Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Updated: August 19, 5:11 PM ET
All-Star jersey review
By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2
Uni Watch tries not to get too worked up about All-Star games. Pageantry
blah-blah awesome skills blah best on the planet blah-blah -- the games are
still just scrimmages, and their uniforms are essentially disposable.
Still, it's worth taking a closer look at the NBA, which has taken an
unusually circuitous route from the plain, wordless All-Star unis of 1955
to the sharp-looking duds displayed on Sunday.
"In the '50s and '60s, it was very basic --
red, white, and blue, big 'EAST' and 'WEST,' lots of stars," says
Christopher Arena, the NBA's senior director of apparel. "Then in the '70s,
we started basing the design on the host team's uniform." Uni Watch liked
this approach, which yielded results ranging from straightforward (when the
game was hosted by the Lakers in 1972) to subtle (Suns in 1975 -- note the sunburst pattern on the shorts, kids) to, well, not-so-subtle (Bullets, 1980).
"In the '80s, the Magic-Larry-Michael era, we used the NBA
letters across the front," says Arena. This design, which was revived
as a throwback uni for the 2003 game (but way
baggier, natch), has always struck Uni Watch as looking too much like a
corporate billboard. Still, it's better than what happened in the mid-1990s.
"We kind of went off the deep end in Phoenix in '95 and San Antonio in
'96," admits Arena, a hint of shame in his voice. "Those uniforms were very
indigenous to the market, or at least that was the idea -- the Phoenix
design had a cactus on it, and
the San Antonio design had a jalepeņo pepper. They were a little crazy. So then we scaled back and had the players wear their own uniforms for a few years."
As for this year's design, Uni Watch likes it -- it's clean
but not sterile, sharp but not flashy. And textile geeks (you know who
you are) will like Arena's description of the fabric: "The front is
flatback mesh, which is a fabrication used throughout the league, and the
back is what we call Metallic Stretch Air, an open-hole mesh that breathes
a little differently, to minimize sweat accumulation. We've always used
uniforms with multiple fabrications, but usually the front and back are the
same and the inserts are different, so this was a big change. One of our
teams is considering something like this for next season, but I can't say
anything more about it yet."
Yes, well, we're all breathlessly waiting to see how that turns out.
But there are other matters to occupy our attention for now because the
NBA isn't the only league that recently hosted all-star festivities. A week
earlier was the NFL Pro Bowl, such a perennial aesthetic train wreck that
it holds a certain warped fascination, sort of like watching lemmings dive
off a cliff. Of course, nobody has actually tuned in to watch the Pro Bowl
since about 1987, so you probably missed the landmark uni designs showcased
in 2004, 2001 and
of course 1996
(which was such a big hit on the comedy circuit that it was used again in
Compared to those past visual carnivals, this year's uniforms were relatively tame. Even the obligatory Hawaiian-themed coaching garb was more sedate this time around -- or
maybe it just seemed that way because for once Andy Reid wasn't coaching the NFC squad. Fortunately, there
was still plenty of comic relief, beginning with the Arena Football-esque
blizzard of jersey patches. And
Uni Watch hereby offers a beer and a handshake to whoever had the brilliant
idea of putting a Pro Bowl logo patch just above each player's butt.
But the Pro Bowl's biggest problem -- this year and every year -- is that
the AFC always wears red and the NFC always blue but the players wear
their regular helmets, which leads to some serious color-coordination
problems. As usual, the most trenchant analysis comes from Uni Watch
attache Ruth Wedes, who proposes a solution based on the game's Hawaiian
locale: "They should all just wear a helmet with a pineapple on it."
As it happens, the Pro Bowl used to feature its own helmet designs. Uni
Watch's go-to guy for this kind of thing is near-omniscient Curtis
Worrell of Helmet Hut,
who breaks down the Pro Bowl's headwear history like so:
1954-64: Navy helmets for the NFL's Western Conference; red
helmets for the Eastern Conference.
1965-69: Gold helmets with the NFL shield logo and blue-white-blue striping for the Western Conference; the same design but with red-white-red striping for the Eastern Conference.
1970: Same as above, but with the NFL's 50th anniversary
logo substituted for the NFL shield. This was the last Pro Bowl before
the NFL/AFL merger.
1971-78: White helmets with a blue "N" for the NFC; red helmets with a white "A" for the AFC.
