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Thursday, February 6, 2003
Updated: February 7, 2:25 PM ET
Let's customize those throwbacks

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Retro chic doesn't come cheap. It'll take almost 300 bones to get me in the colors and stripes of heroes from a bygone era. Nostalgia and tradition will cost ya (powerful feelings always do, she said).

That's cool, I'm ready pay for my fix; I'm prepared to pony up for a slice of yesteryear. But there's one thing stopping me: These way-back-machine jerseys everybody's sporting are too generic and predictable.

Bucs fans
You don't stand out sporting the obvious.
If I'm going to drop three bills, I want a little specificity; I want custom orders.

I'm looking at Warren Sapp in a Harold Charmichael jersey before the Super Bowl the other night, and I'm thinking, that's nice, I like H.C., but he's an obvious choice, too -- a frontline star at a glamour position.

The guy I like from that mid-'70s Eagles team is Bill Bergey. I remember he had a great Grizzly Adams look on his Topps football card, all scruffy, pensive and fierce. And I used to love watching him wrap a guy up, drive him into the ground, and then walk away like it wasn't nothin' but a thing. Bergey looked like football to me, like the workman-like essence of the thing. For 300 dollars worth of memories, I want to be able to put his 66 on my back, not Charmichael's 17.

If I wear the jerseys of the biggies -- Dr. J, Jim Brown, Reggie Jackson, etc. -- I'm trying to tap into something, hoping I look somehow related to their greatness. I want to be cool.

But that just just doesn't make it. Even if I've always been a huge fan of one of those guys, strolling around in their jerseys now just looks common. It's the sort of thing any front-running Joe on the block can do.

Anyway, a fan's heart doesn't work like that. A fan's heart isn't just big-time, it's also peculiar. He loves the superstars, sure, but everybody loves the superstars. What sets him apart are his feelings for the other guys, for guys you wouldn't necessarily figure on.

LET'S GET RETRO
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  • If I wear the jersey of a favorite who isn't an icon, instead of telling you I know what's hip, I'm giving you a sense of who I am, of where I've been and what matters to me. And that's not a pose, it's a profession.

    So I'm saving my green for now (got a jersey fund rolled and wrapped in rubber bands, tucked under the mattress), just waiting for the time when I can pick the team, the name, the number, and the year of my devotion, and pull them over my head and walk proudly out the door and down the block.

    I'm saving my green, trying to decide, when the time comes, whether to go with:

  • A Willie Crawford Dodgers jersey, circa 1973. One that looks exactly the way his looked the day I caught a home run ball off his bat while sitting in the pavilion seats at Dodger Stadium with my grandfather.

  • A "Downtown" Freddie Brown Seattle SuperSonics jersey. The one with gold lettering on a solid green background; the one that looked like it came complete with radar, and instructions for floating one way and shooting the other.

  • Or a Nolan Cromwell, or Cullen Bryant Rams jersey -- something that says brave face and stalwart heart.

  • And if I was dipping into the days-gone-by pool twice, I'd consider a Terry Metcalf jersey, because I think it'd make a guy feel mighty quick, and I'd think about a "White Shoes" Johnson, too, just for the recklessness of it.

    Magic Johnson
    Enough with the Hall of Famers already!
  • Or maybe I'd maybe want to go with a Spike Owen jersey, because he had heart, or a Spencer Haywood, because he had double-jointed fingers. Or maybe a Jimmy Wynn, a Lymon Bostock, a Lydell Mitchell, or a Rogie Vachon.

    But more important than what I wear, is what I hope to see. In a world of custom-order throwbacks, I want to see a widespread, eclectic mix of names and numbers all over the joint. I want to see folks wearing their fan's hearts on their chests, backs and sleeves.

    Don't show me another 17 people in Bill Russell Celtics unis or Magic Johnson Lakers jerseys, show me one guy, a guy who has suffered through years and years of bad teams, who has almost given up hope but can't let go, in a Dan Issel Nuggets jersey, or better yet, a Danny Schayes (the hideous Denver skyline one, of course).

    Show me a guy wearing a green No. 30 who gets goo-goo eyed and starts to hyperventilate when he makes the case -- the totally implausible, somewhat disturbing, but ultimately kind of charming case -- that M.L. Carr was the key to the '80s Celtics teams.

    Forget Willie McCovey or George Brett. I want Duane Kuiper or Buddy Biancalana jerseys out on the streets. I don't need to know why -- there isn't going to be any logic to it -- the folks wearing 'em will know why and that's enough.

    I tell you what else I want: I want to see some brave Red Sox soul -- who knows that what happened was not all his fault, who knows that he was a dead-eye hitter for a lot of years and that he deserves better, who thinks it's time to embrace the past and welcome the future -- don a Bill Buckner jersey and wear it to work, to church, and to the pub on Friday night.

    And, somewhere, a quiet run on Frenchy Fuqua jerseys, if you don't mind. (Heck, I'd even settle for L.C. Greenwood or Mel Blount.)

    Bill Buckner
    Want to get noticed? Try walking into the Cask N' Flagon wearing a Buckner.
    And I'd like to see a little old lady who has had seats in the Black Hole for years -- paints her face, twists her hair up into nasty spirals; the works -- who has a long memory, and a softness for boys of Italian descent, and she's wearing a Phil Villapiano No. 41 to bed tonight.

    Of course Daryl Dawkins, too. Lots of Daryl Dawkins.

    If it's not too much to ask: Ernie DiGregorio jerseys for all my friends, as well.

    And two guys who meet in a park in downtown Pittsburgh every day for lunch wearing Steve Blass jerseys and ruminating on the fleeting nature of genius.

    Billy Paultz.

    Tony Kubek, Andy Messersmith, Cesar Cedeno, Bill North, La Marr Hoyt and Carney Lansford.

    Clint Longley.

    Jim Marshall Vikings jerseys on three women intentionally running the wrong way to catch a bus out of solidarity with the former defensive end.

    A guy who got his autograph in the parking lot one day in the spring of 1977 wears a Dave Twardzik jersey. Another guy, on the other side of the country, wears a Phil Chenier for the same reason.

    This kind of stuff -- this is the kind of retro stylin' I could get into, would lay my money down for.

    Every jersey tells a story. And when I wear one, I'm not a slave to fashion or the follower of a trend, but a freestyler, a fan.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.