For the Nerds of Nostalgia, Pittsburgh’s New Uniform Matters

By Joe Depto (@JoeDepto)

Photo Credit - Pittsburgh Penguins

Photo Credit – Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Social media has demonstrated itself as a powerful tool for spreading information, but its most memorable content is often the reactionary dialogue to the reported information.

The Pittsburgh Penguins unveiled their third/alternate jerseys this morning, and the response from Twitter’s rampant hockey community didn’t feel crass, esoteric, or as if it were cannon fodder for a colossal and provincial debate in 140 characters or less.

It felt nostalgic, galvanizing, and dynamic. It almost felt like home. It almost felt like a win for all us that care way too much about the long and exasperated subculture about the way sports teams look when they play.

Regardless, maybe all of these things do make a difference after all.

It’s easy to dismiss my fervor for sports aesthetics as a barrage of superficial platitudes today (even easier to play it off as bias considering which region of the country I grew up in), but take a look at most hockey fans’ timeline around the time the Penguins finally caved and gave their fans the look they’ve wanted all along – this stuff matters.

For most us of born into generations strangely named after consonants and vowels, the late 80’s through the mid-to-late 90’s was the birth of many heralded sports paradigms – our own brief and bombastic golden age of football, baseball, hockey, and hoops.

Social media didn’t exist then, and checking box scores and headlines was happening on Netscape, newspapers, and the stack of Sports Illustrated magazines in my closet whose pages have been turned beige over the frighteningly accelerating passing of time.

Shortly after the Y2k virus failed to turn our ever-growing populous of screens into collective dust, something changed. Plenty of teams, like many formidable businesses at the time, grew sick of their identity regardless of what kind of longevity it possessed. Sure, vintage is cool now, but even mouthing the phrase “in the 21st century” in the early throes of the millennium change left a lot of people in sports desiring a revamped image.

That über-modern desire combined with the prevalence of faster internet and the inception of high-definition televisions spawned striking new looks everywhere across North America’s four most noteworthy sports leagues.

In retrospect (and I’ll speak bluntly here) – man, so many of them were hideous. Aesthetically, sports had lost their way.

The NHL, as it often does, arguably took the brunt of evolution the hardest. When Reebok acquired the rights to infiltrate our sparkly new 16:9 ratio LCDs with their “Edge” jerseys, there was no turning back. Hockey was just recovering from a crippling lockout, and the NHL didn’t want to kill off its previous image slowly with a billion paper cuts, it wanted to take it out with a blunt object – one fell swoop.

Sure, newer teams like Columbus were pulling it off well – they were born into this era. Teams like the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins (the Pens even valiantly eschewed their own city’s color scheme for a New Orleans Saints-esque Vegas Gold) wanted to make you forget that their teams had been around before the early 70’s and late 60’s, and they quickly succeeded. They wanted to cram every ounce of gaudy sparkle into your new 720p screen – tradition be damned.

Over time, it seems like we’ve all figured it out. NFL franchises like the Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys, and Oakland Raiders look like the smart ones all along, and NHL franchises like the Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, and Chicago Blackhawks proudly display their appearance in perennial solidarity, not ephemeral evolution. In the NBA (another league aesthetically sucker punched in the 2000’s), teams like the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets (yes, they’re finally the Hornets again in Charlotte), have learned to embrace their roots more than woefully pumping more air into the tires of a visually obnoxious passage of time.

When the Penguins proudly displayed their new (old) third jersey this morning, it almost seemed to subliminally many of us back to the moment when we realized that a team’s look matters. It took us back to a time when the jersey’s overall look made an honest effort to change less than the players’ names on the back of it. It’s a reminder that a team’s tradition often augments the nostalgia of a team’s success more than the futile search for the next big thing.

In sports, like in all of life, It’s easy to say what’s old is new again – that’s short-sighted. In a time of increasing loneliness and separation, sustaining an era of good over time achieves brilliance over a fleeting moment of great. In fact, that brand of longevity might redefine the word greatness altogether.

In sports, like in all of life, it never hurts to look good.

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