1979-present: Regular team helmets.
And then there's Flozell Adams of the Cowboys, who had a different sort of
headgear problem: He couldn't play because his helmet got lost in the mail, or his dog ate it, or something. At least that's his story -- maybe he just didn't want to be one of the lemmings.
More Masked Men
Sharp-eyed readers spotted a glitch in Uni Watch's recent survey of hockey goalie masks, in which mask artist and Painted Warrior
webmaster Dennis Simone said Corrado Micalef was the last goalie to wear an
old-style fiberglass mask. As several readers have pointed out, that status
actually belongs to Sam St. Laurent of the Red Wings, who was wearing a Jacques
Plante-style mask as late as the 1989-90 season.
"I should have known that," says a contrite Simone. Uni Watch should have
known, too -- big thanks to Scott Murrell, Doug Norris and everyone
else who wrote in to set the record straight. Meanwhile, with the NHL
season now officially kaput, hockey fans can console themselves by clicking
through the excellent mask history sequence that begins here.
Thanks also to those who've responded to Uni Watch's call for pix of masked
baseball players. We now have a solid photo gallery of such players,
including Ellis Valentine, Gary Roenicke, Kevin Seitzer, David Justice and Charlie Hayes (who wore two different mask styles -- this
one with the Rockies and this one with the Yankees). A big tip of the Uni Watch cap -- which
includes its own facebars, natch -- to all who helped out with this
scavenger hunt, especially Dan Herr, Thomas Clark, Grant Beaudette, Bud
Leno, Ron Ruelle and Andy Chalifour.
Still MIA: photos of Dave Parker from 1978, when he wore a football-style
facemask after breaking his jaw. And here's an intriguing subplot, courtesy
of Walter Graham: "Before Parker went with the facebar, he had a
hockey goalie facemask molded to his helmet. I believe he used it for only
one game. I recall seeing a picture of it in the Boston Globe during the '78 season."
The good news is that the estimable Tom Shieber at the Baseball Hall
of Fame turned up an old Sporting News article confirming that
Parker did indeed make one plate appearance wearing "a mask similar to
those worn by hockey goalies"; the bad news is that Uni Watch spent the
better part of an afternoon poring over old Boston Globe microfilm
at the library in a fruitless search for the aforementioned photograph.
(Memo to Walter Graham: Next round's on you.) If anyone has any tips
regarding photos of this particular mask, which is shaping up as Uni
Watch's personal Great White Whale, please send up a signal flare.
Meanwhile, in a related item, John Katricak contributes the
following tidbit: "Notre Dame is primarily a football school. So, what do
members of the baseball team do while recovering from face and jaw
injuries? Attach football facemasks to their batting helmets, of course."
True enough, as can be seen here and here.
Still more mask news: One of the small oddities of the past NFL season was
that the the big helmet painted on the RCA Dome's turf still had a blue
facemask even though the Colts had changed their facemasks from blue to gray. That
incongruity should be corrected next season, because the Colts have just announced plans to install new turf, which presumably will include an accurate helmet illustration.
And in the last word (for now) about the University of Michigan's endlessly
adaptable football helmet design, Nicholas McAlister points out that
current Michigan goaltender Al Montoya has come up with the ultimate
interpretation: His mask mimics the winged helmet logo and depicts
The topic of players bartering for coveted uniform numbers (recently the subject of an unusual lawsuit) has been raised again by reader Alexis Neeson, who writes:
"In European soccer, there is a trend of using tape [on a jersey] to create
plus signs, to get your desired number if someone else already has it. For
example, Clinton Morrison of Birmingham City wanted to wear No. 10, but
this was taken, so he took No. 19 and used two pieces of tape to make a
plus sign between the 1 and the 9. Ivan Zamorano did the same with No. 18 when No. 9 was taken."
The great thing about this is that it opens up the door to all sorts of other mathematical symbology: division and multiplication signs, fractions, square roots, pi, infinity, exponents,
factorials, maybe even that weird squiggle thingie that gave Uni Watch so much trouble
in 12th-grade calculus. Don't give up on wearing 51 just yet, Randy Johnson -- it can still be yours, with a bit of creative annotation.
Paul Lukas finds it nearly impossible to say, "Metallic Stretch Air"
with a straight face, and would like to think most of his readers can't do
it either. Archives of his pre-Page 2 "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got uni-related feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Send him a note here.