By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

"The gold medal is my favorite color!" figure skater Sasha Cohen wrote on her Web site last month.

And that pretty much sums up the Olympics' biggest aesthetic problem right there: The whole affair is built around the exceedingly faulty premise that gold might somehow be superior to silver. OK, maybe white gold is cool, but that's just because it looks like silver. Regular gold is tacky, ugly, clunky, while silver is classy, sleek, tasteful. Think about it: Have you ever heard anyone refer to a big, ugly silver chain? Or a stupid silver pinkie ring? Do people who wear silver go around looking like this? Seriously, which would you rather win: this or this? It's no contest, people.

Fortunately, no medals were involved for the opening ceremony, which featured the standard array of eyebrow-raisers. Uni Watch liked the Swedes' flag-patterned mittens, wondered if the oh-so-proper Brits had gotten lost on their way to the library, thought the Germans looked a lot like horse racing jockeys, couldn't understand why the Italians chose to wear space suits, and hoped someone from Major League Baseball noted how the Brazilians wore their pants.

As usual, though, the most trenchant analysis came from Uni Watch attaché Ruth Wedes, whose overall opinion of the ceremonies was, "It's like Dante's seventh circle -- on ice!" Among her other observations:

• "For a second there, I thought Target had actually purchased Canada."

• "It looks like the theme is peculiar headgear -- pith helmets with goggles, hot-cross-bun earmuffs, those weird cable-knit caps with the built-in Raggedy Ann braids."

• "Holy bejeezus -- how many cute furry creatures were slaughtered solely to provide earflaps for the Mongolians?"

Oh, and this just in: There are also some sports taking place at the Olympics. The big uni controversy involves hockey, where many of the men's and women's teams are wearing Nike's new Swift Hockey design. The jerseys are reportedly a little snugger, but really, you can barely tell. Uni Watch's gripe is with the graphics and stylistic elements: The jerseys all feature square collars, side piping that gives way to embarrassing shirttail filigrees, and vertical upper-arm striping. As we've come to expect from Swoosh Inc., all the teams' designs are essentially cut from the same template, so the various squads all look like they're playing for Team Nike, instead of for their respective countries.

The biggest problem, though, is Nike's sock concept, where the hockey uni's traditional hoop stripes have been replaced by vertical striping, which looks like shin guards -- ugh. Repeat after Uni Watch: When it comes to hockey sock stripes, vertical is heretical. Even worse, the striping only appears on the front of the sock, so if the player's leg is turned sideways or viewed from behind, it suddenly looks like the sock has no sock striping at all -- a wholly unacceptable state of affairs.

Fortunately, a few countries have stuck to the old-school look, most notably the Swedes and Swiss (and, to a lesser extent, the Canadians, who've split the baby by pairing the Swift jersey with traditional socks). When one of these classically attired teams matches up against one of the Swift-suited countries, it's not even a fair fight.

One other hockey note: Although the men's competition hasn't yet begun, the New York Times has reported that the four New York Rangers on the Czech national team -- Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky and Marek Malik -- plan to wear their Rangers gloves instead of the Czech gloves. But it shouldn't make too big a difference, since the Czech colors are the same as the Rangers'.

As for the other sports, here are Uni Watch's quick initial impressions of the Games' first few days:

• Flashy technicolor graphics look ridiculous in most sports, but for some reason they look really cool in luge.

• Uni Watch was surprised to see that most of the speed skaters appear to be competing without socks. Is this a new thing, or has it been going on for a while and Uni Watch just hadn't noticed?

• Since the American snowboarders are wearing pinstripes -- both the men and the women -- Hannah Teter hasn't been able to wear her trademark plaid pants and tops. But the underside of her board kinda makes up for it.

• For most of recorded history, female figure skaters wore their skates over their stockings. But in recent years, there's been a growing trend toward wearing the stockings over the skates. What's the deal with that? Like, are we supposed to think the skate is a fleshy extension of the skater's leg, like some bizarre appendage with a blade growing out of it? Uni Watch urges a return to skate-over-stocking normalcy, pronto.

