In 2011, Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres. The atmosphere around Buffalo was one of unbridled optimism and hope. Though the team had promoted its classic third jersey, a navy blue version of its original uniforms, to home duty and produced a white counterpart for the road already in 2010, Pegula made his mark by eliminating the remnants of the infamous “Buffaslug” from the team facilities. The vanquishing of the much maligned logo came with universal applause, and Sabres fans everywhere knew the days of outlandish jersey and logo design were over. The Buffalo Sabres had a classic, yet modern look and there was no way to screw that up.
When the Sabres announced plans for a new third jersey for the 2013-14 season, expectations were immediately high. Their previous thirds, the vibrant retro anniversary jerseys seen above, had been well liked during their short stay and maybe something along those lines would follow. Perhaps, something in gold?
In July, the Sabres media team began tweeting teaser photos of the jerseys; small swatches showing new elements while maintaining the whole as a mystery. The Carolina Hurricanes had started the trend, leading up to their reveal in May/June. They put out new pictures every day for ten days before the event using the hashtag #NewStorm. The San Jose Sharks suddenly started the same thing in August, using Instagram video clips featuring just a single frame showing a swatch of their new set with the tag #TheNextWave. They released three of those in a 48 hour span before fully revealing their jersey. Shortly thereafter, the Minnesota Wild did their reveal in the same manner as Carolina, albeit with seven teaser images, each released daily, tagged with #WhiteHot.
Meanwhile, the Sabres released one swatch a week for almost nine weeks, the fans growing frustrated and impatient all the while. Here’s the thing about expectations: if you don’t let them build, there’s less of a chance of disappointment. The Hurricanes jerseys, which I for one don’t really like at all, were built up for ten days. The Sharks jerseys, whose reception was very mixed, didn’t dawdle at all; almost nobody knew what to expect. Finally, the Wild had a week to toy with their fan base, and the result was the most widely praised jersey to come out this summer. Granted, these examples vary heavily by the actual quality of the product themselves, but in the case of the Sabres, after weeks of raising the bar in our heads, the jersey had to be the greatest thing ever seen.
Umm… what? As a life-long Sabres fan, I cannot even begin to hide my embarrassment. Sure the (staged) back-and-forth between the Sabres and Steve Ott on Twitter was clever and funny at first, but when this is what you’ve been hiding all these weeks, one can’t help but wonder why they took so long to reveal it. The backlash on Twitter was immediate and extensive. I was on a plane when this all went down so I ended up being nearly an hour late to the party. None of the tweets that came out in that time were positive; most were at the far end of the negative side of the scale. The Sabres removed their jersey posts from Facebook because of overwhelming outrage from the fans. And why shouldn’t they be outraged? Let’s try to make sense what’s going on here:
Classic logo, can’t go wrong. The gold’s not bad either. “Buffalo” written above it? That’s a bit redundant, isn’t it? Was it really necessary to fill that tiny bit of empty space on the upper chest? What’s going to happen with the captains and their excessively busy lettering? It’s going to be a mess up there. At least they’re spared those dreadful chest numbers. In Steve Ott’s first photo, the gold on the sleeves appears to be a different shade than the gold on the chest. Is that actually how it is, or simply an illusion? It needs to be the latter, but I can’t tell.
I don’t even know where to begin with the sleeves. They’re two tone on the upper half, with gold on the inside and navy on the outside. Between them are light silver bands starting awkwardly at the seams on the sides of the chest. I guess they’re supposed to look like sabers? Then, for some reason, the arms become completely gray halfway down. It reminds me of the yellow wrists of the Buffaslug jersey, which I didn’t really mind, but why gray, especially with silver already accenting the sleeves? It’s rather drab and I can picture the players’ forearms being invisible from the stands or on TV during a game with the ice surface behind them.
