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Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Updated: October 6, 11:46 AM ET
The NHL dresses up again

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Hmmm, players with unpronounceable French names, fights breaking out every few minutes, fans tossing octopi onto the playing surface … ah yes, we remember this game. Welcome back, NHL. Uni Watch has missed you.

Uniform-wise, the big story during the NHL's hiatus has been all the chatter about the league switching to more form-fitting uniforms. But that's not happening this season, at least not for most of the players. Goalies, however, may be wearing slim-fit jerseys at some point this season, although it's not clear when. Initial reports indicated that the new jerseys might be ready for Opening Night, but that's not going to happen. Here's how NHL exec Colin Campbell described the situation during a conference call on Monday:

"We had hoped to put out a form-fitting [goaltender's] sweater that was acceptable. But they were not delivered until a couple of days before the preseason was over with. We still have not had enough time to experiment with them and use them and see if they are acceptable in design and obviously function. So we'll decide at this point in time to go with the sweater that the goaltenders had been using in games, the regular sweaters, the regular jerseys. … We'd like to see [the new jerseys] introduced at some point in time. It's part of the whole project to reduce the size of goaltenders. We're still working on it, and hopefully we can come up with something in due time."

The most intriguing thing about these new goalie jerseys, whenever they're introduced, is that they may have a different color pattern and/or logo than the unis worn by the rest of the team, which would make NHL goalies more like their counterparts in soccer and field hockey, where goalies wear different colors than their teammates. This may sound blasphemous for hockey, but there's actually some recent precedent for it: NHL goalies wore distinct jersey designs in the 2000 and 2001 All-Star Games, and it wasn't the end of the world -- in fact, it looked fine. So although the whole thing is probably just a scheme to create a new category of licensed merch, Uni Watch is keeping an open mind for now.

OK, so that covers the stuff that might happen later; here's what's happening now:

• Whatever happens to the goalies' jerseys, they're supposed to be wearing narrower pads this year. But if you're expecting a clearly discernible change, forget it -- the new pads look pretty much the same as the old ones.

• Although some players are still wearing the old "Center Ice" practice jerseys, most of them are now wearing a newfangled practice jersey design, which features rather bizarre reflective piping. It's tough to fathom the rationale for this one -- as reader Karsten Brown puts it, "Are NHLers in danger of not being seen by Zamboni drivers or something?"

• The new NHL logo is now appearing on the back right sides of shirttails, shorts legs and helmets (although some players in preseason games were still wearing shorts with the old logo). But contrary to the ruckus that was briefly stirred up by this photo, the logo will not be appearing on front jersey collars. Good thing, too, since it would've caused big problems for teams that wear lace-up collars.

• The Reebok logo now appears just below each player's rear jersey collar, replacing the CCM and Koho logos that had previously been there.

• The switch to Reebok hasn't kept the Red Wings from honoring one of their longstanding jersey traditions: They used straight block lettering for player surnames during the preseason, instead of the arched, sans serif lettering they usually use (sort of like how the Steelers don't put numbers on their helmets during preseason but then add the numbers once the preseason is over). The Wings will be going back to the arched format now that the regular season is starting.

• The Predators have changed their shoulder patch from their "Nashville" logo to their skull logo (which has previously appeared on their third jersey).

• There are new commemorative jersey patches for the Avalanche, Flames, and Wild. Uni Watch thinks Minnesota's design looks particularly sharp, but c'mon -- a fifth-year patch? The bar for these celebrations has gotten extremely low.

• In more laudable news, all teams will be wearing this jersey patch during the first period of games on Opening Night. The jerseys will be auctioned off to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina relief.

• And on the remembrance front, the Devils are wearing a "JM" patch in honor of former team owner John McMullen, who died last month, and officials are wearing a "72" patch in honor of linesman Stephane Provost, who died in a motorcycle accident back in April.

