Out with the New Look, Back in with the Beloved Old

cupajoe.jpegFans of every team sport enjoy owning and wearing the uniforms of their heroes, but the relationship between the hockey fan and the sport’s sweater is distinctive in the sporting landscape. We’ve documented this in some detail at OFB, and so to us the news yesterday of the Caps overhauling their look for next season struck us as significant indeed. It is not of course on the order of a major trade or free agent acquisition or management shakeup, but it is not inconsequential either. And it might not be uninteresting to examine why.
I was able to find a YouTube link to the entire “Hockey Falls” series of superbly amusing television commercials that ran during ESPN’s coverage of the NHL years back, and two things stood out to me about the litany of spots. Every one featured the puck-crazed enthusiasts in their hockey sweaters, in every setting at every hour. And one spot, titled “April,” magnificently illuminates the sweater’s enduring lure for its owner. It takes place over a bar’s bubble hockey game and is predicated on an ex-girlfriend presenting herself and her new boyfriend before her jilted sweatered mullet, to flaunt her new dalliance.
“That’s just wrong,” the mulleted friend tells his stunned and sullen playing partner.
“And he’s wearing my sweater, too,” replies the cross-checked to the heart . . . “That’s really wrong.”
It would be really wrong, in my judgment, if the Caps didn’t get their new look really right. I’m pretty sure that last summer the Ducks didn’t (although admittedly they had nowhere to go but up with their look), and I know with their BuffaSlug the Sabres didn’t, either. I hope the fashion bar set by Caps’ management is considerably higher.
You see, we in hockey D.C. have had so little to be fantastically enthusiastic about over the past 30-plus years. Spasms of victory and achievement book-ended and blunted most often by enormous struggle. With the present darkness yielding to a new and far more promising dawn, it would be wonderful if Hockey Falls, Nation’s Capital style, could march into Verizon Center next autumn outfitted in fresh new threads that were the talk of the entire league. And perhaps beyond.
When enemey fans whose teams are outfitted in the finest, Original Six look roam our arena concourse they are entitled to a fashion haughtiness that we as Caps’ fans, at long last, I think deserve. It’s funny how what was once taken for granted as moderately good looking sports fashion (the original Caps’ and Bullets’ jerseys) regain popularity when juxtaposed by forgettable replacements. Clearly the Caps can’t and won’t return all the way back to their original look, but I hope the redesign captures much of what was good about it.
But what specifically drives the profound attachment a puckhead has with his team’s and or favorite players’ sweaters? I’d love to hear from OFB readers their own rationale for the size and quality of the collected hockey garb they possess — to learn of the significance the collection has for them. I know that among the four of us at OFB we could fill a First Lady’s closet with game worns, practice editions, and novelty sweaters (I’m ever angling for OrderedChaos’ Guinness sweater).
I can think of two prime motivations fueling the enduring appeal of the hockey sweater. The most primal is what I think is a shared yearning to be visually associated with the rugged warrior ethos and culture of our great game. In wearing a Scott Stevens’ sweater, for instance, a puckhead is clearly expressing his appreciation for the future Hall of Famer’s brutal bravado.
But I think it’s also likely true that sweatered hockey fans also want to advertise their basic love affair with this niche game, what is akin to patronage of the underground rock band while your big brother rocks out to Bon Jovi. The Sporting News’ Steve Wulf puts it this way: “Part of the joy of being a hockey fan is knowing you love something that not everybody gets.”
Here’s what we know already about the new look: it’ll be produced by Reebok and carry the controversial “slimmer” look. We’re no fans of that, as you know, and last autumn we joined thousands in adding ourselves to an organized protest against it, but Gary Bettman’s flawed vision and attacks against tradition once again won out. So it is what it is. We do know that the Caps will return to their original red, white, and blue colors, which I cannot imagine eliciting protest from anyone in this town. We never should have ditched them. Count me among those who’ll never miss the dour and drab black look that blurred names and numbers from the view of every upper deck (and many lower ones too). We don’t know what manner, if any, of emblem change might accompany the new look.
My wish list for the new sweater is brief:

  • That it achieve durable and classic distinction. As a fan, I’m not interested in change for change’s sake, and being back on message boards in seven or nine years’ time reading full-throated fan appeals for an improved look. Shifting looks virtually by the year are for the NBA. It seems to me that you overhaul your look to improve it but you do so with the expectation that you get it so right with the remake that you arrive at a realm akin to the durable distinction of the Original Six appearance. If you’re not striving for this rarefied realm, why bother?
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10 Responses to Out with the New Look, Back in with the Beloved Old

  1. Joe says:

    Bettman is ruining the game and should be fired!

