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Whether you've been naughty (like Chad Johnson, who probably earned a fine Sunday by wearing white shoes, instead of the Bengals' usual black) or nice (as Army and Navy were on Saturday, wearing cool military squadron jersey patches, as per their rivalry's longstanding tradition), or even just weird (how did Fred Robbins of the Giants end up wearing a backwards "R"?), Christmas time and uniforms are a natural combination -- that's why Santa wears the same iconic outfit every year, don'tchya know. And if you're a regular Uni Watch reader, chances are there's a hard-to-please uniform fanatic on your holiday shopping list. Or, maybe more to the point, chances are there are several people who think of you as the hard-to-please uniform fanatic on their shopping lists. Either way, Uni Watch is here to help.
Of course, uni-related merchandise is readily available from obvious sources like the NFL Shop or the NBA Store. And it's always fun to browse through the retro attire at Mitchell & Ness. But here's a news flash, people: The whole world knows about that stuff already. If you really want to blow away somebody's holiday wish list -- or have someone blow yours -- you need to dig a little deeper.
So here are Uni Watch's top 10 picks for some great holiday swag that should please anyone obsessed with athletics aesthetics. Tight budget? No problem. There's a wide range of prices represented here. Slip one of these babies under the tree and you won't need to spike the eggnog in order to ensure a happy holiday.
(1) Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century, by Marc Okkonen.
Or as we like to call it here at Uni Watch HQ, the Bible. Okkonen's tome, which covers the years 1900 through 1993, is by far the most successful attempt anyone's ever made to chronicle a sport's sartorial history. Although the book's year-by-year illustration templates are also available on the Hall of Fame's "Dressed to the Nines" uniform database these days, the print version includes all sorts of additional text, photos, and background info. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but don't let that dissuade you -- used copies are easy to track down on the web (for example, 15 copies are available at Amazon as of today).
(2) The Double-Knit Era Collector's Reference, by William F. Henderson.
Don't be fooled by the title -- you don't have to be a jersey collector to enjoy this awesome CD-Rom. It's essentially a more geeked-out version of the Okkonen book, with loads of photos instead of illustrations, and lots of incredibly detailed info on tags and labels, stitching, embroidery, lettering styles, patches, and so on. The lone down side is that its coverage only goes back to 1970, but maybe that's for the best -- anything more and you'd end up glued to your computer for days. Already a total bargain at its usual price of $29 (plus $5.50 shipping). Plus there's now a special Uni Watch discount: instead of clicking on "Add to Cart" on the mail-order page, scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter the username "baseball22" and the password "threads" -- you'll immediately qualify for $5 off.
(3) Gridiron Memories.
Uni Watch frequently raves about Helmet Hut, the amazing virtual helmet museum run by football historian Curtis Worrell. Gridiron Memories is Helmet Hut's retail arm, where you can buy gorgeous retro helmet reproductions -- pro, college, and oddball -- all made to historically accurate specs, right down to the thread patterns in the interior suspension webbing. Plus you can buy facemasks and other parts and accessories, or even design your own vintage-style helmet. Nirvana for helmet fans.
(4) Ebbets Field Flannels.
Mitchell & Ness has exclusive rights to reproduce old uni designs from the four major sports leagues. But for all sorts of minor-league teams you've never heard of, along with teams from the Negro Leagues, Cuban leagues, and so on, Ebbets Field is the place. Their focus these days is primarily on baseball (including very nice undersleeves, a fast-vanishing relic in today's Under Armour era), but there's also a smattering of football stuff.
(5) The Cooperstown Ball Cap Co.
A natural complement to Ebbets Field Flannels, Cooperstown Ball Cap offers over 1,500 cap designs from long-forgotten teams. The company's Web site lets you search by league, city or team name. And you can also specify custom styles and cuts.
(6) Goalie mask reproductions.
Shopping for someone who gets a blood rush every time he sees an old photo of Ken Dryden or Gerry Cheevers? Then you definitely need to take a look at VintageMask.com and Masks from the Past, both of which feature excellent fiberglass repros of classic goalie masks, complete with broken-in detailing. And as a bonus, the lucky recipient will be able to spend the holiday making lots of gratuitous "Friday the 13th" jokes.
During a recent trip to Toronto, Uni Watch stumbled upon these cool T-shirts based on old Original Six uni designs. The company's Web site lists prices in Canadian dollars, but Uni Watch has personally arranged the following rates in U.S. dollars for American customers: $30 for adult shirts, $20 for children's sizes; shipping is $9 for one shirt, $12 for two or three. That may sound a bit steep, but the shirts are excellent and the guys running the small operation are aces.
(8) Leland's auction house.
If there's someone on your list who's been very good this year, Leland's -- America's biggest and best sports auction house -- is where Santa himself would probably recommend shopping. The current auction, which closes Dec. 16, has some truly amazing stuff -- including game-worn AFL officials' jerseys, a spectacularly tattered old Rangers sweater, a Hank Aaron dugout jacket, a game-worn Alex English uni (in case you feel the need to own one of history's most garish designs), and a lot more.
Nowadays, do-it-yourself media usually means a blog, but Dave Miedema's Uniformity is a throwback to the early days of zines. A four-page Xeroxed newsletter without the slightest evidence of desktop publishing, it's full of handwritten captions, random cut-and-paste layout, and exactly zero sense of sleek design. The cumulative effect is sort of endearingly primitive, as if Miedema had never heard of computers (which is close to the truth -- he doesn't own one, although he does check his e-mail at his local library). As for the content, it's a ragtag assortment of uni-related material: photos of old sleeve patches, information on the game-used jersey market and little tidbits similar to the Uni Watch News Ticker. The best part is that you can score a dozen monthly issues for only $12, plus you get a free 50-word classified ad. Only about 100 people currently subscribe to this underrated little dispatch -- to increase that number, send a check for $12 payable to Dave Miedema, 1941 Kenilworth #1, Berwyn, IL 60402.
(10) Real baseball stirrups.
In a truly enlightened society, the state would simply provide everyone with stirrups and tax us accordingly. Until that day arrives, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better stocking stuffer than the sports world's niftiest stockings. There's a great selection of custom designs available from Trenway Textiles, but they only sell wholesale, so you'll have to get your sporting goods store to order from them. If you'd rather take the direct approach, your best best is probably CustomJersey.com, which offers both low-cut and high-cut styles. Just promise Uni Watch you won't order the purple or the teal.
(With special thanks to William O. Blevins, who provided the Fred Robbins screen-grab. Santa has been apprised of your good deed.)
Paul Lukas got an early Christmas present on Thanksgiving Day, when a friend gave him a pair of New York Rangers socks. Archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.