• Need help remembering how to flex those hockey brain cells again? Here's a quick quiz: Which Canadian team started in the WHA, then joined the NHL, and then moved to Phoenix and was reborn as the Coyotes? The seven of you who correctly answered, "The Winnipeg Jets, of course!" will be excited to learn that the Coyotes are reactivating uni No. 9, which had been retired for Bobby Hull, so that Hull's son Brett can wear it.

• Last but not least: In case you've forgotten, the NHL switched the home/road color orientation back in the 2003-04 season, so home teams wore their colored unis and road teams wore white. They're sticking with that format this season.

OK, drop the puck, drop your gloves, and let's get the season started already.

Horse of a Different Color
Soccer and field hockey goalies -- and maybe NHL goalies, if and when it comes to that -- aren't the only ones who dress differently than their teammates, incidentally. As reader Mark Wehr recently informed Uni Watch, volleyball squads include a player who wears a different uniform than the rest of the team. Since Uni Watch's volleyball-related knowledge base was approximately zero, some investigation was clearly in order.

It turns out Wehr was referring to the libero, a specialized player who's only allowed to make defensive plays -- no spikes, no blocks, no serves (except in the NCAA, where serving is allowed). According to the official rules published by the FIVB -- that's Federation Internationale de Volleyball, don'tcha know -- the libero's jersey "at least must contrast in colour with that of the other members of the team. The libero uniform may have a different design, but it must be numbered like the rest of the team members."

The NCAA's rules for women's volleyball are a bit more exacting: "The libero must wear a uniform shirt or jersey that is immediately recognized from all angles as being in clear contrast to and distinct from the other members of the team. The primary color of the libero's jersey/shirt must be different from any color that appears on more than 25 percent of the body of her teammates' jerseys. In determining [what qualifies as] the body of the uniforms, the sleeves and collar should be ignored. The libero uniform must have a legal number. The style and trim of the libero's shirt or jersey may differ from her teammates', but her shorts must be identical to her teammates'."

This all produces a very odd visual effect. If you didn't know better, you might think the libero was an official, or that his jersey had been Photoshopped. Liberos can sometimes look like they're a bit left out, although at least they're easy to spot during the post-match handshake procession.

In any case, Uni Watch is now intrigued by this phenomenon. If anyone knows of other sports where the uniforms aren't uniform, you know what to do.

