In case you hadn't noticed, it's been quite a year out there in the land of uniformity. With the final buzzer about to sound on 2006, here's a recap of the year's more notable uni-related events, including a few behind-the-scenes subplots you might not have been aware of.
Jan. 1: With an increasing number of NBA players wearing leggings, including LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and the entire Bucks team, David Stern negotiates a licensing deal with L'Eggs pantyhose. The deal almost falls through when the players' union demands that each player receive 10 complimentary pairs of L'Eggs -- "Nine for the player and one for the wife," explains union prez Billy Hunter -- but the hosiery company eventually agrees to this stipulation.
Jan. 30: Senators goalie Ray Emery wears a mask featuring an illustration of Mike Tyson. But he stops wearing it after one game, because opponents keep referring to Tyson as "a big fat wuss" for not dropping his gloves when he fights. ("And I hear he wears a visor, too," adds Don Cherry).
Feb. 22: American skier Resi Stiegler wears tiger ears on her helmet while competing in the slalom at the Olympic Games. An NFL official tries to issue her a fine but relents after it's pointed out that the NFL has no jurisdiction over the Olympics.
April 3: The Atlanta Braves open their season. To everyone's surprise, their nameplates feature radially arched lettering, instead of the beautiful vertically arched nameplates that had been the team's visual signature in years past. Uni Watch accurately predicts that this ill-advised move heralds the end of the team's string of division championships.
May 5: The Rockies' equipment staff apparently finds the spelling of Jason Smith's name a bit too challenging. Mike Hampton, who once claimed to have signed with the Rockies because the Denver schools were so good, has no comment.
May 12: Umpires order Cubs pitcher Scott Williamson to remove his Nike-dotted undersleeves. Rather than change shirts himself, Williamson invokes his contract's personal valet clause, which he had negotiated for just such an occasion.
May 17: A job posting appears on Cincinnati's Craig's List page: "Super-talented athlete, looking to mess with The Man's head this fall, seeks creative thinkers for subversive ideas. Call 858-585-8585, or write to email@example.com."
May 26: During a fifth-inning mound conference, Devil Rays infielder Aubrey Huff asks catcher Toby Hall, "Hey Toby, whaddaya say we go out for a manicure after the game?" Hall replies, "Sounds good, man -- but how 'bout a little touch-up to tide me over until then?" Huff nods and applies white polish to Hall's fingernails right there on the mound, allowing Hall to display his freshly painted digits in all their splendor for the rest of the game. Later, on their way to the nail salon, Huff and Hall bump into a few NBA players shopping for pantyhose.
May 31: After an extensive screening and interviewing process, Chad Johnson sits down with the 12 members of his new Prank Posse and opens the floor for new ideas on how to accessorize his uniform. Two members immediately ask for autographed jerseys, and another says, "Yo, where's the chicks? I heard there was gonna be chicks!" Johnson promptly fires the entire group.
June 22: With the NBA season over, David Stern abruptly terminates the league's licensing deal with L'Eggs and bans the use of leggings for the 2006-07 season after several players' wives complain that their husbands have become so hosiery-obsessed that they "won't even let us wear that 10th pair." ("Plus, I hear some of them are wearing visors," adds an irate Don Cherry.) Stern also instructs his staff to find an alternate use for the 10,000 now-useless pairs of L'Eggs cluttering up the NBA office.
June 27: The latest version of the flag desecration amendment to the Constitution fails to pass the United States Senate, prompting a huge sigh of relief from the assorted MLB players whose flag follies might have resulted in prosecution.
June 28: Determined to mess up every conceivable aspect of the game, the Devil Rays send Jae Seo out to the mound with a concave nameplate, instead of the usual convex.
June 28: The NBA introduces a new game ball, made from what the league describes as "a microfiber composite with moisture management." Players quickly notice that the new material bears a striking resemblance to the leggings they're no longer allowed to wear.
July 15: With training camp only two weeks away, Chad Johnson convenes a new Prank Posse. All 12 members are summarily fired when the best idea they can come up with is for Johnson to wear tiger ears on his helmet. "Duh," says Johnson, pushing them all out the door, "that chick in the Olympics already did that!"
July 22: While walking to first base, Ryan Freel unbuttons his jersey and gives birth to a baseball in front of 41,915 startled fans. "Looks just like you," says Prince Fielder. "Thanks," says Freel. "I thought it was still a month away, but I guess he was just ready." After the game, Freel announces that the little tike will be named Rawlings.
Aug. 8: Chad Johnson sends a letter to skier Resi Stiegler. "That thing with the ears was great," it reads. "Can you give me some advice on how to get away with stuff like that?" He receives no reply.
Aug. 24: Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen is arrested for driving while nude. The NFL promptly fines him, for not wearing officially licensed Reebok apparel at all times.
Sept. 8: The Lions suspend Joe Cullen for his nude driving antics. As further punishment, he is forced to watch a Lions game on TV.
Sept. 16: Navy and Stanford split a doubleheader, with Navy winning the football game, 37-9, and Stanford taking the postgame spelling bee.
Oct. 13: Down two games to none in the ALCS, the Oakland A's quietly release a slumping Marco Scutaro and replace him with a Himalayan sherpa, who does his best to adapt to North American cultural standards. "If there's one thing a sherpa knows how to do, it's walk," explains GM Billy Beane, touting his new player's OPS.
Oct. 29: Chad Johnson comes out for pregame warm-ups wearing an "Ocho Cinco" nameplate, which he removes just before kickoff. Certain that Resi Stiegler must have noticed, he checks his voice mail after the game to see if she's left him a message. Instead he finds a message from the "Where's the chicks?" guy, who threatens to sue because the nameplate idea was his all along.
