[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry from longtime reader Eric Bangeman, who’s going to tell us about some childhood uni ephemera he recently rediscovered. Enjoy. — PL]
By Eric Bangeman
Like most of us here at Uni Watch, I developed an obsession with uniforms and logos at an early age. When I was growing up in Aurora, Colo., my favorite sport was football, so I’d create imaginary football leagues, stock them with teams, and design uniforms and logos for them. Here’s an early example:
I also had a Tudor electric football game, and I loved painting uniforms on the little red (or yellow) plastic players, which was cheaper than buying the official team sets.
In the early ’80s, when I was 12 or 13, I played for a youth league team called the Cardinals. Each team would receive a plain white helmet, white pants, and pads. We were then sent to the local sporting goods store to buy our jerseys. Curiously, the league decided that the Cardinals should dress like the Houston Oilers, so my mom bought a polyester jersey and had my last name and desired number heat-pressed onto it:
As a young sports aesthete, I found the plain white helmet profoundly disappointing, so I decided to give it a paint job. I was recently visiting my folks and found the helmet in a box of childhood artifacts:
For the cardinal’s head, I used the same paint I used for my electric football players and model airplanes. I don’t remember if I was looking at a picture of a Cardinals helmet when I did it, but I do know that I did it freehand.
After finishing the sides, I decided it could be improved with some stripes:
You’ll notice I also painted my number on the front, Steelers-style (plus there’s a bonus “76,” much smaller, near the base of the center stripe). You can also see the last few letters of my surname across the stripes above the numbers. That came from a sheet of rub-on transfer letters and was protected by a piece of Scotch tape.
Of course, I also needed to have my number on the back of the helmet, so I painted that on as well — in red, for some reason:
My teammates thought my painted helmet was pretty cool. So by the time of our first game, about half of the team had painted cardinals on their helmets. That was fun, but the inconsistency between the helmets bothered me. It was bad enough that not everyone had the exact same jersey (a few of my teammates had mesh, tearaway-style jerseys with slightly different sleeve striping). I remember being angry at one of my teammates who gave his cardinal fangs, which I found offensive on several levels. I also recall being irritated because one of my teammates who played guard chose to wear 34 instead of something between 50 and 79.
Being the only team in the league with hand-painted logos didn’t help us on the field. I think we might have won one game that season. But it was fun wearing a uniform that I helped design.
Paul here. Great stuff from Eric! I love how he took it upon himself to become an early DIYer. Also love hearing how he was annoyed by his team’s non-uniformity. Clearly, Getting It™ can sometimes be a mixed blessing.
Does anyone else have childhood stories of being bugged by uni issues on their youth teams? Feel free to post them in today’s comments.
Great story today! I converted an old Steelers helmet into one worn by my high school (think LT-era with GIANTS written out, substitute black for blue and DAWGS for GIANTS and you’ve got what I did) to make a Halloween costume for my mom (who taught at a rival high school one town over; we were playing them the following Saturday morning). I wish I could find pictures.
Great piece Eric! Reminds me how when I became a Steeler fan in 1975, I converted an old Jet helmet into a Steeler helmet. I painted it black and used yellow tape my mom somehow had in a drawer for the stripe. I made the logo by hand on paper and covered it in clear tape. For numbers, I used wite-out and drew 32 front and back, RIP Franco. One year, I watched a pre-season game and the front number was missing, so I removed it somehow. Once the season started, as per Steeler tradition, they applied the front numbers, so I had to draw it back on! Wish we had Uni Watch back then, so I would have known about that!
Fun memories Eric! That’s awesome your teammates followed your lead and painted theirs as well. The differences would have driven me crazy too!
My Little League team was the Reds, but the league decided to outfit us in nice royal blue caps, shirts and stirrups. I have no idea.
That would bother me to this day!!
My first little league team was also the Cardinals. Which meant we wore… purple or course. My youth football team was the Vikings. We had people of course for that as well, but since of us had white helmets, some had purple; some had a logo decal, v others didn’t. And then there was the year we were mono-purple. Awful.
Subtle but important upgrade to the USA Hockey home sweater. Whereas they had white numbers on the back during the Olympics and World Championships, the World Junior team has red numbers on back (RNOB).
Cool helmet, Eric! You did a great job for it being hand painted. It’s stranger that they decided to name your team the Cardinals and then have Oilers colors.
When I was 10 and 11, I played on a 12u baseball team that my uncle coached. He got us uniforms paid for by his company: red vests with black undershirts, gray pants with red pinstripes, red socks, and gray hats with red brims and squatchees. They were great, because every other uniform from our town was navy and gold and almost every other team in the county was some combination of red, white, and blue (that has changed some in the last decade). I always wanted us to play a game in just black shirseys, or wear black belts and socks on the road, or get grey pinstriped vests to match the pants as an alternate look. I even modified some t-shirts and got Cincinnati Reds gear from Walmart (we’re near Cleveland) to wear for practices and on the bench. No one else on the team Got It, but at least we all went high-cuffed because pajama pants were still a few years from becoming a thing.
When I played football in high school, we were the Cardinals. White helmets, red face masks. We had the real thick helmet decal that the NFL team had. We also had stripes down the middle, red in the middle and a black one on each side of the red. I always thought it would have looked great on the NFL Cardinals. That was fall of 1982. Pretty cool that your parents still have your old helmet. One thing, when we changed the teams on our helmets back then, we used to use contact paper. Sometimes you could get it to smooth out by using a hairdryer to heat it up a little.
