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.
Two years ago I entered a design featuring a griffin silhouette on a shield as the primary logo, with the jersey in “vintage” white, blue, and red. The shoulder logo was a roundel with an interlocking GR logo the team had previously used. Last year I tweaked the logo to make the griffin’s wing a little cleaner, switched up the shoulder logos, changed the number font, and updated the colors to go along with the Griffins’ color change, but the striping pattern stayed the same.
This year I thought for certain that I was going to enter another red jersey, so I started with my previous design. I swapped out the “vintage” colors and simplified the striping pattern. Rather than black numbers with a white outline, I went with white numbers outlined in black as they would be more legible. I kept the player’s jersey number in the collar webbing because, as I’ve said before, I loved that feature of their old alternate jersey. I also brought back the shoulder logo from my original entry as a 20th Season patch no longer made sense. Finally, I broke down and put the Winged Wheel logo of the Detroit Red Wings on one shoulder, as the Griffins do that on their standard jerseys to denote their parent club, no matter how much I dislike the practice.
I felt like that design was too simple, though, so I continued evolving the design. For the second generation, I switched the order of the sleeve colors and removed the shoulder yoke. I wanted the Griffins’ jersey to have an homage to the alternate colored sleeves of the Red Wings’ white jersey. I also brought back the black numbers outlined in white as I figured for a one-shot jersey, legibility is less of a concern (in fact, the Griffins wore dark red numbers on a dark blue jersey for one game two seasons ago).
Unfotunately, I thought that looked far too close to the design of the Texas Stars. While the Griffins selected a design two seasons ago that was basically a color swapped Iowa Wild jersey, I wasn’t comfortable submitting something like that.
As such, I decided to fully embrace the alternate-colored sleeves. I made the jersey body red with a black stripe bounded by white and the sleeves black with a red stripe and white outline. I also changed up the shoulder logo, replacing the interlocking GR with the griffin silhouette I used on the crest as I didn’t want to re-use one of the team’s existing marks, even modified.
At this point, I thought that I had my final design. I started showing it to a handful of people and near-universally the feedback was that they wanted to see a black version. Of course, I had started out trying to make a red jersey, so at first I ignored this. Eventually I hit the point where I had to listen to what my informal focus group was saying and did a switch of the colors. While a quick Twitter poll showed 53% of fans would have preferred a red jersey, 100% of people who saw both the red and black jerseys picked the black one. As such, the black one was my final design.
There are some coincidental homages in this design. The Grand Rapids Owls, an International Hockey League team in the late 1970s, wore jerseys with red sleeves that had black stripes outlined in white. Additionally, the Red Wings sold “fashion” jerseys (alternate jerseys that were never actually worn in-game) that had a black body with a red stripe at the waist, red sleeves with a black stripe, and numbers that match this design. The stripes did not include a white outline.
The Griffins explicitly stated that they wanted a dark jersey from this year’s contest. I imagine that’s because of the AHL’s new rule that will see light jerseys worn at home until Christmas and dark jerseys after that. Previously there had been some flexibility with regards to alternates but I’d guess that’s out the window with these new rules.
At any rate, just for fun, I created a white version of my submission.
As I mentioned, the primary logo is carried over directly from last season’s submission, aside from the color switch. This is a logo full of homages. The shape of the shield is that of the DetroitHockey.Net logo as a reference to my previous work. The feathers on the griffin’s wing are those of the Winged Wheel. The griffin’s tail is that of the original Grand Rapids logo.
The shoulder logo went through a number of revisions as I sorted out what color it would be placed on, how much detail should be included, and what element would be inside the roundel.
While I think that having a silhouetted griffin on both the crest and the shoulder is a bit repetitive, I see the different uses to be somewhat like how the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lightning bolt on both the crest and the shoulder.
As I’ve said every year, I don’t expect to win this contest. This year is interesting because ten finalists will be determined by fan vote and then the Griffins staff will decide. Additionally, this year submissions do not have to follow a standardized template. If I had to guess, the vote will skew towards submissions that look like they come out of a video game, as they come across as the most impressive. Whether or not those are actually the best designs will have to be seen.
Update: After posting this I noticed that the shoulder logos are incorrectly depicted on the view of the back of the jersey. They should be switched so that the Winged Wheel is on the right shoulder and the roundel is on the left, as they appear in the view of the front of the jersey. I’m not going to update the graphics, just use your imagination a little.
Since then I’ve disliked the Griffins’ 20th Season logo, their new primary logo, and their new jerseys. Over the last year it has become painfully clear that I don’t have the same design aesthetic as the Griffins’ front office.
On top of that (and as I’ve said before), I don’t love the idea of the contest. While it’s billed as a fan design contest, many of the winners have been design enthusiasts who are not fans of the Griffins. If Griffins fans aren’t winning, you’re essentially just asking for free design work.
So why submit a concept if I don’t think I have a chance of winning and don’t quite believe in the idea? That’s the question I’m struggling to answer. I did it anyway, though, so I’m detailing it here.
