By Phil Hecken
Readers will recall that during the month of August (when Paul takes his much-deserved sabbatical from the weekday duties) I had the honor and pleasure of again hosting a design contest sponsored by the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Red Wings. This year, the Griffins sought Uni Watch reader submissions for a “fauxback” jersey, and the winner of this past year’s contest was John Elbertson, whose winning design was this:
As the Griffins did with last year’s winner Dan Kennedy, this year’s winner received a custom jersey based off of his design, and a special invitation to join with the team at the game where the fauxback jerseys were being worn. That game occurred the previous Friday (January 12, when the Griffins had their “80’s Fauxback Night”), and John was able to make the trip (from Pennsylvania all the way to Grand Rapids!) and document his experience for us.
I had a bunch of back-and-forthing with John via e-mail about his experience, so I’ll lay this out as if we’d have done a Q&A, since it will flow a bit better than just random cutting/pasting of our conversation. Suffice it to say it looks like he had a great time, and I’m thankful to the Griffins for again allowing me to host the contest which provided our winner with such a nice prize!
Uni Watch: How old are you and where do you live? How long have you been reading/following Uni Watch?
John Elbertson: I’m 38 and live in Shippensburg, PA, about an hour or so south of the Hershey Bears. I’ve been reading/following Uni Watch since 2011, but have been a fan of sports logos and jerseys my whole life.
UW: Have you always been interested in jersey design? I know you’ve entered Uni Watch design contests before.
JE: I still remember playing Madden through the years, I always liked using the throwback blue/white Rams unis. That influenced a concept I did for Uni Watch in 2015 for their then-upcoming move to Los Angeles. I also entered the Miami Dolphins redesign.
UW: What was the first contest you ever entered? Do you remember?
JE: The first design contest I entered was when I was 8 or 9, for Nintendo Power. It was a contest to design a boss robot for Mega Man 6 (details here). My entry was Nuke Man, a crudely-drawn, socially oblivious concept. There were roughly 200,000 entries, so needless to say I lost. Mind you, back then you had to buy a stamp and physically mail in your entry, so it was a lot of extra effort and who knows if it even got there :(.
UW: Besides these and the Griffins, any other uniform designs you would like to share?
UW: Can you walk me through your design process for the Griffins? I posted the contest on August 1st and received your entry on August 11th.
JE: August 4th, 2017 … My family and I had just returned from Florida, and I came back with a couple of concept ideas in mind. The first was a modified design for the Tampa Bay Lightning (font courtesy of the elevator at our hotel). The other idea I had was for a third jersey for San Diego State University, red with black sleeves, a chest stripe that carried over into the arms, and the Mayan Calendar graphics incorporated somehow.
However, when I heard about the Griffins competition being open, I decided to use my idea for that instead. I ditched the black sleeves almost instantly, despite the fact that it drew similarity to the Red Wings’ white jersey (my all-time favorite). I wanted to use all four colors in the team’s description, but the gold was so close to red/brown that I had to isolate it on white or black.
I had a major problem right from the start with designing an ’80s jersey. My guess was that the Griffins wanted a unique design, but ’80s hockey jerseys are pretty conservative. A lot of the elements in those jerseys can be found in the ’60s, modern times, and probably well into the future. So I googled ’80s jerseys and tried to find elements from any sports that were unique to that decade. I ended up a Phillies-style wordmark that seemed like a good fit, so I had a look at past winners of the competition and saw some of them had wordmark logos too, so I was all set there. In the vein of keeping it simple ’80s style, I kept the striping minimal and didn’t use cuffs, a hem stripe or a yoke.
The G-Wing logo was basically a way for me to get the Red Wings logo on the left side, where it would face front, as it looks to me anyway. I took the shading in the wheel and applied it to the G as a nod to the parent club. The wings were done as retro as I could make them, they almost look art-deco to me. The G-Wing was originally red with gold feathers (pictured above), but seemed inconsistent with the rest of the jersey that way. The font, Typographica, is one I used on my only other contest-winning jersey design, the Florida Flamingos of the IceHL (logos by Colin Magee).
I proofed each draft of the design on my phone to make sure little details weren’t getting lost. Sent it to a couple of friends for critique and everything came back positive. But once all of the designs were revealed, I thought for sure Will Sinnott was going to win. His entry is the benchmark of what proper research on a project looks like. I was just hoping maybe they were picking two winners, and even then things seemed very much up in the air. There were a lot of great designs to choose from.
UW: Wow. That’s impressive. So, take me from finding you won our contest through working with the Griffins on the design to the night your design was actually worn on the ice. Must have been a blast!