• In a more heartening development, several of the female skaters have been wearing pants (or at least leggings) instead of dresses. This isn't as good as getting them to wear a unitard and a number like all the other athletes -- a longtime Uni Watch pet project -- but it's a good start.

• Anyone else think this owes at least a modest stylistic debt to this?

That's enough for now -- further Olympics coverage to come in Uni Watch's next column. Keep watching, and remember: Go for the silver!

Super Bowl Recap
As Uni Watch predicted, the Steelers handily dispatched the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Here are a few quick observations from the game:

• The Super Bowl logo jersey patch is normally worn on the left side. But because the Steelers wear their team logo patch in that spot, they had to wear the Super Bowl logo on the right side, becoming the first team ever to do so.

• Another first: Both teams wore a Super Bowl logo decal on the back of their helmets.

• Anyone else notice all the water stains on Matt Hasselbeck's jersey? Like, was he using a dribble cup, or a spittoon, or what?

• Interesting to see the United Way commercial that showed Hasselbeck wearing Seattle's white jersey and blue pants -- a combo the team last wore several years ago. In case you missed it, you can see the full commercial here (with thanks to Michael Mariniello).

• As if the Seahawks didn't already look ugly enough, those neon green gloves that several players wore really sealed the deal.

Blane Ridings notes that the pay-per-view Lingerie Bowl, which ran during halftime, included a surprising detail: pro-style tape spats!

• Horribly disappointing to see Charlie Watts, of all people, wearing a purple T-shirt.

And one final note: Did you know the Seahawks' logo is based on artwork created by the Tlingit, a native Pacific Northwest tribe? Uni Watch didn't, until reader William Jones provided this link. Uni Watch can't help but notice that the art looks a lot more like Seattle's original logo than the current one.

Seeing Stars
The NBA All-Star Game is this Sunday. Last year's outfits were pretty nice, but Uni Watch regrets to report that the same can't be said about this year's design, which is tragically reminiscent of the 2001 NFL Pro Bowl.

According to a communiqué from NBA HQ, "The inspiration [for the uniform design] is 'exploration of space.' Note how the horizontal stripes get progressively thicker from bottom to top -- they are horizontal yet give a feeling of movement upward. There is also some inspiration from the bold color blocking of the Texas state flag [because the game is being played in Houston], as seen in the jerseys' two-tone color scheme." Nice try, but Uni Watch isn't buying it. The one saving grace is that the players' names will be appearing below the rear jersey numbers, instead of above -- a nice touch that Uni Watch has always liked.

Much more interesting than the All-Star uniforms themselves are the warm-up jackets the players will be wearing. They feature the player's name, his flag of national origin, his team logo, the Reebok logo, the NBA logo, the All-Star Game logo, and -- here's the kicker -- the logo for each previous All-Star Game the player appeared in, which results in a nice little gallery for veteran players.

Also, sneaker guru Todd Krevanchi checks in with an All-Star Game footwear preview: "Players with individual shoe contracts will have special All-Star makeups for the game, including Vince Carter (the Nike VC5), Kobe Bryant (Nike Zoom Kobe 1), Tracy McGrady (adidas T-Mac 5), Kevin Garnett (adidas KG 3), Allen Iverson (Reebok Answer IX), and Dwyane Wade (Converse Wade 1). I would look for some players to debut the new Air Jordan XXI for the game as well."

And as long as we're talking All-Stars, it's worth noting -- if just barely -- that the Pro Bowl took place last weekend, featuring the same laughably garish unis as last year, although the coaches' Hawaiian shirts were arguably even worse this time around. Interestingly, Steelers and Seahawks players still had the Super Bowl logo decal on their helmets (and apparently Matt Hasselbeck's jersey was so long that he had to cut it off at waist-level).