Thank you, Eric! This piece brought on a flood of memories. Back in the late seventies, when I was about 10 and my brother was 7, my parents got us complete football uniforms. I got the Jets because of Joe Namath’s appearance on The Brady Bunch, and my brother got the Packers. We live in north/central Wisconsin, so Packer country, but I recall he was not happy with it. It was really cool and from that point on, I was all in on uniforms.
The little league teams I played for were in a section of our town known as “Carbon” (I think “census designated place” is the official way to describe it, ie, a portion of an actual town or city that has a recognized name, but no actual governing body). Anyhow, one year we decided that our team name would be “Dioxide” (this was around 1990 or 91, so we were on the cutting edge of team names not ending in “S”!). The caps we were issued were yellow foam trucker style hats, with a green “C” on them. We all took green markers, and added an “O” with a subscript 2 to our hats! Another, more sanctioned DIY uniform mod happened on my middle school football team. My district had 3 middle schools, so to simplify ordering, and presumably save money too, all 3 middle schools got the generic white helmets with gray face masks. For a little differentiation though, each school had a different colored center stripe: Red for the school whose colors were red and white, blue for the blue and white school, and gold for my school, which was blue and gold. To jazz things up a little (and also get both of our colors onto the helmets), our coach got a bunch of blue electrical tape, and added blue flanking stripes to the gold center stripe on our helmets. I remember even then thinking about what a great touch that was. Even though coach was (and probably still is) a no-nonsense kind of guy, he clearly “Got It”.
Love these stories! Joe, if you have any photos of the Carbon Dioxide caps, please feel free to share them!
My older brother played on a youth football team called the Bulldogs. They had plain white helmets, but one of the kids got his hands on some Mack Truck stickers that had their bulldog logo, and slapped them on the sides of his helmet.
So fun! I also loved making up teams. I drew up new ballclubs for Indianapolis and Portland as a kid since I figured those were decently sized cities without MLB (Portland’s was the Lynx. I forget Indy).
Unfortunately, other images of the Chargers from last night ain’t that great, as there were a number of players who eschewed the awesomeness of the Yellow/Blue/White pants/sox/sox
and went for pure white
or (almost) pure blue
Although the last image gets some extra credit for the yellow shoes…
Cool story, Eric! Thanks for sharing.
I applaud the decision of your league to dress your Cardinals in Oilers colors…’powder’ blue and red worked well for the baseball Cardinals of that era, so why not suit up a football squad in a similar way?
Your DIY paint job on the helmet is great and, like the design used by the NFL Cardinals, I love that the rear feathers on the logo can be seen from the back.
My middle school football team was the Hurricanes but we were red and white. First season our jerseys were crimson red so the coaches painted our helmets to match and put numbers on the side just like Alabama. The second season we were ice white from head to toe but the red was Wisconsin red and we had 2 stripes on the helmet just like them. The third season we also looked like Wisconsin but in their red jerseys. I still have my helmet too.
Cool story! I love how you started the trend with your teammates. I would’ve been hacked as well. My high school team had jerseys with banded sleeves. At the time I favored a Ken Stabler-type look, so I tucked the bands under and wore white sleeves underneath, like the Snake. Before a game a senior thought my fine-tuned look was a mistake on my part, and took it upon himself to untuck the bands. In 8th grade I played on the rec team named the Browns. Of course we wore blue jerseys. I took my blue striped baseball stirrups and wore them under my white socks, like they did back in the NFL. I could go on and on with similar stories. Good stuff!
When I was about 10 or so I played on a travel ball team called the Braves. The uniforms were ordered from baseball express, navy t-shirts just like Atlanta with the number on the back. Since our hometown didn’t start with an “A” our coach ordered Red Sox hats for us to wear. Really bothered me at the time.
Then a few years later, I was playing with a summer league team in town that started with a T. Blue Jays shirts with a red Rangers hat.
My high school soccer team won two New York State championships. Half the guys had jerseys with V necks, while the other half had ugly lace collars. Drove me crazy back then and still would today.
I never felt appalled by my teammates wearing something different than me or anybody else. I played basketball from the age of 12 for a club team (we do not have school or little league teams in the Netherlands, we have club teams with age brackets running from 6 or 8 year olds to seniors and recreational teams in organized sports) called the Sea Devils. We were supposed to wear the same yellow shirts and black shorts but due to stuff not being available we had a bunch of different models, number fonts, shades and even yellow or white shorts running around at the same time. Our sock game was a rainbow of colors. Having your name on your back was seen as boastful and it was totally discouraged. It bothered nobody, This was 1979. I am sure this chaos would drive some of you crazy!
The closest thing I had happen that relates to this was when I was about 14 and in a youth soccer league. The coach handed out uniforms and there were two tops that were blank, no number. I was mad that I was handed a blank and told to go get a number from the local sporting good store. I decided to thumb my nose at the procedure by securing number 0. What started out as my little protest turned into the greatest feeling and I used 0 as much as I could in soccer and baseball going forward. This was in the 80s when 0 was a pretty rare thing in any pro sport, unlike today.