Several years ago I embraced the sour grapes I had about losing the Grand Rapids Griffins’ jersey design contest and wrote about it. Since I’ve been ranting about it all day on Twitter, I figured it was time to do that again.
I’ve repeatedly said that I put more thought than the Griffins intend into my entries in their contests. This year was no different, as I was intrigued by the idea of what exactly makes a 1980s hockey jersey design. I won’t rehash that all here, I included it all in my post about my entry.
I researched, I designed, I wrote about all of that because I’m genuinely curious. Also I wanted to win, but I never expected to because there are way better designers than me out there.
So I did all of this research and I designed and I wrote and I published. Genuinely curious about that question, I found no one willing to engage in discussion. No one responded to me here. Discussion at Uni-Watch, the contest host, seemed to center around not knowing what the Griffins actually wanted, not what a fauxback should actually look like. The Griffins themselves provided no direction.
My design made it through a round of voting and was named as one of twelve finalists. I posted a review of the finalists and the biggest piece of feedback was that the best designs didn’t make it to the finals. While true, it doesn’t answer the question.
Then this morning the contest winner was announced and it’s something so far from what I consider 80s hockey jersey design that I’m completely at a loss.
The winner of this season’s jersey design contest is John Elbertson! John’s design will be worn on ‘80s Fauxback Night on Jan. 12, 2018. pic.twitter.com/SVWA8WXpUM
It’s a nicely-rendered jersey, for sure. But I can point to five reasons I don’t think it’s a proper 80s fauxback. It also hits my previously-noted nerve about logos that only describe what they’re for literally, as there is no griffin on that jersey.
And when the world’s foremost expert in sports identities says you got it wrong, it probably means something.
So we have what the Griffins were looking for from their 80s fauxback contest but it’s so far from what I would expect that I still feel the need for discussion. I want to know what the designer took his inspiration from. I want to know what about that design the Griffins were particularly struck by. But the Griffins aren’t giving details and the designer didn’t write a blog post about it like I did.
There’s this question out there I’m really curious about and I feel like the response is deafening silence. It’s driving me nuts.
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.
Update 8/21/2017, 8:50 PM: My design is up for vote today, which gets me thinking about my design more. I now think I should have included a circle behind the logo, as I originally attempted. It helps make it look more 80s than 90s.
Though it’s too late for the contest, I’ve updated the red jersey I submitted to include the circle, added it to the blue variant that I think the team should actually wear, and created white versions of each.