By now we all know the basics of how Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard was afraid that the NHL’s then-new rule requiring NOBs would result in decreased scorecard sales, so he “complied” with the rule by putting blue NOB lettering on the team’s blue road jerseys. (This was when NHL teams still wore white at home and colors on the road.) Over time, the folklore of this story has often eclipsed the reality, so here’s a quick recap of what actually happened, just to refresh your memory:
- The Leafs wore the blue-on-blue NOBs for just two 1978 road games — Feb. 26 in Chicago and Feb. 28 against the Islanders — not for the full season.
- After being threatened with a hefty fine, Ballard gave in and switched to white lettering on the blue jerseys.
- Ballard’s stunt and his capitulation both happened during a Leafs road trip, so the team never wore white-on-white NOBs for a home game.
- The best (and maybe only?) photo I’ve ever seen of the blue/blue NOBs is the AP shot of Leafs defenseman Borje Salming shown at the top of this post. It was taken during the Feb. 26 game in Chicago and appeared in many newspapers the following day. It has also appeared previously on Uni Watch and lots of other websites.
- Amazingly, about 12 minutes’ worth of highlights from the Feb. 28 game against the Islanders are available on YouTube. As you’d expect, the image quality isn’t ideal, so it’s hard to make out the blue/blue NOBs (which was the whole idea, of course), but there are a few junctures where you can sort of get a sense that there’s some sort of nameplate above the number:
- No game-used jerseys with the blue/blue NOBs have ever turned up, which makes sense because the notoriously stingy Ballard presumably had the blue/blue nameplates removed and replaced by white-lettered plates.
- The blue/blue nameplates were presumably discarded after they were removed, because none of them has ever surfaced … until now:
Pretty cool, right? Those two nameplates, originally worn by Leafs right wing Alain Belanger and center Jimmy Jones, are in the collection of a guy named Todd Bargman, who maintains a website called Game Used Only. I spoke with him yesterday about how he came to acquire these rare pieces of NHL uni history. Here’s a partial transcript of our chat, edited for length and clarity.
Uni Watch: How did you end up with so much game-used gear?
Todd Bargman: I’ve been collecting since I was nine years old. I grew up in Toronto, across the street from the rink where the Leafs practiced and held training camps, so I became friends with a guy named Curly Davies, who used to run the rink. He was a pretty hardline rules guy, but after I broke him down he allowed me to come in and collect all the pucks and broken sticks after practices. And then when the Blue Jays came to town, I started to do that as well — like, cracked bats and and balls and stuff like that.
People thought I was a little crazy for collecting this stuff, because it was considered to be worthless back then, but it was cool. I mean, the players’ names were on the bats and the sticks. When I saw that, I was like, “This is awesome. I have to have one of those.”
UW: How did you acquire the blue-on-blue nameplates?
TB: About 10 years ago, through a friend of mine, I met a guy named Nino. He had worked at the shop that did the cresting for the Leafs and also for the Toronto Argonauts. He said he went in there one day and he saw them taking off these nameplates, and he asked them what they were doing with them. They said they were throwing them out, so he took the last two that were left. So I think these are probably the only two that exist.
UW: So did you buy them from Nino?
TB: Nino had a bunch of game-used jerseys that I sold for him, so he gave the plates to me.
UW: Because you helped him out?
TB: Yes. I don’t even have the Belanger one anymore — I traded it.
UW: Wow — whatever you got back it must have been special, since you gave up such a rare item.
TB: It was a trade with a guy who has a good collection and has done a lot of business with me. I like everybody to have a little piece of something. There’s so much stuff going on — I didn’t need to have both of the plates. If I didn’t have two, I wouldn’t have done it, but you can’t be greedy in this type of hobby. Everything has to be shared for everybody to enjoy.
UW: In the photos, it looks like the letters are different shades of blue. Is that just the lighting, or did some of them fade over the years, or what?
TB: That’s how they really look. I think they just used whatever lettering they had on hand, probably pulled off of other jerseys, whether they matched or not.
UW: So you’re saying that the different shades of blue are the result of a haphazard arrangement of of scrap letters from wherever they could get them?
TB: Exactly. Typical Ballard stuff, there’s no question about it.
Faaaascinating. Huge thanks to Todd for sharing his story with us. You can explore his website, which full of all sorts of interesting stuff (some of it available for sale), here. It includes a page for the Belanger nameplate, and he plans to add one for the Jones nameplate later today.