Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts greatJohnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts great

Well, that’s my list. What are your choices?

Anyone? Bueller?


10 responses to “Classic Sports Uniforms

  1. Fuck off, you wouldn’t know style if it bit you in the ass. the colts unis are fine, but the seahawks, falcons, cardinals, vikings, and bengals styles are the future.

  2. Thanks for your eloquent and well-considered commentary.

  3. if you want to talk about bad jerseys, why not talk about the Oklahoma City Thunder. They might as well be called the OC Easter Bunnies. Horrible colors to go along with an even worse logo.

  4. and about my first comment, i don’t mean to be so harsh, but i’m soo tired of reading the same thing over and over about how great the simple classic looks are. it does work for a select few teams, but i like to see change from time to time. it keeps it fresh and in tune with a constantly changing society. the future of uniforms is the jersey and pants same color look that the bengals and seahawks have implemented.

  5. AmericanInTheUK

    I don’t know, I actually don’t mind the pink so much. It shows that a team can not care about their colors, as long as they can play the sport. As for logos and mascots, in soccer, they don’t need to be intimidating. A team’s clout is based on their record and the perception of the level of talent they posses; hence canaries and the like. Also keep in mind that many European soccer teams are VERY old. The Canaries are what, 109 years old now? That also might show that aggressive mascots are a relatively “new” trend in sports? Maybe one hundred years ago, it wasn’t needed, and instead of trying to pick an aggressive name, teams just chose a mascot that represented their team, their city, their people, which is, after all, what teams should represent. A logo should be indicative of that city’s primary export, or what they are known for in some way. Their should be a story behind it.

    I don’t think any football player in the US, is even remotely intimidated by any other team based on the animal or name of that team’s mascot. If anything, they are intimidated by records and the standing of their opponent in contrast to their own.. (Crap, we have to play the 10 – 0 Chiefs, or the 7-1 Cardinals etc etc)

    The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors disappointed me. In recent decades, the rainbow has been chosen by the homosexual community to represent them and their ’cause’. I find that funny for particularly because the rainbow is biblical, but that is not a discussion for this time. At any rate, now it is associated as non-macho, and weak, and the University of Hawaii has dropped it from their mascot, calling themselves The Warriors alone. That is all well and good, but be PROUD of your mascot and what it meant and what it means. Don’t let society dictate from what pool YOU can choose your OWN mascots.

    I think a team is what you make it and, if you can rally behind an “out there” color or logo, then it makes it all the more fun. Take the Montgomery Biscuits, for instance, a Single or Double A ball club, located in Montgomery, Al. When I first heard the name and saw the logo, I fell into the prejudice, thinking, “…really a butter pat for a tongue??”. But the team logo grew on everyone and the team turned out to be really good, winning their division on more than one occasion and holding their own. TO me that proves that a logo does not have to be aggressive to be effective. If anything, it does the opposite and lulls the other team into a feeling of playing a bunch of soft teddy bears that cannot even field the bal…WHAM! They just got handed a loss. 😉

  6. AmericanInTheUK

    Oops “There”, not their. Dammit.

  7. Thanks, great comments.

  8. Sports like Association football spoke with skills and tactics and strategies and jerseys, colors, banners and similar paraphernalia were secondary. American history shows that the country always pushes the glam envelope and hence when it comes to ‘fierce sounding names’ and logos, this also adds to the whole American style and culture. The NBA or even its Baseball league… the finals it dubs the “World series” when the teams participating only come from that country alone. ‘World’ signifies all or most countries on God’s green earth, wouldn’t you agree? And before you begin to boast that your baseball or basketball teams are the best, other countries have won gold in the Olympics too where you have played your ‘pro’ players. Please don’t bash other countries and other sports logos and jerseys just because you feel they are not to your cultural liking. Association football is the World’s number 1 sport and there has to be a reason why… not because the majority of people on earth are ignorant.

  9. ELC, calling it the World Series is actually accurate in that the best players from all over the world (the vast majority of whom are still from the US) play in the Major Leagues. There is no comparable league. Other countries’ best players play in our league. The four majors in the US represent THE leagues for those sports. Where the US isn’t the best, no one pretends otherwise. No American pretends our stupid soccer league(s) is as good as those in Europe or other places.

    As for uniforms, I’m from Chicagoland, so my favorite teams are the Bears, Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Notre Dame. Five of the most consistent and simple and beautiful uniforms/logos in their respective sports.

    The first guy can whine about “the future” all he wants; a team changing its uniforms, colors, logo, all that, says that that team is not a big time team. The greatest franchises in all these sports, the really iconic ones, tend to remain pretty much the same, uniform-wise. The 49ers once tried to introduce a new logo and uniform. The fans REVOLTED. They announced within a week (I think it was the next day) that they would stick with the old uniforms. The really iconic franchises leave it alone because they get it right the first time.

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