Special to Page 2
With the final buzzer about to sound on 2004, it's becoming apparent that none of this year's uniform developments will measure up to last year's highlight, when Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore played an entire game while wearing a toque.
But that isn't to say that 2004 hasn't had its moments, including a bumper crop of small items you might have missed or forgotten. Fortunately, Uni Watch has been compiling a list, so here's a look back at some of the key uni-related junctures from the preceding 12 months:
Feb. 3: Virgil Williams, owner of the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League, announces that the team will wear red and gold helmet stripes for the season's first two home games, in honor of local universities Georgia and Georgia Tech. This seems like a minor detail on a uniform that looks like this, but the stripes become surprisingly controversial among the team's players. As quarterback Leon Murray explains, "There's nothing [else] gold or red on the uniforms ... You don't want to be looked at as a joke or a gimmick." He's forced to retract this statement after being reminded that he plays arena football.
Feb. 27: NBA refs wear their jerseys inside-out with "62" inked onto the back. Although the party line is that they're protesting the suspension of colleague Michael Henderson, a few of them admit that they're actually protesting that stupid blue piping on their jerseys.
March 4: The minor league Quad Cities Swing unveil their new uniforms, which have an unusual feature: The numerals used for two-digit uni numbers are unevenly sized, creating a cartoonish effect both fore and aft. A press release proudly notes that the team "is the only franchise in minor league baseball" -- or, presumably, on the planet -- "to arrange numbers in this fashion." The design pleases nobody except the team's equipment manager, who makes a tidy profit taking bribes from players desperate to wear one of the normal-looking single-digit numbers.
April 5: Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson, who has diabetes, becomes the first big leaguer to play while wearing an insulin pump, which is clipped to the back of his belt. He tosses six shutout innings.
April 7: The Padres wrap up their season-opening series at Dodger Stadium, where their yellow-ish road uniforms have been the source of much amusement. After three solid days of hearing the L.A. fans yelling, "Hey, did you wet your pants?!," it occurs to the San Diego players that this could be a very, very long season.
April 12: The Braves travel to Shea Stadium for their first road trip of the season and find gray dugout jackets in their lockers -- the team's new look for road games. Mets radio broadcaster Gary Cohen trenchantly opines that the jackets make the Braves "look like a bunch of Oompa Loompas." Atlanta skipper and terminal sourpuss Bobby Cox's assessment is more blunt: "I'd rather wear pink. Really, it's embarrassing. I hate it." Since Cox is always scowling anyway, nobody pays any attention.
June 11: The Cleveland Indians revive their solid-red 1970s uniforms for a throwback promotion. In an unfortunate confluence of events, this also turns out to be the day C.C. Sabathia is slated to pitch.
June 27: Two members of the Mets wear the wrong jerseys during the second game of a doubleheader. Gary Cohen does not compare them to Oompa Loompas, or to anything else, because virtually nobody notices the mistake.
Aug. 3: The London-based Crystal Palace soccer team begins selling official replica jerseys at its club shop, unaware that the shirts contain a logo patch with the team's name misspelled as "Chrystal Palace." The gaffe turns out to be a promotional coup, as fans snap up the £39.99 jerseys and promptly sell them on eBay at collector's prices. (Special thanks to Scotland-based reader Tony Dobson, who tipped Uni Watch wise to this story.)
Aug. 11: Serena Williams pulls out of the Olympics just hours before her scheduled departure for Athens. Contrary to the official explanation (injury) and the commonly accepted speculation (security worries), the real story is that she can't deal with the prospect of the beach volleyball players getting more attention for their outfits than she gets for hers.
Aug. 23: The United States softball team wins the gold medal in Athens, but most analysts overlook the obvious reason for their supremacy: While the other teams are wearing white socks with bogus colored stripes, the Americans are honoring their homeland's hosiery heritage by wearing genuine stirrups. That faint sound you hear in the background is a tear of nationalistic pride welling up in Uni Watch's eye.
Aug. 31: Team Canada creates a sensation at the first game of the World Cup of Hockey by wearing mustard-and-black throwback uniforms, a classy tribute to the 1920 Winnipeg Falcons. Although some fans dislike the design (including reader Jay Alix, who ranks it "probably in the top three of all-time putridness"), others -- including Uni Watch -- rank it among the year's highlights.
Oct. 6: The "21" patch that the Atlanta Braves have been wearing all season on their left sleeves in honor of the late Warren Spahn is mysteriously missing from Jaret Wright's jersey as he pitches the first game of the National League Division Series against the Astros. It's missing again five days later when he pitches the deciding game. In a textbook example of why it's bad karma to disrespect the dead, Wright loses both games, yielding a combined 10 runs, all earned, in 9 2/3 innings.
Nov. 14: In an odd-looking spectacle that recalls the days when gentlemen wore kid gloves, John Ruiz and Andrew Golota both wear white boxing gloves during their WBA heavyweight title bout. Instead of the customary pre-fight handshake, Ruiz removes one glove, slaps Golota with it, and tells him, "Sir, you have insulted my honor. I challenge you to a duel!" Golota responds with a flurry of low blows.
Nov. 28: The Giants wear red alternate jerseys, hoping this will trick the Eagles into going easy on rookie quarterback Eli Manning (NFL QBs wear red jerseys during mid-week practices, as a "hands off" reminder to defensive players). Unfortunately, this strategy doesn't quite go as planned.
Nov. 28: Meanwhile, on that same day, the Bengals pair their black pants with their orange alternate jerseys to create the ugliest uniform in gridiron history. It turns out to be a savvy stratagem, as their opponents, the Browns, are so busy laughing that Cincinnati is able to pile up 58 points.
Nov. 30: The minor league Fresno Grizzlies unveil a new look for next year, highlighted by a cap that features the, uh, creative use of an off-center logo. At a press conference, team president Pat Filippone says, "When Fresno fans wear our cap in other parts of the state, we want people to say, 'You're from Fresno'." Uni Watch has been unable to determine whether this statement was intended to be ironic.
Dec. 16: The Mets announce the signing of Pedro Martinez. While many observers question the merits of committing $53 million to a pitcher with a decaying shoulder, most overlook the contract's hidden cost: the countless yards of additional fabric that will be needed for Pedro's extra-roomy sleeves. (As reader Nhalia Whalid-Jenkins points out, the Mets may also incur a hefty laundry bill getting the hair gel stains out of Pedro's rear jersey collar.)
And at least one more tidbit is still to come: On Friday night, the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League will be wearing special New Year's Eve jerseys for their game against the Philadelphia Phantoms. The design has "2004" and a clock set to 11:59 on the front, with "2005" and a post-midnight clock on the back. Uni Watch can't wait to see what they do for Groundhog Day.
Paul Lukas made the first and only New Year's resolution of his life in 1999, when he resolved to create a sports column about uniforms. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got a uni-related question or comment for him? Send it here.