Uni News Ticker
Remember a few weeks ago when Uni Watch mentioned those annoying new Nike undershirts, which have non-matching sleeve colors? The looming threat, we said at the time, was the undershirt's long-sleeved version, and sure enough, those fears have now been realized. And then there are the guys playing with just one long sleeve. Could someone at the NCAA please put the kibosh on this nonsense, post-haste? … James O'Neil reports that someone apparently played a prank on Nationals reliever Travis Hughes on Sept. 18. When Hughes, who normally wears uni No. 34, began warming up in the seventh inning, he was wearing Hector Carrasco's jersey. After someone finally told him, he dashed to the clubhouse, changed into his proper jersey, climbed back into the bullpen, and resumed warming up. He never got into the game, although it's not clear if the uni snafu was the reason. … Uni Watch doesn't mean to trivialize an important issue, but has anyone else noticed that Leavander Johnson, who recently died of boxing-incurred injuries, had his first name misspelled on his own trunks during his final fight? … Trot Nixon, who wears uni No. 7, recently added a "44" to the back of his batting helmet in honor of injured teammate Gabe Kapler. … We may have to take Mets reliever Juan Padilla off our list of ballplayers who always wear glasses on the field. Although Padilla is indeed bespectacled on the mound, it turns out that he goes glasses-free when batting. … As if the Bengals didn't have enough uni problems, here's something reader Matt Sanderson noticed: Look closely at the three shoulder stripes on the team's white jersey and you'll see that the upper stripe is screened on but the other two are sewn on, the net result of which is that the upper stripe frequently looks shiny while the other two look matte. Can't this team do anything right? … Pitt broke out some throwbacks on Sept. 24, and they looked mighty sharp. So sharp, in fact that the players want to keep wearing them. … By now you've probably seen the "51" helmet decal that the Panthers are wearing in remembrance of Sam Mills. But reader Chris Wellbaum just sent along a photo that he took during training camp in late July, showing that the team originally had a more elaborate decal than the current one. Think the league office made them switch to the more reserved design? … Speaking of the Panthers, the logo that usually appears on their pants was missing from Al Lucas and Al Wallace's uniforms on Monday night. … The NBA is reportedly considering a dress code for injured and inactive players who sit on the bench, because, according to league commish David Stern, "Sometimes I worry that our players' intensity and effort can be misconstrued." Indeed, just imagine all the intense effort that must have gone into, say, this outfit . … Surfing magazine, perhaps taking some inspiration from Uni Watch, has launched a new uni-oriented column on its Web site. … Best unis of the year: the rookie-hazing outfits that the Yankees' and Braves' first-year players were recently forced to wear. … Here's the patch that teams will be wearing in this year's World Series. And hey, you can wear it too for a mere $13, what a bargain! … Uni Watch was saddened to hear that Rangers goalie Dan Blackburn, who wore two blockers in the minors last season after nerve damage left him unable to manipulate a catching glove, was recently forced to retire. … Contrary to what Uni Watch reported two weeks ago, Texans QB David Carr doesn't wear tape over his wedding ring. As several readers have been good enough to explain, he actually wears a band of tape instead of his wedding ring (which does make a lot more sense). … Interesting to see that the Red Cross logo, already very familiar from its recent presence on MLB batting helmets, also appeared on Antonio Tarver's trunks during his Oct. 1 fight with Roy Jones Jr. … The Pacers introduced their new uniforms the other day, and they look pretty good. … Logo Creep Alert: Although it's hard to see in this photo, the high school players that Dick Butkus is coaching on ESPN's new "Bound for Glory" reality series are wearing the Reebok logo. Not surprisingly, so is Butkus. … Niche publishing has reached a new plateau with the launch of Professional Sports Wives magazine. Incredibly, the debut issue doesn't have a single word to say about the hubbies' uniforms, so Uni Watch predicts a quick demise for this sadly misguided media venture. … In a more promising journalistic development, kudos to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which recently ran a great article on the way-crucial topic of uniform cleaning, don't miss it (with thanks to Mark Morabito). … Uni Watch's examination of NFL belts prompted a quick response from reader Joe Hilseberg, who had such a good seat for last Sunday's Jets-Ravens game that he was able to take this photo of Joel Dreessen's white waistband and belt loops, which contrasted with everyone else's green waistband and belt loops. … Anyone who thinks Uni Watch makes too much of a fuss about sportswear logos should take a look at Bills QB J.P. Losman. The rest of the team's white jersey sleeves look like this, but Losman's preference for shortened sleeves results in the Reebok logo moving up onto his shoulder yoke (a literal, non-metaphorical example of logo creep!), which sure looks, uh, professional. Can someone at Reebok please explain why Losman's logo has to appear on a splotchy white background, instead of just using the blue background of the jersey itself, as is the case on Losman's blue jersey? Better yet, can anyone at all explain why we need to see the Reebok logo on anyone's jersey ever again?

Sox Redux
Last week's NFL sock survey prompted an unusually large number of really good responses. To wit:

• Reader Jeff LeCraw reminds Uni Watch that the Falcons actually have three sock designs, not two. The first two are familiar: this one (worn with their black-piping pants) and this one (worn with the red-piping pants). But Uni Watch had forgotten about this one, designed to be paired with the team's black pants. This appealingly simple sock was worn three times in 2003, but the Falcons switched to their black-topped socks for their only black-pants game in 2004, creating the dreaded leotard effect, and ditto for their first black-pants game of this season. Has the third sock design has been retired? Uni Watch hopes not.

• Thanks also to Steve Harvey, who points out that Randy Moss wore green and white candy-striped socks during his final year at Marshall -- very cool (but too bad about the annoying Nike swoosh). Uni Watch notes, incidentally, that Moss was essentially wearing rugby socks, which are a robust subject area all their own. But Uni Watch doesn't know much about rugby, so if anyone wants to provide a quick tutorial on the game's hosiery protocol, please feel free.

