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Best of UW: Dressed for the Season: Independence Day

Happy Independence Day everyone!

Last year, Kary helped introduce the “Dressed for the Season” series, and the article below was his edition for American Independence Day. Like all of Kary’s entries in this series, this was outstanding. I’m republishing it here for you as it’s a perfect article for the Fourth of July.

If you’d like to see the other “DFTS” article in this series, check out Easter, Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas (Part I and Part II), Valentine’s Day, and finally, St. Paddy’s Day.

With that, let me turn this over to Kary as he brings you…

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Dressed for the Season: Independence Day
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:

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12. New England Patriots — 1984-92 Home 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.

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11. Philadelphia 76ers — 1965-66 Road Uniforms

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.

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10. Washington Capitals — 1974-95 Home Uniforms

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.

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9. Union Base Ball Club Lansingburgh (aka Troy Haymakers) — 1866

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.

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8. New York/New Jersey Nets — 1972-90 Home Uniforms

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.

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7. United States Men’s National Soccer Team — 1994 Second Kits

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.

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6. United States Women’s Gymnastics Team — 1984 Olympic Uniforms

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).

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5. New York Americans — 1930-38 Home Uniforms

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.

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4. United States Women’s National Soccer Team — 2012 Home Kits

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.

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3. United States Men’s Olympic Basketball Team — 1992 Home Uniforms

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.

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2. Harlem Globetrotters — 1970/80s Primary Uniforms

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.

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1. United States Men’s Olympic Hockey Team — 1980 Home Uniforms

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.

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So that wraps up our second installment of Dressed for the Season! Do you agree with my choices? Take exception to any of the teams included – or to any glaring omissions? Let me know in the comments. And happy Independence Day to you all!

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Thanks, Kary! Please let Kary know what you think down in the comments below, or let him know if you think any particular uniforms might have been overlooked.

Have a Happy 4th Everyone!

 
  
 
Comments (35)

    I expected to see a picture of Wes Unseld or Elvin Hayes in today’s feature. The NBA was all in on flags.

    It’s an admitted oversight on my part to have left out those great Washington Bullets uniforms from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was still committed to a strict 12-entry limit for these lists at this stage of the series’ development before loosening those rules considerably as it continued.

    The Bullets were among the teams I considered and would have likely made the 13th spot (perhaps a nod to the 13 Colonies) if I’d expanded beyond 12 teams. And, for whatever it’s worth, they’re still on my radar for future story ideas. Those uniforms definitely deserve a turn in the spotlight.

    Thanks, Ingmar! I’ll raise a glass to you and your Dutch compatriots on this day when we should all feel free air our one-time grievances against the Brits! :^)

    I agree with Walter. I was hoping to see the Bullets unis from 1973-1981 represented somewhere in the list. Regardless, Happy 4th of July to all – let freedom ring!

    Happy Independence Day, Uni Watch!
    That iteration of the Pat Patriot uniform is my favorite…should have made the top 5 (swap places with the Dream Team?).
    I’ll add an honorable mention to Kenny Schrader’s flag scheme from the 2001 Fall Race at Dover…back when they had 2 dates there:
    link

    As much as I loved that version of Pat, I wish the colors were reversed. That would be even more spectacular.

    Someone with better Photoshop skills than I needs to mock that up! I have a feeling it would look spectacular. While I think predominantly red uniforms with blue and white trim can still convery a sense of “American-ness,” it does seem like leaning more heavily on the navy blue feels a little more “patriotic” for some reason.

    The look was so timeless that they wore it all the way to 1990
    Let’s not forget the early 80s, when the Nets went script for a couple of seasons.
    link
    I loved that road jersey.

    Larry Brown hated the stars-and-stripe unis and had them changed when he took over as coach in ’81. As soon as he left the team they changed them back.

    Great in-depth uni analysis from you both! I would still say that my statement that the Nets wore these uniforms until 1990 is accurate in that they did wear them up until that year before discontinuing them permanently as their primary uniforms.

    But that’s not to give short shrift to those cursive sets from the Larry Brown era, which are lovely in their own right if not as grand (in my opinion) as the Nets’ stars-and-stripes beauties. I simply didn’t mention those script unis because they didn’t make the list and didn’t really fit the narrative.