JE: August 25th, 2017 … Waiting with my kids at their bus stop. I check my phone and see the story has popped on Uni-Watch. I can barely look, peeking down and sideways. My son asks me what I’m doing, I tell him “just Daddy being a weirdo”. He’s not surprised, he knows I’m checking the contest. I squint and see my name, and I’m like “We won boys!” I give out some high-fives, but I still can’t believe it. For all the years I’ve been doing concepts, I never thought one would get made into a real jersey.
UW: That must have been a pretty surreal moment. OK, what next?
JE: Shortly after, Marissa Malson [the Griffins’ Director of Digital Marketing — PH] contacts me. She offered me tickets for the whole family, but my wife had a work commitment, so I went solo.
JE: Fast forward to January 12th, and I’m driving through Ohio just as the blizzard is starting to hit. Got really lucky I didn’t leave later. After a 10-hour trip, I pull into Grand Rapids and grab a couple of slices of pizza from Lucky Luciano’s. If you’re ever there, I highly recommend it.
Next thing I know, I’m going into the Van Andel Arena through the back like Goodfellas, and Marissa meets me and gives me my jersey. It looks awesome! I’ve always loved CCM jerseys. And the gold on the actual jersey looks lighter and really pops. We go out to center ice for pictures, and I manage not to fall on my face, thus conquering the stupidest legit fear I’ve ever had.
UW: Sweet. Looks a bit “snug.” Nah, it looks great. OK, what next?
JE: I get an arena tour (it’s NICE), then go out to the penalty box to watch warm-ups.
UW: OK, so the game starts and you’re watching all these guys playing in jerseys you designed. That’s gotta be amazing. Since it was a fauxback design and night, did the Griffins play it up as such?
JE: I take my seat and the game begins. I’m trying not to critique my design, and just enjoy myself. ’80s ads (including the Where’s the Beef lady) and shows are being played on the jumbo, and ’80s tunes are being played at every stoppage.
JE: The whole evening was really well put-together by the Griffins.
UW: How’d the game go?
JE: After two periods, the Griffins are playing well. One of the other 12 finalists, Jordan Santalucia [here’s his contest submission –PH], comes up to congratulate me, which blew my mind because I didn’t think anyone would be interested I was there. We ended up talking through the whole second intermission about concepts and such. He’s still in school, so I urged him to start working on a ton of concepts now, so he can learn the things I’m just learning now at 38, like how the vertical seam is supposed to stop at the hem stripe. And pay attention in figure drawing class. I still can’t draw a thumb right.
UW: How’d your design look on the ice?
JE: See for yourself!
UW: Damn, that looks good. What happened next?
JE: Before I knew it the game was over, with the Griffins pulling out a 4-2 victory over the Monsters. I stayed for the jersey auction, thinking these would go for a couple hundred bucks or so. But the guy next to me is confident they’ll go for more. The first jersey went for $1,100! There was some serious money being dished out for the Griffins Youth Foundation, which made me really happy. A husband and wife paid $1400 and $1300 for their jerseys, shortly after Svechnikov’s goes for $2000!!! Even the mascot’s goes for $500 to the aforementioned guy next to me. The decision to make the jersey red was also made in part due to the fact they didn’t have a red jersey, and maybe they could keep it as a third. I didn’t know at the time they were going to auction them off.
UW: That’s fantastic! A great night and a good cause too.
JE: I hated to leave, but I don’t think the Griffins were going to let me live at the arena for a few days, so I head back home. I couldn’t wait to get home and show everybody the jersey!
UW: Beautiful. Anything else?
JE: Yes. A couple videos. Check out this 80s style preview:
Here’s a video that they played on the jumbo LOL. “Griff Roll – Never Gonna Give You Up”
And finally, here’s some video of the unis in action!
UW: Awesome, John, truly awesome! Glad you enjoyed it. Any final thoughts?
JE: I don’t know if I’ll ever have an experience like that again, but I strongly urge all of the concept artists and hockey fans out there to go for it again and again. I’ve lost my fair share of design contests and I know it feels crummy, but when you finally pull it off, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
Thanks again to the Griffins, Marissa Malson, Phil Hecken and Uni-Watch for making all of this possible. Can’t wait to see what the entries look like this summer!
And there you have it. An experience of a lifetime — all made possible by Marissa, the Griffins, and their desire to work with me on their fauxback design contest all the way back in August. Thanks, John, for sharing this with the readership!
By Anthony Emerson
Baseball News: Here’s a look at the University of Cincinnati’s new pullover jerseys. Love those sleeve stripes! (from @markomlor). … Cameron Ilich sends along this awesome poster for a Fall Out Boy, Rise Against and MGK concert at Wrigley Field. … @BSmile tweeted this awesome mid-century Busch Stadium popcorn holder. Anyone ever see that pitching Cardinal logo before? … So this is new: a Wisconsin, Brewers-branded vanity license plate that has been personalized with “PADRES”. I wonder how many Brewers and Padres fans there are? (From Dylan Buell).
