The number of times I have “quit” the Grand Rapids Griffins’ annual jersey design contest is comical at this point. Last year I even publicly announced that I was done. Then they went and made this year’s edition 90s-themed and I was drawn right back in.
Two years ago the Griffins requested an 80s-themed “fauxback” jersey as part of their contest. I loved it because it raised the question of what makes an 80s-themed jersey.
As I wrote at the time, there were many jersey design elements that became more prevalent in the 1980s, but it was really color that defined the decade. The Griffins were dictating the colors for their contest, though, so I was really curious what they would deem “80s enough” to win. In the end, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I strongly disagreed with their choice, which left me feeling like the question of what makes an 80s jersey was unanswered.
This year, with the challenge being to create a 90s-themed jersey, I believe there are much stronger trends to work with.
While the 1980s saw only two NHL teams relocate and only one go through a major rebranding, the 1990s saw seven expansion teams, three relocations resulting in new team identities, and a whole slew of redesigns. Many of them used the same design elements and most of those changes have since been reverted, resulting in a set of looks that are uniquely 90s.
As such, when the Griffins announced the theme of this year’s contest, for me it wasn’t so much a matter of figuring out what they were asking for as it was figuring out how to make all of those design options work together. An idea popped into my head almost fully-formed. As such, despite my “retirement,” I was drawn back in.
As an aside… I am writing this on August 2 for publish after the design contest is over. I usually spend the entire design period tweaking, then write up my design thoughts and publish them along with my submission right at the deadline. This year, as part of an attempt to put less effort in, I’m submitting my design on the second day of the contest and writing this up for publish after voting is over.
There are six distinctly 90s elements to this jersey. I’ll note who used them in the NHL to show just how prevalent they were (I’m choosing the NHL because their identities are generally more stable and documented than minor leagues).
From their inaugural season to the AHL’s league-wide redesign in 2009, the Griffins’ jerseys featured a shoulder design that was meant to represent the wings of their mascot. I’ve brought them back here. It’s something that’s unique to the team from the era in question.
By using this shoulder pattern, I was unable to take advantage of another trend of the 1990s: alternate logo shoulder patches. They just don’t work on that background.
Diagonal Sleeve Stripes
Diagonal sleeve stripes were used in the NHL prior to the 1990s (specifically, by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hartford Whalers, and Vancouver Canucks) but in the 90s there were nine teams that introduced them or brought them back, bucking the trend of standard straight stripes. The aforementioned Penguins, Whalers, and Canucks all used them. The expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers and the relocated Phoenix Coyotes did as well. Redesigns or third jerseys for the Calgary Flames, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, and Washington Capitals all featured diagonal sleeve stripes.
Angled Hem Stripes
Most – but not all – teams who introduced diagonal sleeve stripes also paired them with a nonstandard angled set of stripes at the hem. Anaheim, St. Louis, and Washington all went with an asymmetrical version of this element while Calgary and Pittsburgh chose to make a “V” shape of their stripes. Additionally, the Colorado Avalanche featured a mountain-like design along their hem.
I really dislike the asymmetrical look – even if it’s iconic – and the gap in Pittsburgh’s design, so my concept uses something similar to what Calgary’s 1998 third jersey had.
The vertically-arched nameplate was introduced to the NHL by the Detroit Red Wings in 1982. In 1990 it was copied by the Rangers. The Avalanche used it when they relocated in 1995 and the Panthers switched to it in 1998.
While this is hardly a widespread design element from the 90s, the fact that it quadrupled in use over the decade and that the Griffins are the farm team of the originators makes me comfortable including it in the design.
In 1967, the Penguins made their debut wearing rounded numbers, dropping them after a single season. The Rangers broke from tradition in 1976, switching to a completely different jersey that included rounded numbers, which only lasted until 1978. The Red Wings switched to “fancy” numbers for the 1982-83 campaign before immediately switching back. For the first 75 years of the NHL, those were the only times a team didn’t wear some form of block number on their jerseys.