Uni Watch News Ticker
Nike has taken its asymmetry obsession to new heights -- or depths -- with the new USA men's soccer kits, which will be worn in the World Cup. The home and road jerseys are both nice enough, but wait -- check out the socks. … Lots of news on the hard-court hosiery beat, beginning with Vince Carter. For years he's played with one leg sleeve, but he recently switched to the full-on Men in Tights look. … But LeBron James, who had been wearing tights in recent weeks, has now stopped wearing them. … Tights are making inroads in the Continental Basketball Association too, as seen in this photo of Johnnie White of the Michigan Mayhem (with thanks to Chuck Miller). … And in the NCAA, look at the evolution of J.J. Sullinger's legwear, which has gone from this to this to this (kudos to Mark Roberts). … In a related item, Uni Watch Wisconsin bureau chief the Rev. Nørb recently sent along this article, which includes news that all the Milwaukee Bucks coaches showed up for practice on Feb. 3 wearing black tights -- a not-so-subtle dig at all the Bucks who've worn leggings this season (including Joe Smith, Michael Redd, Mo Williams, and Andrew Bogut). … In more Wisconsin news, you may recall that the minor league Milwaukee Admirals have been wearing a Brewers jersey patch this season (because the Brewers signed on as a sponsor). But now that the Brewers have unveiled their Sunday throwback uni for 2006, their logo patch on the Admirals' jersey has gone retro (with thanks to eagle-eyed Nicole Haase). … And in yet another Badger State item, Joel Schmitz notes that some Wisconsin basketball players wear white sneakers and others wear red. And then there's UW's football team, where the footwear ranges from red to white to black. … If you think logo creep is bad in American sports, check out the advertising bonanza and all-around visual chaos in the Caribbean World Series -- yowza! … The Devils retired Scott Stevens' number on Feb. 3 -- the first number the team has ever retired -- and wore "4" patches on both shoulders for the occasion. … Bengals WR Chad Johnson recently appeared on the Howard Stern Show and was asked, "Don't you think your team has an ugly uniform?" To which Johnson replied, "Actually, our team has the best uniforms. Who else has stripes on their helmet? That stands out more than anybody else." He also opined that the Steelers look "so 1920-ish." Johnson's entitled to his opinions, but Uni Watch humbly suggests that he isn't exactly in a position to be making aesthetic pronouncements (with thanks to Vince Vincenzo). … We've all seen college hoops players who wear a T-shirt under their jersey. But here's something Uni Watch hadn't seen before: Arizona State's Emily Westerberg has been wearing a long-sleeved tee (good catch by Alex Chiu). … Mark Zaner and Uni Watch both wanna know why the University of Miami Web site shows photos of Lee Butler and Denis Clemente wearing jerseys that read, "MIAM" instead of "MIAMI." … The annual Coaches vs. Cancer program took place last weekend, with lots of college hoops coaches donning sneakers instead of dress shoes. Some of them simply wore sneakers with their suits or sports jackets, like Mike Krzyzewski, Tubby Smith, and Tommy Amaker. Others took a sort of casual Friday approach, like Frank Haith and Fred Hill. But a few, like Villanova's Jay Wright, really dressed down for the occasion, leading reader Mike DeCicco to wonder, "Is a jogging suit appropriate for the head coach to be wearing? I thought the trainer was coaching the team." … College hoops throwback unis: Boston College on Feb. 11 and Missouri on Feb. 12. … Expect to see more retro designs this Saturday, when the SEC kicks off its Throwback Week. A PDF file of all the designs is available here. … Gotta like how Adam Munro has been reprising the Blackhawks' black-red-black jersey and sock striping on his goalie pads. … Uni Watch doesn't pay much so much attention to sneaker styles. But Rob Fryer does, and he notes that West Virginia's Mike Gansey changed sneakers between the first and second halves on Feb. 4. … The Rangers have begun wearing a star-shaped helmet decal, in honor of former chief of security Dennis P. Ryan, who died last week. … The Frozen Tundra Classic -- a college hockey game played outdoors at Lambeau Field -- took place on Feb. 11, and Paul Pereira notes that Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliot wore green socks under his pads as a tribute to the Packers. … Just wonderin': In this high-tech age of wireless communication, how come an NFL sideline is the one place you're practically guaranteed to see a corded phone? … Late-breaking news from the NBA, and at first glance it's a stunner: According to the Feb. 13 entry in Mark Cuban's blog, "the NBA has ordered our suppliers to stop making the high tube socks that some of our players wear." Uni Watch has ascertained that the reality is a bit more complex than that, and that players are free to wear non-NBA-logo socks if they want to keep the high-hose look. Further details to follow once the situation is settled.

