In light of the just-announced 2011 Winter Classic, will we finally see the return of the Capitals’ classic sweaters to face off against the Penguins’ sweet baby-blues?
Full disclosure: I’m a hockey jersey fanatic. My collection of over 100 is getting ridiculous . . . an adjective heartily confirmed by Mrs. OC as she seeks closet space. They range from classics (gameworn autographed Dale Hunter away red; auto’d Kolzig Germany) to uncommon (signed Esa Tikkanen Jokerit ; auto’d Bondra Detroit Vipers) to I’m-never-wearing-this-again (signed Jagr All-Star; Jakub Cutta Czech Juniors). Those in the latter category you’ll likely see on eBay soon.
Of all the entertaining designs out there, it’s the Capitals’ original red-white-and-blue classic that I truly love. That Hunter jersey is my prized possession. It still has some blood stains . . . whether his or an opponent’s I don’t know (any budding forensic scientists out there with some spare time?). Sure, the design isn’t particularly innovative, and the new sweaters pay homage to it while adding the clever Weagle crest on the shoulders. But something about its simple, retro look speaks volumes to 23 years of Capitals history in those threads.
Strangely, the Caps’ original sweaters are truly lost classics. Seriously, you cannot buy an authentic throwback anywhere—the only way you’re getting a game-ready Capitals throwback is buying one made in that era on eBay. Name a defunct team or design and someone’s making them — Montreal Maroons, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets, California Golden Seals. But nobody’s making authentic throwbacks of the Caps’ original jerseys.
Oh, classic replicas abound—but any devotee of hockey couture will tell you a replica just doesn’t compare. For starters, the replica’s front crest is just a patch, and woefully small. The real deal has each letter (and the hockey stick/puck) individually sewn to the jersey, while the “WASHINGTON” is separately embroidered. The replica material is thinner too, and of course it has no fight strap.
Even the Capitals don’t seem to have access to authentic versions of their own original jersey. When the team honored Mike Gartner last year, the players actually wore replica jerseys for the pre-game warm-up which they later auctioned off to fans. How much more would the bids have been were those sweaters fight-strapped authentics—or if they’d been worn in the actual game instead of just warm-ups? Obviously a thin-skinned replica wouldn’t withstand the rigors of gameplay.
A few months ago I contacted a source at well-known manufacturer of throwback jerseys about the Caps’ old sweater. The company produces a wide variety of fight-strapped classics, but no Capitals throwbacks. He did, somewhat mysteriously at the time, hint that I should “check back in the summer” and would say no more. In light of the Winter Classic announcement, perhaps he had some inkling of things to come.
I also reached out to Paul Lukas of Uni Watch, and also of ESPN.com. He’s basically the Obi-Wan Kenobi of sports jersey obsessives like myself, and writes some really entertaining articles about the minutia of sports uniforms (with impressive photo research to boot).
Lukas was enthusiastic about the Caps’ throwbacks. “Hockey has some of the best uniforms in all of sport,” he said. “I always liked [the Capitals’ classics].” While he wasn’t particularly concerned by the team’s replica jerseys for Mike Gartner’s event, Lukas clearly would favor their return for the Winter Classic: “I don’t worry too much about what’s worn for ceremonies and such. I’m more interested in what’s worn during the game.”
From a self-interest perspective, I am pleased that the Caps’ classic is such a tough get—it’s pretty cool to have a rare sweater, and if you troll eBay for authentic throwbacks be prepared for sticker shock.
But I’m thrilled by the prospect of seeing the Caps pay tribute to their past by resurrecting the stars-down-the-sleeves classics of yore. And it will be wonderful to finally have access to a high-quality throwback Capitals sweater without relying on the limited, and expensive, supply of vintage sweaters.
A couple years ago I proposed a design for a Capitals third jersey. And perhaps some day we’ll see a Weagle-focused Sunday Sweater. But for now, I’d much rather see the red or white throwback premiere on New Year’s Day 2011.
Let’s bring the stars back when the superstars meet at Heinz Field.
Tomorrow: Vote for which throwback you’d like to see open the new year!