Then the Tampa Bay Lightning came along. After spending their inaugural campaign in a standard – though drop-shadowed – block font, in 1993 they italicized their numbers. That same year, the NHL’s All-Star Game featured jerseys with rounded numbers rather than block. One season later, the Flames had italicized numbers while the Lightning had moved on to a custom “paintbrush”-like font. One more season later, seven teams had at least one jersey that didn’t use a block font.
By the summer of 1999, 14 teams were using a non-block font on at least one of their sweaters.
The Griffins debuted with a custom number (and name) font and I was highly tempted to go back to it. In the end I chose to stick with a slightly-more-generic rounded font, similar to those used by Calgary, Nashville, Phoenix, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the San Jose Sharks.
Tampa Bay’s “paintbrush” numbers might be more memorable than any of them but I just didn’t think they fit the design. My goal (whether it’s the request of the Griffins or not) is to make the most-90s jersey that still looks good, not just cram as much 90s stuff into a jersey as possible.
Angry Mascot Logo
The last element of the jersey is the Angry Mascot Logo. San Jose debuted represented by a Shark biting a hockey stick in half. Florida’s first logo featured a Panther pouncing forward. The New York Islanders rebranded to focus on a fisherman holding a hockey stick, staring angrily.
In the minor leagues the trend of “fierce” logos was even more visible. Between the AHL and the IHL, no fewer than 13 teams introduced branding – of various qualities or rendering – featuring some combination of a snarling animal or fearsome creature between 1990 and 1999, including the Albany River Rats (1993), Carolina Monarchs (1995), Chicago Wolves (1994), Cincinnati Cyclones (1992 and 1993), Denver Grizzlies (1994), Hamilton Bulldogs (1996), Hartford Wolf-Pack (1997), Indianapolis Ice (1996), Kentucky Thoroughblades (1996), Lowell Lock Monsters (1998), Beast of New Haven (1996), Saint John Flames (1998), and Syracuse Crunch (1994).
I have to admit, I don’t like this trend. The Griffins’ original logo does not meet my criteria for “fierce” and I find it to be a better logo than either their current mark or the one I’ve created here. But to stick with the trend, I’ve swapped majesty for musculature. That said, I do feel like, in doing so, it’s moved out of 90s and become a little more modern.
I submitted this jersey in red because I think it looks best. That said, another perceived trend of the 1990s was “black for black’s sake,” seeing teams add black as a team color and introducing black jerseys simply because it was a color that sold well at the time. With that in mind, I created a full jersey set that includes a black alternate.
The funny thing (though I suppose how funny it is depends on how far this design goes in the contest) is that I’m not sure I actually even like this design. It’s easily my least favorite submission to the Griffins’ contest over the years. Given what they’re asking for, though, I think it nails it.
I called “black for black’s sake” a perceived trend because it simply didn’t happen in the NHL the way that it’s portrayed at times. There are other elements that I ignored because, while everyone “knows” 90s design was all about them, it turns out the facts don’t match up with that.
The Calgary Flames added black as a trim color in 1995 with a black alternate jersey in 1998. The Washington Capitals included black as a trim color in their 1995 redesign and added a black alternate in 1997. The Philadelphia Flyers already had black trim and their 1997 alternate was black. That’s three of 28 teams.
Teal? That was just the San Jose Sharks, with the short-lived New York Islanders “fisherman” jerseys using it as an accent.
Similarly, there’s Tampa Bay’s “paintbrush” crazy numbers. Yeah, the Lightning used them for six seasons. And the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had a one-season alternate with a crazy number font. But that’s it. It didn’t take the league by storm. It was really just one team and a quickly-abandoned alternate for another.
Finally, there’s asymmetrical striping. I called it “iconic” above but it was just Anaheim and St. Louis who used it. Two teams. More teams used symmetrical angled stripes, but those don’t stick in our collective memories. The Islanders’ fisherman jerseys were technically asymmetrical but not in the way we typically think of.
We’ll see how many of these perceived trends end up being applied to designs in the contest.