    I know it’s a movie character, but I would’ve loved to see Apollo creed in here

    That is a great pear of boxing trunks, to be sure! I’ve typically limited my selections to “real” teams or individuals, but you make a good case for their inclusion. If I ever do an update to these rankings, I’ll keep them in mind.

    Happy Fourth, everyone! It was a pleasant surprise to log onto Uni Watch today and see my story from last year featured prominently once again. Thanks, Phil!

    It looks like some of the hyperlinks have gone stale since last year. Here are a couple replacement links for those that don’t work anymore and that I still remember what they pointed to. Both of these are in the 1980 Team USA Hockey section:

    “Other uniforms in the hockey team’s history have had more ‘rah rah, America!’ bells and whistles (like these stunners (link) worn for the 1976 Canada Cup (link), for which I admittedly have a soft spot).”

    “And as a testament to our national resilience and determination, the 1980 U.S. hockey outfits (link) have stood the test of time as the most “American” of all uniforms.”

    I think that’s it. If anyone spots any other broken or rotted links, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to find replacements. Happy Independence Day once again, everyone!

    Great list! I don’t know that I’d take exception with any of them, per se, but one I’d include (assuming minor league teams are in play) is the Rochester Americans. Their regular set is timeless, classic, and patriotic without being at all gaudy.

    link

    Their throwback/alternate “candy striped” sweaters, which were the de facto regular sweaters when they won the Cup in 1996, are even better. If I remember right, they were supposed to be an alternate that year, but the team played so well in them, they kept them full-time. It was akin to the the 49ers in 1994.

    link

    The one glaring mistake contained within the list that I noticed (not the list-maker’s fault) is the American flag in the picture if the Dream Team. It’s hung incorrectly. When displayed vertically, the union should be in the upper left as seen by the viewer. The flag in that picture is bowing downwards. Yuck!

    But terrific article, and Happy Independence Day!

    Good one, Bobby! I gave Rochester a solid look last year when I put this list together, but they basically got edged out by a couple of other hockey teams. With all the great suggestions I’ve been getting from people, I might just have to consider doing a new edition of this list.

    Also, great point on the American flag behind the Dream Team. You’re absolutely right about that display error. It’s one of those things that always bugs me when I see it.

    I came here to say the same thing!!! Here’s hoping the “Amerks” make a possible updated list!

    Even as a kid, I always thought of Evel Knievel as more of a showman than a sports figure, but come to think of it, he was a mainstay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, so I suppose he checks out. I will take your suggestion under advisement for future story ideas. B^)

    Considering Evel and Apollo Creed (I know, fictional, but…) Individual athletes don’t really wear “uniforms” since there is just one performer. But we at Uni-Watch discuss such things anyway. Maybe there is a list of best patriotic individuals?

    Happy Fourth Of July to all. Great list here. I echo about the old Washington Bullets uniforms, I’m old enough to remember, thought they were terrific. If the list was longer, the Jim Kelly era Bills home uniforms weren’t shabby either, with the red helmets, blue tops & white pants. And I think the face masks were white too. Thanks.

    I acknowledged in a comment above that navy blue tends to be the base color for a lot of uniforms we think of as patriotic, but why would you discount red out of hand? I mean, what’s the first color that’s mentioned when we think about our three patriotic colors? “Three cheers for the…” (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not blue.)

    this was spot in. growing up in a hockey community youd see a lot of breezers that had slip on ‘shells’. so anytime there’s intricate stitching like lake placid’s it really pops.

    Kary, I always love “Dressed for the Season”. Great stuff!

    You would think a team named the Americans would easily qualify for this right? Well, not the 1988-91 WHL Tri-City Americans.

    link

    link

    Thanks, Wade! I always appreciate your feedback! And great find on the Tri-City Americans! Maybe I should a list of American-themed teams who don’t wear red, white, and blue. Hmmm…

    I love the USMNT/USWNT in the Waldo hoops, but the ghosted white-on-white numbers knock them down just a hair. Surprised the Rochester Americans didn’t make the cut here, but no quibbles with any of the inclusions.

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