As I’ve noted in the past, I have a love-hate relationship with the Grand Rapids Griffins’ annual jersey design contest. I have the tendency to put more thought than they probably intend into my own entries and, while I was a finalist last year, I don’t think I ever come close to winning.
This year I was going to skip out on the endeavor entirely until they added an impossible new wrinkle to the contest: Design a 1980s “fauxback” jersey.
The Griffins were founded in 1996, hence the “fauxback” requirement. The idea is to come up with a look that represents a Griffins team that existed in that decade. Which raises an interesting question: What makes an 80s hockey jersey?
The shoulder yokes of the Minnesota North Stars, New Jersey Devils, and Buffalo Sabres all jumped out at me, though all but New Jersey’s found their origins in the 70s. Likewise the 70s birthed the over-the-shoulder stripes of the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and a handful of All-Star teams.
I thought about modern teams that throwback to the 80s and how their identities have changed since then. The Edmonton Oilers’ logo is virtually untouched but changed from royal blue and orange to navy blue and copper (then back to royal blue and orange, and now navy and orange). The Calgary Flames were bright red and yellow in the 80s, darkening their red and adding black in the 90s. The Los Angeles Kings went from purple and yellow to black and silver. The Devils went from red and green to red and black.
What makes an 80s hockey jersey? It’s not so much the striping pattern or the logo… It’s the colors. The bright colors of 1980s hockey design were virtually abandoned in the 1990s. In addition to the previously-mentioned changes, the 90s saw the North Stars go from bright green and yellow to forest green and metallic gold. Like the Oilers, the New York Islanders abandoned royal blue and orange (only to – also like the Oilers – eventually return to it). The Hartford Whalers gave up green and royal blue for green, silver, and navy.
Which is a problem for this contest because the Griffins explicitly stated that entrants should use the team’s current colors, with the jersey base color being red or black.
By my count, in the 1980s across the National Hockey League, the American Hockey League, and the International Hockey League, only the Chicago Blackhawks (and some of their affiliates) used a red, black, and white combination. The metallic silver the Griffins now use was unseen in the NHL until the 90s, though the Kings added grey in 1988. Teams in the 80s used yellow, not the gold in Grand Rapids’ current identity.
As such, I don’t think it’s possible to have an “80s fauxback” that uses the Griffins’ current colors. That didn’t stop me from trying, though.
My first sketch used the Winnipeg/Toronto-style over-the-shoulder striping and a Edmonton Oilers-like logo, with a griffin silhouette over the word “Griffins” in a circle. I also dropped gold and silver from the color scheme to simplify things. The logo felt forced, though, and the striping seemed too modern, so I scrapped that idea.
Next I ignored the logo and tried a striping pattern based on the Buffalo Sabres. The shoulders featured a black yoke with white and gold outlines. The sleeves and waist had a black/white/gold/white/black stripe set. I actually like this idea a bit but, again, there was nothing that made me think “80s” so I moved on.
Just to see if it led to anything, I cloned the North Stars’ 1988 jersey set, swapping green for red and yellow for gold. This led me to believe that the gold just wasn’t going to work and I needed to go back to red, white, and black.
Starting with a red jersey, I added thick stripes in white and black – separated by a thin red stripe – to the sleeves and waist. I then included a yoke in black with a white outline. I realized I had something similar to the Devils’ 1982 home uniform and decided it was 80s enough to move forward. I also decided that between the North Stars, the New York Rangers, various NHL All-Star teams, and some of the 1988 Olympic teams, a drop-shadowed number represented the 80s pretty well, too.
For the logo, the Moncton Hawks jumped out at me, with their bird head and abstract wings inside a circle. I tried going in that direction with a stylized wing attached to a griffin head with an outstretched claw, all merged together with the team’s name as a wordmark. It didn’t look like a griffin to me so I decided to go in a different direction.
Next I went simple. A griffin silhouette in a circle with “Grand Rapids Griffins” around it. Specifically, this was based off of an old Muskegon Mohawks jersey that I couldn’t figure out the exact year for. The wing came from the Detroit Red Wings’ logo while the tail was from the Griffins’ original logo as a pair of homages. It looked more 1960s than 1980s, though, so I went back to the abstract griffin idea.
I removed the circle and added in the bottom half of the griffin’s body. This gave me an opportunity to reuse the tail from the Griffins’ original logo, as with the silhouette logo. Then I switched up the griffin’s head to look more like an eagle and less like a dragon. At this point, I had my crest, and I decided not to worry about shoulder logos because, by and large, they weren’t used in the 80s.
While I’ve submitted the red, black, and white design, I still don’t think it’s 80s enough. The colors make it look 90s to me.
I tried simplifying the design to just red and white and, while I think it looks more 80s, I don’t think it looks as good. In the end, the design has to look good enough to win.
But I come back to the idea that, by forcing the modern colors, the Griffins have unintentionally made any submission less 1980s. I tried the team’s colors from before their rebrand two years ago – red, white, and blue – and feel that it’s a design that screams 80s. I just can’t use it.
Wrong colors or not, as I said at the start, I don’t expect to win this thing anyway. Based on last year, the voters seem swayed by submissions that look like they came out of a catalogue or a video game, not flat designs in the template I use. I don’t get to submit all the thought I put into it. But it will be interesting to see what the voters think an 80s jersey is.