  2. WFY says:

    Ted and I talked about the RWB uniforms back in October:
    WFY: What’s going on with the uniforms? It seems every year we have people scratching their heads wondering if you’ll be going back to red, white, and blue uniforms.
    Leonsis: We will eventually go back to red, white, and blue. For every person who sends me an email that wants the color change or new uniform, I get as many mails, mostly from mothers, saying “please don’t change the uniform because then I have to buy the new jersey for my children and they are very expensive.” I am very cognizant of that and when we’re changing the uniform I don’t want it to look like we are doing it to generate money. To be honest, that is not even how it works. We’re not the recipient of individual, additional jersey sales. That is a misconception. The NHL overall is looking at changing the style, the weight and making the uniforms more contemporary. So, I think we’ll just wait and see when the NHL goes to a new design and style and new color scheme and logos ready and that would be the time to do it.
    WFY: I imagine there will be a lot of effort put into that when the time comes, so there is not a repeat of the Buffaslug disaster.
    Leonsis: *laughs* Yes, we will make sure we have total fan buy-in before do anything.

  3. usiel says:

    As with any new jersey there are going to be some that hate it or love it. You know the old saying…you can’t go back home…so of course I wouldn’t want to see the old rwb jersey….but would love to see it re-envisioned. And I agree with the blog post in that if somehow the design be more ‘classic’ and enduring design.

  4. It’s good news that it’s happening. Now, let’s get it done right so that 20 years from now WE’RE the ones walking around arena concourses and drawing the admiration of other fans.

  5. I’d love to see them go with a color scheme that matches the russian team (red with blue shoulders instead of white). Add something like the seal of the United States (The Eagle and the Shield) but have the eagle holding a hockey stick. I’d reference my take on the jerseys from earlier this year, but I’m embarrased by my total lack of any artistic ability. It looks like a 2 year old did it.

  6. odessa steps says:

    I wonder…
    Could they make the new “uniform system” sweaters for the players and continue to make “classic jerseys” for fans to buy?

  7. Wthrw says:

    “Durable” and “classic” are certainly admirable goals, but I’m not exactly confident. Have their been any recent jersey designs around the league that have achieved (or will someday achieve) “classic?” There have been some that I think were really nice updates – Calgary and St. Louis come to mind – but many, many others have been pretty far from classic. And I don’t think any of the new teams’ uniforms (or from-the-ground-up redesigns like the Caps are presumably getting) have been all that successful.
    Anyway, my wishlist is similar to yours. Durable and classic would be great. I think a key element of that would be a good logo – simple and iconic, preferably. I don’t really have any ideas – just not the current capitol dome logo. And I’d like red (over blue, or heaven forbid, navy) as the primary jersey color, like in the old days.

  8. P-Mac says:

    I cannot help but be reminded of an earlier post
    I think it was the great Stringer Bell who once said, “There ain’t no new package. New package same as old; just gonna put that s–t in a different color gelcap is all.”

  9. My take on the Caps’ jerseys is this: I have steadfastly refused to buy a jersey with the “new” color scheme for years…thank goodness. In that time, I’ve bought an OV Russian national team jersey, a Clarkson Chris Clark jersey for my father, a Quebec Remparts jersey, a Dallas away Modano jersey, a Chicago Blackhawks Black third jersey, and a Calgary Hitmen jersey (No, it’s not a #24 Beech personalized jersey, thank God). Just imagine how much the Caps could have made off me if they had a decent logo/color scheme! They should look to the Minnesota Wild’s third jerseys (the red ones) as an example of a CLASSIC look. It’s remarkably similar to the original Blackhawks jerseys as well (without the Barbershop pole stripes). And put a real logo on it, not just “capitals” and not the silly capitol dome.

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