Nov. 1: A cancer-stricken boy in Cleveland tells the Make-A-Wish Foundation, "Antonio Bryant was my favorite Browns player -- that time last year when his pants came down in the middle of a game was awesome! Could you get him to do it again?" Four days later, Bryant -- now with the 49ers -- happily obliges. "Hey, anything for a kid," he says.
Nov. 15: Chad Johnson sends an e-mail to all NFL players. "I'm gonna play with my fly unzipped this Sunday," it reads. "You should do it too -- there's no rule against it, it'll add some flair to the game, and it'll be our own cool little thing!" Marcus McNeill, Chris Cooley and Anquan Boldin are the only ones to fall for the joke.
Nov. 21: Antonio Bryant is arrested for drunken driving. Police manage to put him in the squad car before he can pull his pants down.
Nov. 30: Chad Johnson violates NFL equipment guidelines by wearing an orange chin strap. After getting another threatening voice mail from the "Where's the chicks?" guy, he reluctantly changes his cell phone number.
Dec. 5: The Blues, desperate for offense, decide to clone Brett Hull. The experiment fails when all 23 Hulls demand to be traded to a halfway decent team.
Dec. 18: Chad Johnson shows up for pregame warm-ups wearing tiger-striped shoes adorned with photos of his career highlights. After being told, "Either the shoes go or you go" by game officials, he begrudgingly removes the shoes and then FedExes them to Resi Stiegler, enclosing a note that reads, "Thought you might like to have these. They'll probably let you wear them."
Dec. 21: The Oregon Ducks, intent on surrendering their last remaining shred of dignity before the year ends, trade in their green helmets for Nike's long-threatened flaming yellow design at the Las Vegas Bowl. Despite the use of a dictionary, two thesauruses and a slide rule, nobody at Oregon or at Nike is able to explain what flames and ducks have to do with each other.
Dec. 22: Antonio Bryant is suspended. As further punishment, he is forced to watch a Lions game on TV with Joe Cullen, with both of them fully clothed.
Dec. 25: After a one-week whirlwind courtship, Chad Johnson proposes marriage to Resi Stiegler. She happily accepts and then gives him his Christmas present: a game-worn Oregon Ducks flaming yellow helmet. He smiles and promises to wear it "soon, baby -- real soon."
Dec. 27: Pandemonium throughout the sports world, as a car is pulled over for speeding and the driver is found to be a nude Joe Cullen. Passengers include Antonio Bryant with his pants down, Toby Hall and Aubrey Huff giving each other pedicures, and Don Cherry wearing surplus NBA L'Eggs and a visor. All have no comment.
Masked Men of Mystery
Over on the Uni Watch blog, the talk often turns to archival photo collections (you can see good examples here, here and here). It was while poking around in one such archive -- the one maintained by Texas Tech University -- that Uni Watch stumbled upon a truly bizarre photo of a Lubbock basketball team.
The accompanying caption reads: "Category: Sports--Basketball. Description: Panhandle & Co basketball team Antelopes. Year: 1930s." That's no help. The masks initially reminded Uni Watch of Mexican wrestling and Los Straitjackets, but blog reader Geoff Evans has found an even better comparison -- as he points out, the masks are virtually identical to the one worn by Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer.
In any case, that's one weird-looking hoops squad. If anyone has any insights to offer regarding why a basketball team would be wearing masks, you know what to do.
• From T.D.: "As a Muslim, I have no problem with Al-Ghasara wearing a hijab with a Nike swoosh on it. I know you sounded playful when you said, "nothing says tradition like a sportswear logo," but wanted to point out that the way Islam approaches the issue of hijab (and I'm giving you the moderate approach taken by the majority of hijab-wearers in developed countries) is that as long as the hair and neck are covered, the actual type of hijab doesn't really matter. If you're in Los Angeles, you might see a Muslim woman wearing a Burberry scarf as a hijab; in Turkey, you might see a different style. The fact that one may have a Nike logo versus a Burberry style or Made in Turkey logo on it shouldn't have any bearing on religiosity. I believe that's what she meant when she said tradition was important. Not the details, just the fact that even if it's a hundred degrees outside and sunny, it's important for her to cover herself the Islamic way."
• From Jeremy Segall: "Yarmulkes have been adorned with various team or athletic logos for quite some time now. My parents went to Michigan, I grew up a die-hard Wolverine fan, so an aunt gave me an "M" kippa for Chanukah one year (I still have it and often wear it on days Michigan plays). I currently live in Chicago, and see Cubs, Sox and Bears kippas on a regular basis -- usually on children, but after the White Sox won the World Series, plenty of adults wore them, as well."
• And from Shereen Sabet (who runs this swimwear brand): "I'm hoping Muslim women and girls will also be inspired to practice competitive swimming, and I plan, God willing, to add a competitive line of modest swimwear to my current recreational line."
Chinny Chin Chin
Chin strap comments continue to trickle in to Uni Watch HQ. Among the latest revelations:
• And several readers have asked about the chin strap-like rigging that Sterling Sharpe used to have snapped onto the back of his helmet. That was essentially an anti-whiplash setup that the Packers' equipment staff devised for Sharpe. Unfortunately, it didn't prevent the neck injury that eventually ended his career in 1994.
Santa Earns a Contract Extension
Uni Watch, obviously, loves uniforms. Uni Watch also loves red meat and a certain National League baseball team. All these factors coalesced in an amazing Christmas gift that Uni Watch received from the estimable Dave Herman -- check it out.
Now that's how to ring out the year in style. See you all in '07.
Paul Lukas thanks his amazing readers for all their contributions in 2006. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his 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.