by Mike Moffett
Weirs Times Columnist
A recent feature on “csnmidatlantic.com” rated the uniforms of National Football League teams. At the bottom of the list was Tampa Bay. The New England Patriots were rated #13, right behind my personal favorite, the New York Giants at #12.
The subjective rankings got me thinking about uniforms. Who invented uniforms, anyway? Maybe they were a product of ancient military actions, designed to keep soldiers from striking comrades by mistake.
The first professional sports team—the Cincinnati Red Stockings—eventually developed a uniform of sorts, to go along with their red stockings. Other teams “followed suit” with suits of their own.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until the 1920s that players wore numbers. Ty Cobb never had a number in Detroit. The New York Yankees started the practice when they assigned numbers that matched the players’ places in the batting order. Ergo, the number three hitter, Babe Ruth, wore #3. The number four hitter, Lou Gehrig, wore #4. And the Yankees wore those famous pinstripes on perhaps the most recognizable sports uniforms ever.
Baseball uniforms have evolved since those days and it’s interesting to look at how players dressed in old team photos. Did Ted Williams ever wear anything other than baggy flannels?
There have been some notoriously ugly team uniforms, particularly in the 1970s, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Diego Padres had uniforms that were so gross that these teams were doomed to failure until they redesigned their looks. Then they finally went to the Super Bowl and the World Series, respectively.
Some inspired sports marketer thought of “throw-back” uniforms to honor team histories. The throw-backs were nostalgic hits and created a new lucrative sports apparel demand for most franchises. Even I have a Carl Yastrzemski #8 BoSox jersey.
An L.A. Laker sports marketer once suggested that the team wear white home jerseys instead of the traditional gold for a nationally-televised Christmas Day NBA game. The new look was a hit and the Lakers made millions of extra dollars selling white jerseys.
And of course, there was that inspired sports marketer who once thought of selling “pink” uniforms, presumably for the ladies. I can imagine old-timers muttering “There’s no pink in baseball,” but pink jerseys and caps are now sprinkled amongst every Fenway Park crowd.
The right uniform look is important to branding. Perhaps thinking of the disastrous Buccaneer and Padre experiences, the NHL’s San Jose Sharks did extensive polling and market research before they decided on their appealing black and teal color scheme. The Sharks made millions of dollars selling these jerseys before they ever played a hockey game.
So who were the top picks in the NFL rankings? Oakland, Buffalo, and New Orleans finished 1-2-3. I strongly disagree, but the list was a subjective rating designed to get attention—kind of like those white Laker jerseys. And it worked, as demonstrated by the column you’re reading.
But most of us already know what the world’s best looking uniforms really are—the dress blue outfits worn by United State Marines!
Whose uniform number was the first to be “retired” by a pro sports team? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on Sept. 17 include NBA player, coach, and executive Phil Jackson (1945) and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson (1975).
“When you put on a uniform, there are certain inhibitions you accept.” – Dwight Eisenhower
The Toronto Maple Leafs retired Irvine “Ace” Bailey’s number “6” in 1934. (Former Boston Bruin Garnet “Ace” Bailey—who was killed in the September 11 attacks in 2001—wore number 14.)
Michael Moffett is a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and for NHTI-Concord. He recently co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com.