It’s immediately noticeable that this is an evolution of the design I submitted last year. The striping pattern, logos, and numbers are all very similar to the 2014 design and the nameplate is identical.
As the Griffins changed their color scheme for this season, the design has been updated to reflect that change, though I kept the “vintage” palette. Off-white, dark grey as a faded black, and a rust-like red. Out of curiosity, I did give a non-vintage color set a shot and it absolutely screamed 1970s Cleveland Barons so I abandoned it. I will say that going with this color scheme could be a risk as the team doesn’t have helmet/pants/gloves to match it.
With the 2014 design, I came up with a whole set of jerseys but submitted the white one. This time I went with a red jersey with black trim. The Griffins used to have a white home jersey, a blue road jersey, and a red alternate. Now they have a white home jersey, a black road jersey, and a black alternate. I thought having a red jersey rather than just another white or black one was important so I ran with that as the primary color. Additionally, playing up the color black helps keep the jersey from looking like a Red Wings clone.
The striping pattern has been very slightly modified from my original design. The shoulder yoke, wrist stripes, and hem stripe are all black with a white outline and then a black outline. The two outlines are 50% thicker than they were. The shoulder yoke is slightly smaller to account for that.
Additionally, last year I couldn’t decide how to render what was supposed to be a straight stripe, given that the jersey template featured curved lines in places that would be straight in three dimensions. That time I went with a curved line to match, this year I called a straight line a straight line.
The number font changed from a modified version of the Chicago Blackhawks’ (which I deemed to be too wide [due to the modification, not the standard font]) to that of the New York Islanders. I decided to go with black numbers as another way to differentiate the red jersey from Detroit’s and put a white outline around the numbers to make the black more visible on dark red.
Speaking of the number, I also carried over the placement of the jersey number in the collar webbing, my favorite feature from the Griffins’ now-retired red alternate jersey.
The logo – as it was in last year’s submission – is a griffin silhouette inside a shield. The griffin stands on two legs with its claws reaching out to the front. I kept the homage to the Griffins’ original logo in place, as this griffins’ tail is the same as that of the newly-replaced Grand Rapids mark. The only change to the logo is the wing, which I was never happy with.
While I liked the fact that the original wing was raised high, the proportions and shape felt wrong. As such, the new wing is closer to the griffin’s back, larger but sleeker. This also allows a second homage, as the wing’s feathers are in the same shape as the wing on the Red Wings’ logo.
The shoulder logos were significantly harder to decide on than the jersey crest. Shortly after I submitted last year’s concept, I came up with a version of its shoulder logo that added some outlines to the text to give it more depth. For this year, I started with that design and swapped the colors around.
The first debate I had with myself was whether or not to use a Red Wings shoulder patch, as the Griffins’ actual jerseys do and both of last year’s winners did. Wanting to keep the vintage feel, I put together a patch design that was the Winged Wheel in vintage colors inside a shield in a shape that is often (mis-) attributed to the Detroit Cougars of the 1920s.
I then thought about the fact that this is the Griffins’ 20th anniversary season and that it should really be commemorated on the jersey, as it is on all three of the sweaters in their standard set. I replicated the shoulder patch from the team’s home and road jerseys and recolored it to match this jersey design. I also modified the anniversary mark to use the interlocking GR logo rather than either the old or current Griffins’ primary, as I didn’t think they fit with the griffin silhouette crest of my jersey. To give the GR logo some added heft in the anniversary logo, I surrounded it with a kind of “keystone” effect.
With that done, I decided that I wanted to balance out the roundel on the left shoulder with one on the right. This also gave me the opportunity to play with something that always bothers me about minor-league team jerseys: The seemingly-random appearance of another team’s logo. I started by creating a true roundel based on the design of the Griffins’ 20th season logo. I added text to the circle reading “Detroit Red Wings” across the top and “Primary Affiliate” across the bottom, giving reason for the slapping of a Detroit logo on a Griffins jersey. Inside the circle I went not with the Winged Wheel but with the Old English D, as I felt it fit both the circle and the overall feel of the jersey better. The D is outlined in black, a modification I wouldn’t have wanted to make to the Winged Wheel anyway.
As I said, I don’t think this design will win the contest. I don’t think they’ll pick another griffin silhouette so soon after picking one last year. I don’t think they’ll go with a design that they don’t have matching pants and helmets for (for the record, I imagine a black helmet and black pants [well, vintage black] for this set). Also, I think that there are some really… off parts of the 20th season patch but I copied those elements directly from the Griffins so I kept them in.
I don’t know. We’ll see.
One last note, here’s that Barons-esque standard red/white/black design:
I was going to do a write-up of the winners of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ jersey contest over at DetroitHockey.Net – where I’d already done a review and posted my predictions – but I realized doing so after my design didn’t win would come across as sour grapes. Instead, I decided to own that; accept the label and go forward anyway, posting my issues with the winning designs here instead of at DH.N.
And since I’m complaining, I should mention my write-up of my original submission. Obviously I designed that for a reason, it’s my style. Apparently it wasn’t the style of the Griffins but we have no word from them on what criteria were used to make their decision so I stand by it.