The numbers that adorn the arms and back are also gray (silver?), outlined in gold. This does pop on the navy background, but what is the deal with the font? Granted I’ve got just one digit to go off of, so maybe seeing the rest will give me a better idea of what’s going on here. The bold, round shape screams retro, but that’s clearly not what they were going for with the rest of the jersey. It also looks rather large on the back. What will the back look like with two digits? Will they even fit?
Speaking of the back, the nameplate font I do kind of like actually, seeing as it’s a necessary jersey element, but one that’s small and relatively non-intrusive. I think the wide serifs are nice and it’s easy to read. Like before though, I really should see the full gamut of characters before I make such judgment. About the navy extending the whole way down the back: once again I say, why? Yes, I understand that its unique and the Sabres love to establish (bad) jersey trends (chest numbers, anyone?); that said I hope this never catches on. On the front, the navy looks like a standard yoke that extends down the arms, not unlike what Minnesota (road jersey, formerly), Colorado, or Florida wear. The thing about that is, though, the Avalanche and Panthers getup are consistently rated near the bottom of the league, but I digress.
The navy yoke of the Sabres’ jersey goes all the way over the shoulders and down the back. It looks like a cape. It’s as if someone took a navy sheet and slung it over a gold practice jersey. The gold NHL triangle doesn’t help either; it gives the impression that the navy is literally tied together just below it. The fact that the gold wraps around the waist to the back only heightens this impression. Maybe a couple waist stripes could have alleviated this issue. More likely, the jersey is already too far gone to be fixed. One last thing about the cape: why are there silver pieces alongside the lower back? While they do indeed “add something” to the look, the fact that they start halfway down is baffling. This whole thing is baffling.
Finally, I don’t understand the collar. The silver accents around the NHL triangle are pointless. Why not just make the whole collar silver? Better yet, why not just leave it all navy? And then there’s the final piece of the puzzle, the so-called “Hanger Effect,” an element inside the collar that can only be seen while the jersey is hung up. It began, I believe, with the Columbus Blue Jackets in late 2010 when they put the slogan “We Fight, We March!” on the collar of their thirds. It spread to Nashville in 2011 (piano keys), and completely took off in 2013, being featured on the jerseys of Carolina (hurricane flags), Dallas (Dallas / Stars), Minnesota (Minnesota), and finally these duds. But these don’t just have a clever pattern. They don’t just have the team city or name on them. No, they say this:
I understand that no one takes the Sabres organization seriously anymore and they’ve got something to prove. This is not the way to do it. A slogan on a dressing room wall is cheesy enough; putting it on a jersey is overkill and reeks of desperation. It’s also incredibly ironic that a team striving toward excellence would design, approve, and ultimately don these monstrosities. I don’t understand who would think these were a good idea, much less multiple people along several stages of design. I don’t know what they were going for, other than a unique look. And it’s certainly that, because nobody else in the league would dare think of wearing something so scatterbrained, so nonsensical, so ugly.
Come October 4th, I expect to see nobody wearing these in the stands. I pessimistically hope the team mothballs them before they have a chance to hit the ice. Should they see the light of day beyond yesterday’s universally reviled Twitter reveal, they will go down in history along with the greats: the Vancouver Canucks’ “Flying V,” the Anaheim Ducks’ “Wild Wing,” Los Angeles’ “Burger King,” and more recently, the Dallas Stars’ “Mooterus,” the Atlanta Thrashers’ “Basketball” and the New York Islanders “Because the Mets use black” thirds. No, they’re not nearly as bad as the acid-trip that was the NHL’s jersey design modus operandi in 1990s, but it’s 2013, and there’s really no getting around it: today, these are the worst jerseys in the National Hockey League.
The thing that’s most embarrassing to me as a Sabres fan is that a real, legitimate National Hockey League team, the one I grew up with and love*, thought these works-of-art would be acceptable to wear and represent the organization. Even if they’re never worn in action, like the St. Louis Blues infamously vetoed thirds, what’s done is done. They will be around forever, another permanent stain on an already tarnished organization. Fix this, Sabres. You know you need to.
*my love is unconditional; my like is intermittent.