• Longtime reader Kevin Walsh (the man behind the completely wonderful Forgotten NY Web site) thinks the increasing number of NFL players wearing low whites may be taking their cue from the baseball diamond. "Football has always followed baseball's lead when it comes to socks," he writes. "Remember the Lawrence Taylor era, when everyone had white all the way up to the knee? That was when baseball players had just the thin stirrup stripe and you mostly saw the white sanitaries. Now that baseball is all color and no white at all, football is following suit." Interesting theory -- let's just hope football players don't start following this trend.

• From Ross Yoshida: "A cool thing about the Chargers' socks: They used to have a small embroidered 'Chargers' wordmark logo on them! I believe they did this up until last season or the season before. I don't think it was highly regulated, as some players had the logo and others didn't during games." Uni Watch, somewhat amazingly, had never noticed this. But sure enough, you can sort of see what Yoshida's talking about here. But let's face it, sock logos are bogus -- the Chargers are better off without them.

• Uni Watch's mention of NFL officials' socks prompted this from Doug Brei: "NFL officials used to wear baseball-style stirrups. When the USFL started play in 1983, its officials wore striped socks, similar to what the NFL uses now -- I remember thinking at the time that USFL officials looked kind of strange without the stirrups. In addition, I think they actually had vertical 'U-S-F-L' lettering on their socks -- one letter per stripe [if you squint really hard, you can kinda convince yourself that this lettering is visible here]. And for a while I think AFL refs had red-striped socks, to match their red-striped shirts." Uni Watch adds that refs in the short-lived WFL also had stirrups that matched their shirts, both of which looked pretty cheesy.

Matthew Algeo astutely points out that one class of players are exempt from sock regulations: barefoot kickers and punters, such as Tony Franklin, Rich Karlis, and Mike Lansford (although it's worth noting that even these sockless guys were smart enough to retain the striped portion of their hose). As an aside, Uni Watch strongly urges any coach with a barefoot kicker to run lots of fake-kick plays, because it looks so hilarious.

• Finally, when briefly referencing the Broncos' vertically striped socks, Uni Watch had intended to mention another team with vertical sock striping: the Tulane basketball team of the late 1960s. Anyone know of any other teams, in any sport, whose sock stripes ran north/south?

Numbers Game
Lots of good feedback on the topic of college football teams with more than one player wearing the same uni number, too:

• From Preston Neill: "North Carolina not only has two starters wearing No. 32, but their names are Larry Edwards and Barrington Edwards, which makes it more confusing. So the two-bit announcers who get the dubious honor of covering Tar Heel football games always sound surprised to see 32 on both sides of the ball."

* From Scott Fendley, who attends Wabash College, a Division III school in Indiana: "A few years ago we accidentally played two 42s in the game at once during a punt. We blocked the punt and recovered it for a TD, but it was called back due to an illegal participation penalty, because we had the duplicate 42s out there. Actually, they had both participated on the previous punt as well, but the official hadn't noticed that one. This year, Wabash has no duplicates, but check out the roster for Linfield!

* From Chris Kelly: "Here at the University of Missouri, we have three players wearing No. 10 and three wearing No. 11. According to the football team's Web page, we also have two players wearing Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 14, 15, 20, 28, 31, 35, 38, 53 and 81. I doubt another school can top that!" Probably not, plus Lee Lesley sees some strategic opportunities within the numbers: "Missouri's punter [Matt Hoenes] shares the number 10 with their backup quarterback [Chase Daniel]. Surely this has to be a huge advantage -- you can send in your backup quarterback for a fake punt without anyone noticing! It seems like MU would be a lot less likely to lose to New Mexico if this kind of forward thinking were enacted."

As long as the punter isn't bare-footed, that is.

Paul Lukas is waiting for some enterprising NHL team to wear colored skates, like the California Golden Seals used to do. 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.