Anachronism: a·nach·ro·nism – noun – a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. You frequently see this in movie mistakes more often than in real life. For instance, in Glory, which takes place during the Civil War, the 54th Mass. marches past a liberated plantation, and one of the children waves to the soldiers while wearing a digital watch. Whoops!
Believe it or not, anachronisms are beginning to happen in sports, and they’re being perpetrated by some of our jersey-wearing brethren. Right as the football season came to a close last year I happened to catch a Philadelphia Eagles fan wearing a Chuck Bednarik jersey (shown above). However, it was the current-style jersey with Bednarik’s name, even though the Hall of Fame linebacker played in the 1950s and 60s. That got me thinking, how many other fans are wearing anachronistic jerseys?
The throwback look has become increasingly popular over the last decade, and the plethora of classic jerseys available for purchase at any sports apparel store makes the anachronistic jerseys appear lazy. I don’t think Chuck Bednarik is currently sold by Mitchell & Ness, but at one time it was. Therefore, why go out of your way to have an old player put on a modern jersey when you have the option of getting it right with very little effort?
There are a few exceptions to this rule, as usual. First, teams that have not made major changes to their uniforms throughout history can get away with this faux pas. The Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Lakers, etc. have maintained fairly consistent looks throughout their histories (with a few minor variations). I can’t name every team, but I wanted to make sure I had an example from each of the four major league sports in North America. Putting Reggie Jackson’s number on a current Yankees jersey, while noticeable by me, probably wouldn’t raise many eyebrows. I’ll let that pass. However, part of the problem with Bednarik is that the Eagles changed their shade of green, and added black to their color scheme back in the late 1990s. There is a distinct difference between the old and new.
Believe it or not, actual teams have made this mistake. Living in South Florida, I have been to enough Miami Dolphins games to have seen several on-field ceremonies for the undefeated 1972 squad. Considering the Dolphins really haven’t done much since the retirement of Dan Marino, the fans here enjoy reliving the glory days as much as possible to help them forget how mediocre the Fish have been since 2000.
Below are three photos of Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka. One is from Super Bowl VIII, and two are from different ceremonies at Joe Robbie/Pro Player/Dolphins/Sun Life Stadium. In one, the Dolphins gave him the correct era jersey. In the other, he is wearing the (at the time) modern jersey. Maybe the ’72 Dolphins were tired of getting new versions of their 70s gear, and they wanted the modern look. I don’t know the story behind it, but from a fan standpoint it looks odd. We want to remember our heroes as they were. Part of that mystique is the uniform they wear, and that means keeping it in the correct era.
Another sports anachronism you may see is when teams retire a player’s number. The Vancouver Canucks retired Pavel Bure’s number 10. The “Russian Rocket” is well-deserving of having his number hang in the rafters after being one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers in the history of the league. Every time Bure had the puck, you had to watch what he would do next. Not many players generate that kind of excitement. Unfortunately, the Canucks lifted a royal blue banner, with BURE 10 printed in the modern font. In his early days, Bure wore the black, red, and yellow Canucks jersey with the speeding skate on the front. He was still with the Canucks when they changed to their first version of their now-common orca logo.
What’s the point of honoring someone, and then putting the incorrect jersey above all the fans to be seen for eternity? The Brooklyn Nets do this better than anyone else (except maybe the Anaheim Ducks, who did an awesome pre-game tribute to Teemu Selanne by having the players wear a different jersey of his during warmups). Even though they completely rebranded to a black and white look upon moving to the Barclay’s Center, their retired number banners still resemble the jerseys that each player was famous for. If the Vancouver Canucks ever rebranded, they’d likely have to change all of their banners. The Nets would not.
I understand that teams will have players wear throwback jerseys for a game, and then sell that throwback jersey with the modern player’s name on it. In fact, the Atlanta Hawks did that recently when they unveiled a statute for Dominique Wilkins. You can buy a classic Miami Heat jersey with Dwyane Wade on the back. In that case, it’s more of an alternate jersey, but please don’t wear a modern Heat jersey with Rony Seikaly on it.
The look of each jersey tells many stories. It tells you the era, it brings back memories, and it represents experiences for those who were there to witness them. To me, anachronistic jerseys just don’t look right. Honor your favorite team, or favorite player, the right way. Keep them in their correct style. I look forward to everyone’s thoughts on Twitter @rmackman.