NFL News: Ever notice that Tom Brady’s old-school Riddell helmet has a ridge down the middle? Brian Spiess thinks it’s meant to help make a helmet stripe more prominent. Brian also found an article from 2012 which outlines Brady changing his helmet to one without the ridge. Brady appears to have changed back in the interim. Only a small handful of NFL vets (including Philip Rivers, Adrian Peterson and Drew Brees) still wear this style of helmet. Excellent work, Brian. … An actor was wearing Rams headphones in DEVO’s 1980 music video for “Freedom of Choice” (from Jeano Roid). … “You’d think they’d get this right,” says Joseph Bailey. “I was looking through the NFLSHOP website. The Browns were founded in 1946, not 1940.”
College/High School Football News: Team Canada beat USA Under 18s in International Bowl IX on Thursday, and the Canadians went BFBS in the game. The MVP also gets a title belt — pretty cool! (From Wade Heidt).
Hockey News: As news picks up about a potential NHL franchise in Seattle, the group redeveloping Key Arena has registered internet domain names for team names, from the boring (Cougars, Eagles) to the extreme (Evergreens, Kraken). Sadly, no “Metropolitans” (from our own Brinke Guthrie). … This is so neat: Kevin Vautour discovered that in 1942, and Habs goalie Paul Bibeault wore a Red Wings sweater against the Bruins at Boston Garden, because the sweater of forward Tony Grabowski was lost between Detroit and Boston. Excellent, excellent, excellent find. … The Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL are wearing “Olympics-inspired” jerseys on January 27 (from @themeebs). Yes, that is vertical writing on each sleeve. … Speaking of the AHL, their All-Star Game jerseys were released yesterday. Some beautiful simplicity there (from Adam Hainsfurther and Wade Heidt). … And speaking of All-Star Games, the National Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game jerseys have been released, with the NOB below the jersey number (from Darian Somers). … The Tulsa Oilers of the ECHL are going pink for breast cancer awareness tonight (from Mike Iles). … Speaking of pink, the Rockford IceHogs are wearing pink Rockford Peaches (from A League of Their Own) sweaters tonight (from @mybees). … Two WHL goalies — Stuart Skinner and Logan Flodel — were traded for each other last month, and both are still using their old pads. Here’s the Swift Current Broncos’ goalie Skinner wearing his old Lethbridge Hurricanes mask and pads, and here’s Lethbridge’s Flodel wearing his old Swift Current gear (from Wade Heidt). … 18-year-old Uni Watcher Noah Resnicow launched a website detailing the uni history of the University of Michigan’s ice hockey team. He only has the 1990s through the present day, but Noah literally launched this site last night. … The Connecticut government is launching a Hartford Whalers specialty license plate (from @mike3783).
NBA News: The Hawks will be wearing these gorgeous 1972 throwbacks tonight as part of an alumni night. … The Celtics added a black memorial band to their jerseys in honor of Jo Jo White, who passed away on January 16. It seems higher than last year’s memorial band for Isaiah Thomas’ sister. Either the new cut of the Nike jerseys or the addition of the GE ad patch seems to have moved it up.
Soccer News: DC United launched their new home kits yesterday. It includes the coordinates for Buzzard’s Point, the neighborhood in Washington where DCU’s new stadium (and Nationals Park) is located. More photos here (thanks to Kim Kolb, Ed Kalas, John Muir and everyone else who sent this along). … Every year, MLS photographs every team’s manager wearing the team’s scarf. This year, all scarves are on the same template, except for the newest club LAFC (from @nordeckian). … I feel like we’ve covered this before, but just in case: The Carolina Dynamo of the Premier Development League uses a poorly-photoshopped version of the Nottingham Forest crest as their own (from Tyler Johnson).
Grab Bag: John Chapman visited the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum and the Michigan Firehouse Museum in Ypsilanti, MI and sent along these photos of old union campaign buttons and fire department patches. Some really gorgeous stuff in there, much appreciated John! … Kiki Bertens wore a Fox Sports ad patch on her right chest during the Australian Open, which is being broadcast on the ESPN family of networks (from Clay Bess). … New helmets for Temple women’s lacrosse (from @egghead302). … The City of Los Angeles is looking for a new graphic designer, and jokingly posted this amateurish ad for the position on Twitter (from @GKG_77). … Alaska Airlines has released their new crew uniforms (from Tim Dunn). … “This article features the uniform US Olympic Medal Winners will wear during medal ceremonies,” says Mark Rybczyk. “The Nike’s look pretty interesting.”