Visor Mystery Solved!
We finally have a winner in the long-running visor wars between Mark Mullaney of the Vikings and Hugh Green of the Buccaneers. Here's the analysis, as contributed by a very intrepid reader who prefers to remain anonymous:

"Both players suffered eye injuries in 1984. Mullaney's took place on Sept. 16, in a game against the Falcons during Week 3 of the Vikings' 1984 season. Green's occurred in a car accident, which was reported on Oct. 5 of that year. The article says the accident occurred on 'Wednesday,' which, according to that year's calendar, would be Oct. 3.

"We know Mullaney came back and played, with a visor, in Week 7 (Oct. 14) -- less than two weeks after Green's injury. And this article refers to a car crash that 'knocked All-Pro linebacker Hugh Green out for most of the season with an eye and wrist injury.' Green had already played in the season's first five games, and according to this bio, he only played in eight games total that year. So if the crash put him out for 'most of the season,' and he only played in three more games after the injury, he couldn't have worn the visor as early as Mullaney did.

"So Mark Mullaney of the Minnesota Vikings was the very first player to wear a visor. Hugh Green, and all others, simply followed in Mark's footsteps."

Uni Watch salutes this sterling detective work, and also gives a tip of the cap to Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan, whose claim of having created the first visor is now confirmed.

Ice Shields
Speaking of visors, Uni Watch's call for historical info on hockey visors brought a heroic response from hockey researcher R.J. Pratt:

"The Society for International Hockey Research had a discussion about this on our online e-mail list last fall. Here's the basic summary: The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association mandated that all youth hockey players wear face masks beginning in the 1976-77 season. The first player anyone could remember wearing one outside of youth hockey was Greg Neeld, a junior player with the Toronto Marlboros who lost an eye after a high-sticking incident in 1973-74. Neeld later played (and wore a visor) in the WHA with the Toronto Toros and in the minor leagues. The NHL refused to let him participate with only one good eye (a forerunner of the Bryan Berard case). Neeld, along with others, created a face shield to allow him to play with one eye called the 'Neeld Shield.' An overview of this is available here.

"SIHR member Pat Houda came up with a list of the first NHLers and their respective seasons with visors, headed by Anders Kallur (Islanders) and Ron Stackhouse (Penguins), both in 1979-80. Houda believes they were the first ones to wear a visor permanently in the NHL, and that Ken Linseman and Börje Salming also wore visors for part of that season. Stackhouse apparently donned the visor because of an eye injury but then kept wearing it. Kallur, we finally concluded, was likely the first NHLer to wear a visor on a permanent basis not due to injury. It wasn't surprising that a European got the nod, as visors are still disproportionately worn in the NHL by players who grew up in Europe.

"Other early players on Houda's list (to which Morey Holzman, Bob Duff, James Karkoski and Joe Pelletier also contributed) include Ron Francis (Hartford) and Curt Giles (Minnesota) in 1981-82; Ric Seiling (Buffalo), Blake Dunlop (St. Louis), Thomas Gradin (Vancouver), Bob Carpenter (Washington), and Bengt-Åke Gustafsson (Washington) in 1982-83; and Håkan Loob (Calgary), Bill Hajt (Buffalo), Lane Lambert (Detroit), Anders Håkansson (Los Angeles), Pat Lafontaine (NY Islanders), Paul Guay (Philadelphia), Wayne Babych (St. Louis), and Mike Gartner (Washington) in 1983-84.

"On a side note, the International Ice Hockey Federation requires players under 18 to wear full masks (cages) in international play. That's why during the annual World Junior Hockey championships (for players under 20), a few players wear full cages while most -- those aged 18 and 19 -- are allowed to wear the regular half-visor. Also: The NCAA requires full face shields (either cages or full visors) while major junior only requires half visors. That's why you see most college-bred hockey players playing with a visor and many junior-trained players ditching the visor as soon as they don't have to wear one."

Phew! Big thanks to R.J. for that comprehensive ice visor tutorial.

