Good Sunday morning all. Hope everyone had a good Saturday and our friends up north enjoyed a Happy Canada Day.
A couple months ago, I introduced a new series, created by none other than UW friend and contributor (and Ticker-submitter extraordinaire!) Kary Klismet, which we’re be calling “Dressed for the Season.” We began with Easter, and today we’ll look at American Independence Day.
Kary’s brainchild went like this: “I recently had the idea to do a series on uniforms appropriate for particular holidays, called something like ‘Dressed for the Season.’ The pieces would likely be in the format of a top ten list (perhaps with a few honorable mentions) [and] I’m thinking of additional pieces in the series for the 4th of July, Halloween (focusing on scary uniforms more than orange and black), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and possibly into next year with Valentine’s Day.”
With that, let me turn this over to Kary as he brings you…
by Kary Klismet
Our second edition of Dressed for the Season looks at that most American of holidays – Independence Day. With so many teams that wear the red, white, and blue of the United States flag, there was an abundance of teams to consider for this ranking of the top twelve teams whose uniforms most effectively capture that spirit of America and pride in our country that, for many of us, peaks on the 4th of July. Because of that, it was not an easy list to choose, and plenty of very patriotic uniforms just missed the cut.
Much like the Easter edition of this series, I adhered to some specific criteria in making my selections. For starters, there were no hard requirements as to colors, but because our society so closely associates the date we celebrate the nation’s birthday with the colors of our flag, if the uniform didn’t include all three of the obligatory red, white and blue, its chances of making this list were negligible. Put simply, only the uniforms that might have won the “most patriotic” prize if worn to a rousing 4th of July backyard barbecue were in the running to make this list.
My strictest rule, however, was that all the uniforms had to be a team’s regular, standard garb. No specialty or alternate uniforms were eligible, especially if they were obviously conceived of as merch dumps or were the type of design that Uni Watch has long considered “pandering.” So you won’t see any MLB 4th of July caps, stars-and-stripes laden football helmets, or tacky minor league one-offs here (other than, you know, the ones I just used as examples).
And finally, only one entry per team or program. We don’t want certain clubs with seasonally appropriate color schemes to dominate these rankings.
Now that those ground rules are out of the way, here are my picks for the twelve most “American” of all sports uniforms:
When your team is called the “Patriots” and you sport a classic red, white, and blue color scheme, you’re almost entitled to a spot in rankings like these. New England’s classic “Pat Patriot” uniforms were an easy choice over any iteration of the team’s “Flying Elvis” threads. The overreliance on silver/grey in the latter just muddles the “all-American-ness” of the look.
Of all the slight variations to the “Pat Patriot” unis, the prominent UCLA stripes on the ones worn from 1984 to 1992 provided the best balance to the red/white/blue color scheme. And although this may be controversial with Patriots die-hards, I prefer the way the red facemask, worn during two dismal seasons on the field from 1991-92, makes the rest of the helmet design pop compared to the white facemask worn previously.
The Sixers, with their name alluding to the nation’s very founding, are another team that seemed almost compulsory to include on this list. They’ve had several uniforms that play upon the patriotic theme of their name, some more successful than others. For my money, though, none have been better than the simplicity of the road uniforms worn for the 1965-66 season.
The different-colored jerseys and shorts provided equal pops of the red and blue you’d expect from a quintessentially American color scheme, while the wide waistband and lettering injected the right amount of white. And the detail that puts these over the top is the logo on the sides of the shorts, which evokes the Bennington Flag (aka “Spirit of ‘76 Flag”) made famous during the American Revolution.
Of all the sports teams that call our nation’s capital home, none does a better job of conjuring a patriotic feel to their identity than the Washington Capitals. And among the Capitals’ various ensembles, their home uniforms from 1974-95, with an abundance of stars all over the jerseys, pledge their allegiance to the American flag the most boldly.
For a sport that bills itself as “America’s pastime,” remarkably only one baseball team cracked this list – and it’s one I knew virtually nothing about before I began my research for this project. But after scouring the internet for images of baseball clubs with uniforms that felt sufficiently patriotic, I found a dearth of good examples. Even the U.S. national team uniforms all felt just a little too generic or a little too contrived.
The one uniform that stood out as organically and quintessentially “American” was this beauty from the early days of professional baseball worn by the Union Base Ball Club of Lansingburgh, New York. The gorgeous shield on the jerseys – inspired by the Union Shield at the center of the Great Seal of the United States – puts these in a class by themselves.
