Klonsinski: The art of the third jersey
Zach Klonsinski | Thursday, March 26, 2015
There’s a special mystique around sports uniforms but, sadly, sometimes it’s pushed too far.
That’s what happened to my favorite NHL team, the Colorado Avalanche, when it announced the organization is getting rid of its alternate home sweater. Originally, I was disappointed, but after reflecting more on the decision, I’ve realized it’s time to hang them up for good.
Over the last few seasons, the team has worn its third jerseys more and more, to the point where seeing the players skate out donning them just didn’t arouse any sort of special feeling in me anymore.
Really, the jerseys were no longer special. That can’t happen.
Even though a team wears its home jersey for almost every game, that uniform is still sacred. The green and gold up at Lambeau Field never gets old, for example, or the burgundy and blue the Avs regularly wear at Pepsi Center.
I can even respect the jerseys of teams I cheer for to lose every game. Though I don’t like the Blackhawks, I have to admit the red coming out of the tunnel at United Center every night gives me goose bumps. Same with the Yankees — there’s a certain amount of adrenaline that bubbles up in me seeing the pinstripes. I love to hate them. Humans are visual creatures, and teams’ histories are tied to jerseys, which keeps them special.
The exact origin of the third jersey is hard to pinpoint. The Boston Bruins had an alternate home jersey as far back as the 1950s, though I’m far from certain those were the first. Regardless, what the third jersey has become today is nothing more than a marketing ploy, a gimmicky cash grab in most cases. Some team executives decide they want to freshen up their pockets, and one of the easiest ways to do this is through merchandise sales. You can’t increase the number of seats in an arena, but you sure can increase the number of different team apparel worn inside. How do you get people buying more merchandise? You introduce a new jersey. How do you get people to continue buying that jersey?
You wear it. A lot.
Yet instead of reminding me how much I want that new jersey, seeing it all the time reminds me instead how much I don’t. There’s nothing special about a third jersey except its uniqueness.
Again with the Blackhawks: There is a huge craze over the team’s green alternate jersey. When I saw them on the road in Phoenix over spring break, there were many, many green jerseys mixed in with the traditional red sweaters.
Yet the Blackhawks only wear those jerseys once a year, in warmups before their St. Patrick’s Day home game.
Yes, you read that right: They’ve created a national phenomenon with jerseys they don’t even play an actual game in. Chicago sports fans — bandwagon fans though they are — love the green uniforms, but credit the Blackhawks for keeping it that way by not overexposing them. That is an alternate sweater tradition I can respect.
Another one is the using the alternates as Sunday home uniforms in baseball. The sport’s place in American history is really all it has left for the average sports fan, but it’s hard to think of a more American summer Sunday afternoon than sitting in the sun watching a ballgame. For a while the Milwaukee Brewers rode this nostalgia with their throwback alternates, uniforms they would never wear except on Sunday home games.
More important than tradition, however, is the reality that a third jersey needs to inspire the team wearing it. If it were up to me, I would never tell a team when it was wearing the alternate jersey. Instead, I’d simply have the training staff hang them up in the locker room so they are waiting when the players enter. There should be a moment of surprise or shock on their face and then a sudden rush of adrenaline because the team knows something special is about to happen in those jerseys.
Simply put, there was no shock or awe from Colorado’s third jerseys anymore, at least not from this fan’s point of view and apparently not from the team’s either. Instead of the “Mona Lisa,” the jersey was a $10 print from IKEA.
The beauty and adoration of the sweater had been lost.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.