Meanwhile, Eric Marin has the scoop on tinted visors: "Visor coloration is an innovation credited to ITECH in the late '80s and early '90s, when they offered visors and full face protection in yellow, tinted, and clear. The thinking was that yellow would brighten the field of vision for dimly lit arenas, while tinted would have the opposite effect, reducing glare. Theo Fleury was one of the earliest adopters, as seen in this 1992-93 photo. He's continued to wear it, on and off, throughout his career."

David Jackson adds that Oakley makes a blue visor, which Toronto's Nik Antropov has worn a few times in practice. It's possibly shown here, although it's tough to be sure -- that might just be a gray visor.

Speaking of Oakley, just as their "O" logo has been showing up on college football visors, we should also get ready to see more of it on NHL face shields.

Finally, in one last visor-related item, Josh White reports that Oakley is also working on a lacrosse visor, as seen in these photos of Casey Powell, a member of the U.S. world team and the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse.

Hockey Mailbag
As long as we're talking about hockey, here's a bunch of follow-ups on recent hockey-related topics:

• Contrary to what the Red Wings PR office told Uni Watch, the "3" decal on Chris Chelios' helmet is not a tribute to the late Steve Chiasson. As several readers have explained, it's actually a tribute to the late Keith Magnuson, who died in 2003. Uni Watch thanks everyone who helped set the record straight.

• In an error that can't be blamed on PR flak, Detroit's Robert Lang doesn't actually cut slits in his pants, as Uni Watch had mistakenly reported. As many readers explained, today's pants often have built-in zippers -- mainly so players can get into and out of the pants while already wearing their skates -- and Lang is one of several players who prefer to leave them unzipped. Others include Joe Thornton and Keith Tkachuk.

This unzipped style has actually prompted a bit of controversy, as seen in this excerpt from a memo recently issued by the Minnesota Youth Hockey Coaches Association (with thanks to Kevin Joseph): "Another area of great concern is the recent trend of unzipping the breezer pant legs or even cutting them if the pants do not have zippers. The breezer pants are designed to protect the skater from injury. … By opening the pant legs, the skaters are exposing the inside of their legs to potentially very serious injury from skates. The thigh area has several very large arteries, which if lacerated would cause significant blood loss in just a few minutes. The National High School Federation considers this to be a serious matter. The Federation passed a rule effective this year that the pant legs must be zipped or uncut in order to play. A violation of the rule is a game misconduct."

• Meanwhile, Michael Shanahan has noticed a different sort of pants alteration: "Watching a recent Sabres/Senators game, I noticed that Dominik Hasek cuts his shorts, too -- he's got a semicircle cut-out behind his knees. It appears he picked up the technique during his 'Red Wing Forever' stint. Not once have I noticed this, though, in his years with the Sabres.

• Uni Watch was overwhelmed by the huge number of readers who responded to the item about Dainius Zubrus' habit of wrapping his shin guard tape at a sharp diagonal angle. One of the most succinct explanations came from Mike Sanderson: "What most players do is wrap a strip of tape at the top part of the sock, to stabilize the shin guard just below the knee, like this. Then they cut the tape and add a second strip of tape at about ankle level. But instead of cutting the tape, Zubrus just keeps going in one continuous strip -- he tapes the knee area and ankle area without stopping, and it creates the diagonal line of tape on the back of the calf. Several other players do the same thing." Reader Shawn Knowles even whipped up a quick diagram illustrating the two methods.

• Speaking of sock tape, Uni Watch's recent coverage of Donald Brashear's unusual shin-taping habits (instead of wearing his sock stripes like this, he uses tape to create this) may have caught the eye of the NHL's uni police. "I was at the Rangers/Flyers game on Jan. 30," writes Pat Jordan. "Looks like Donald Brashear got a talking to from someone -- his socks were taped in the normal style. I was sitting in the fifth row with my boss, and when I noticed it I got so excited that I blurted it out loud. I'm pretty sure my boss thinks I am insane." Uni Watch was unable to find a photo of Brashear from that game (or to confirm Jordan's sanity) but was watching closely when the Flyers wore their alternate uniforms against the Rangers five days later. And sure enough, Brashear sported the team's standard sock striping, instead of covering up the white area as he'd previously done. The following night in Montreal, Brashear's socks again looked normal.