Let’s look at the winners in the order they were announced…
This is the one that annoys me most. It’s a fantastic jersey. I said right off that bat that I knew the Griffins would wear it. It’s not an original design, though.
That’s a Grand Rapids Rockets jersey updated to say “Griffins” instead. It looks awesome and it’s a well-done update but Roberts did not design the jersey. I feel like in a competition with a prize on the line, it’s akin to plagiarism. How can you win a jersey design contest without designing a jersey?
As I wrote in my review, I like a bunch of the individual elements on this jersey. Overall, though, it comes across as weak. The blue crest gets lost on the blue jersey. The lack of red loses part of the Griffins’ identity. The “Tuebor” on the collar works but “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amaenam Circumspice” on the back just seems slapped on there (I’d suggested it go on the cuff). Especially with at least six stronger jerseys in contention, I don’t get why this one was picked. But there is a conspiracy theory out there…
After staring at my work for nearly a month, wondering if it would hold up to the other incoming designs (I’m not sure it does), I kept finding little things I wish I’d taken the time to think about.
The shoulder logo, for example, comes across as a little flat to me. That’s going to be the case with the “vintage” colors as they’re more muted, but I think making the text blue with a white outline and adding an outline to the interlocking GR (as the version I inadvertently recreated had) helps add some complexity.
For the primary logo, I neglected to take into account that every logo the Griffins have ever selected has featured the team’s name in some form. As such, I added a “banner” across the bottom of the shield with “Griffins” in it and re-positioned the griffin inside the shield to make room for the banner.
I didn’t change the design of the jerseys at all but with these updates I think the red version is the best one.
I actually don’t know if I like this better than my original (aside from having come to prefer the red version) but I wanted to at least document it.
There is one thing about the contest that, as I’ve followed it, has bothered me a little. I’ve seen reference to this as a “fan” design competition but pretty clearly there are submissions from people who are not Griffins fans. If that’s the case, aren’t the Griffins just asking for spec design work? And one of their last winners was a professional designer.
I don’t know. I entered knowing what it was and I’m sure everyone else did, too. Just feels wrong.
The contest is still running so, unlike usual, all of the images included in this post are watermarked (I should probably do this anyway). Also, if any Griffins employees are reading this and the existence of this post somehow breaks the contest rules, please let me know, that’s not my intent.
I’d had a few ideas kicking around in my head for awhile, waiting for this contest to come back. I knew I wanted to go with a “vintage” look, with a muted red and blue and an off-white instead of the Griffins’ standard colors. I also knew that I wanted to use an interlocking “GR” logo of some kind and a more “traditional” griffin in silhouette rather than Grand Rapids’ primary logo.
My initial thought was that the GR logo would be a standard block font and would appear on the shoulders. Then I decided to work with the team’s existing lettering from their alternate logo to make something similar to one of their old alternate logos. I didn’t think the lettering would stand on it’s own so I placed it inside a shield to use as the jersey crest. That didn’t really work, either, so I relegated the letters back to the shoulders and decided to keep the shield as a crest, with the griffin silhouette inside it.
To finish off the shoulders, I reached to my design work for DetroitHockey.Net and placed the interlocking letters in a roundel based on that which I use for DH.N. The text in this version of the logo reads “Grand Rapids Griffins Hockey Club – Est. 1996” (the Griffins use their original IHL founding date of 1996 rather than 2001, the year they joined the AHL).
The crest shield is actually the same shape as DH.N’s primary logo. The griffin itself is based on several griffin designs (it’s hard to find a live griffin to use as a model these days) but the tail is taken directly from the team’s primary logo as an homage.
The jersey design I submitted for the contest is primarily vintage white with blue shoulders outlined in red and then blue again. The cuffs of the sleeves and the waist follow the same pattern – blue outlined in red and blue. The player’s nameplate is a standard block-serif font in blue while the back and sleeve numbers are a modified version of those used by the Chicago Blackhawks. To keep the vintage feel, the numbers and nameplate have no outlines. Carrying over my favorite design element from Grand Rapids’ red alternate jersey, the webbing in the collar features the player’s jersey number – something only possible in the AHL as the NHL has reserved this space for the league’s logo.
One thing that was a little difficult for me to decide on was how to present the striping. In the template I usually use, I would show a straight line with a straight line. However the contest template showed more stitching detail than my template does so I had to decide whether to follow those curves with the understanding that they would appear straight in 3D. As such, the hem stripe appears curved but isn’t intended to represent a curve, while the sleeve stripe is straight. The shoulders would follow the curve of the jersey template. I clearly over-thought this.
I could only submit one jersey for the contest so I went with the white one as the Griffins typically wear white at home and three of the five past contest winners were white jerseys. That didn’t stop me from designing a full set, though. There are two blue jerseys and two red ones, each a color-swapped version of the white. My favorites are the blue with red shoulders (represented with Anthony Mantha’s name and presumed number above) and the red with blue shoulders (Tomas Jurco above). I worry that I gambled wrong by submitting the white one over these.