Sadly, no color images of these unis exist. Thankfully, however, two stalwarts of the comm-uni-ty – Craig Brown, who runs the exceptional “Threads of Our Game” website, and Graig Kreindler, historical baseball painter extraordinaire – have given us their expert takes on what the Union club may have looked like in all their full-color glory.
A team called the Nets has no business upstaging the likes of the Patriots and the 76ers in the rankings for the most patriotic uniforms, does it? Well, that’s just what the New York Nets did by introducing their memorable stars-and-stripes duds during their American Basketball Association heyday in the early ‘70s.
The look was so timeless that they wore it all the way to 1990, spanning moves across leagues (the ABA to the NBA) and the New York metro area (Long Island to the New Jersey suburbs). Switch out “Nets” for “USA,” and you could make an argument that these would have been the best uniforms that the U.S. national team would have ever worn. A true American classic, the Nets have never looked better than when they wore this uniform.
The jersey sublimation craze of the 1990s arrived just in time to help outfit the U.S. Men’s National Team for the 1994 World Cup in the loudest, most unabashedly American uniforms they’ve worn before or since. Was the denim effect on the star-adorned blue jerseys an irreverent, Grunge-inspired nod to members of Generation X who made up the bulk of the team and the sport’s emerging fanbase in the country? Perhaps. But by paying homage to the nation’s status as the birthplace of blue jeans, it just added to the kit’s Americana allure.
After decades of being overshadowed by the Soviet Union and Romania’s stranglehold on the sport, Mary Lou Retton almost single-handedly put the U.S. women’s gymnastics team back on the map with her gold medal in the individual all-around competition at the 1984 Summer Olympics. And she was resplendent while doing it, wearing a leotard that resembled an American flag stretching diagonally across her frame. It was a look that sold millions of boxes of Wheaties (several of which I recall making their way to my household when I was a kid).
While New York has a current hockey team that’s no slouch in dialing up the patriotic imagery as part of its visual identity, a rival to the Rangers in the NHL – the erstwhile New York Americans – had a look so well-suited to their name that not even the Blue Shirts could top it. Featuring a virtual explosion of stars and stripes across the sweater, there was no mistaking which country the Americans called home.
The United States Women’s National Team’s unparalleled success on the international stage has elevated several of their uniforms to prominence among soccer fans. The most “American” of them all, in my opinion – and arguably the best-looking uniform a U.S. soccer team has ever worn – is the 2012 “Waldo” uniforms (so nicknamed, of course, because of the red and white hoops’ resemblance to the shirt worn by the popular children’s book character). Several pundits have called for U.S. Soccer to adopt a version of these as the national teams’ permanent uniforms, which strikes me as a great idea to give them a more cohesive – and instantly recognizable – identity.
The uniform itself is fine if unspectacular. It has the requisite red, white, and blue color scheme and one elaborate star incorporated into the chest lettering to give it a hint of American symbolism. But the cultural significance of this uniform gives it gravitas far beyond its otherwise understated design.
Four years after the last team of American amateurs lost out on the gold medal in men’s basketball to the Soviet Union, USA Basketball assembled the greatest collection of NBA talent ever seen into the 1992 Dream Team. The team’s exploits – and domination of its competition – are now legendary, as is the uniform. Whenever discussions come up of the greatest teams to represent the U.S., images of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, et al. in these duds are sure to follow.
Having spent nearly a century touring as an exhibition basketball team and entertainment draw, the Harlem Globetrotters are an established institution as ambassadors of American culture. And the team’s uniforms, with their red and white striped shorts and star-festooned blue jerseys, are perfectly befitting of that role.
The yellow trim on the jersey deviates slightly from the strict tri-color scheme of most of the uniforms on this list. But for me, it just adds extra embellishment, like the fancy fringe you see on some flags in courtrooms or other government buildings.
No moment in American sports history has captured the imagination of an entire nation like the U.S. hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union (and subsequent victory over Finland to capture the gold medal) at the 1980 Winter Olympics. At an international and economic low point for the nation, the hockey team’s out-of-nowhere success gave Americans a psychological boost that still resonates today.
Fittingly, the team’s uniforms have achieved iconic status in a way that few have. Other uniforms in the hockey team’s history have had more “rah rah, America!” bells and whistles (like these stunners worn for the 1976 Canada Cup, for which I admittedly have a soft spot). But as with the 1992 Dream Team’s uniforms, context matters. And as a testament to our national resilience and determination, the 1980 U.S. hockey outfits have stood the test of time as the most “American” of all uniforms.