• And wait, it gets better -- Chadd Fitzgerald was at one of those Rangers/Flyers games and noticed something else: "Joni Pitkanen used orange tape to cover up the lower half of the white on his sock. He also does it with the home black unis, covering up half of the white with black tape." And whaddaya know, a bit of Uni Watch photo research reveals that Pitkanen has been covering the lower portion of his sock stripes for some time, as seen in these photos from 2003 (home, road, alt) and 2004 (home, road, alt). Those Flyers -- they're regular stripe subversives!

Follow-Up Roundup
Uni Watch's last column included an item from reader Guy Serumgard about a Sam Mitchell basketball card that showed Michael Jordan wearing uni No. 12 (because his regular uni had been stolen from the Bulls' locker room). Thanks to the several readers -- including Serumgard himself -- who pointed out that it was actually a Sam Vincent card, not Sam Mitchell. Here's the original card, showing MJ wearing the No. 12 jersey (which had no name on the back), and here's the revised Vincent card that was issued after the NBA honchos freaked out at the sight of MJ in the wrong uni.

Speaking of replacement jerseys, here's a priceless story from Rob Garrity: "As a sophomore on the King Philip Warriors (about 10 years before Lofa Tatupu), I happened to be about the same size as one of our senior linebackers/offensive linemen. He played like a maniac and would end up with tears in his jersey and scratches all over his helmet. After about half a season of my arse being firmly planted on the bench, I finally heard my position coach frantically calling my name. I grabbed my helmet and ran to him. Standing next to him was the senior, his jersey in tatters. 'Give him your jersey!' shouted the coach. 'Quickly!' I did what I was told and watched as my uniform got on the field before I ever did. It happened three other times, with my jersey and, in one game, my helmet going out on the field while I sat on the sidelines, hoping the senior didn't break his neck and mistakenly give my Mom a heart attack as she watched from the crowd. The whole me made it into exactly one game that season, as a garbage-time replacement during a blowout win. Naturally, the other team scored, ruining our shutout."

In a less amusing item, several readers have pointed out that UNC women's hoops coach Sylvia Hatchell is far from the only coach to wear a Nike or Reebok lapel pin. Uni Watch doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to search for every men's coach who's worn these accessories, but Tom Izzo is a typically depressing example. Someone please tell these coaches the only thing that belongs on a lapel is a boutonniere.

And as for the UNC women's team, Bryan Redemske points out that Uni Watch should forget about Hatchell's lapel pin and focus on Ivory Latta's totally rulin' socks.

Party Like It's Uni No. 99
For everyone who's ever told Uni Watch, "Until I read your column, I thought I was the only one who noticed these kinds of details" -- or got labeled as a nut for excitedly pointing at Donald Brashear's socks -- here's your chance to meet lots of like-minded sports fans: The first-ever Uni Watch Athletics Aesthetics Party will take place on March 12, at 3 p.m., at Southpaw, Brooklyn's finest rock club (where, in a nice coincidence, the bathrooms are plastered with vintage baseball cards for your uni-nostalgic pleasure).

The party will feature a Q&A session with uni designers Todd Radom and Tom O'Grady and NBA apparel director Christopher Arena, and we may have other special attractions that are still being worked out. For the most part, though, this is intended as a meet-and-greet event -- a chance for Uni Watch readers to get acquainted over a few beers and obsess about design minutiae without getting weird looks from people who, y'know, Don't Get It.

Admission is free, and the club is all ours for as long as we want it (or until everyone dashes home to watch the new season of "The Sopranos," which kicks off at 9 p.m. that evening). In a policy decision that should surprise no one, Southpaw's bouncers will be under strict instructions to eject anyone wearing purple, so don't even think about it. On the other hand, Uni Watch will personally buy a free drink for the first five people to show up wearing genuine baseball stirrups.

Further details as they become available. For now, mark your calendar.

Paul Lukas will not rest until bowling becomes an Olympic sport. His answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and 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 so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.




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