January 28, 2010 | Kevin Zdancewicz

Bolts Alternate

In the last installment of JOTW we discussed abbreviated city names which have been appearing with increasing regularity on sports uniforms. This topic made me think of an even more prevalent style on jerseys throughout athletics: the use of a shortened version of team’s nickname – a “nicknickname” if you will. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s introduction last year of a blue third jersey with “Bolts” running diagonally down the chest (feature photo) really stuck out from the rest of the league’s alternates. Well, all but the Ottawa Senators, who unveiled their new thirds the day before Tampa Bay and featured a similar nicknickname style with "Sens" trending slightly upward across the jersey. The use of nicknicknames on hockey uniforms is definitely unique. At least “Sens” is short for the team's official nickname. “Bolts” is more of a fan or media nickname that just doesn’t seem to make sense on one of the team’s actual jerseys.

Frankly, I don’t like them but I think it has less to do with the nicknicknames and more with the fact that they use wordmarks instead of team logos. Hockey is distinguished from other sports in that the front of the jersey has historically been reserved for a logo. There’s usually no city or nickname wordmarks, player numbers, or sponsor patches – just the team’s primary crest. So you can credit the two teams for doing something different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s any kind of improvement. For example, I’ve long disliked the look the Anaheim Ducks came up with a few years ago. Instead of the lame wordmark, why not slap the webbed-D logo on the front and call it a day? In reality, the Lightning and Senators’ alternates probably aren’t as bad as the Thrashers and Stars "basketball" look with name and number on the front of jersey, but that doesn’t excuse them for missing the opportunity to feature a secondary logo on their new sweaters.

With all of that said, the New York Rangers' jerseys are classic despite essentially featuring a word mark down diagonally down the front of the sweater. I like this look and even the jerseys it has inspired in other teams. But notice how each of the words in those pictures were on the long side. Tampa Bay was surely trying to capture the Rangers’ style, but I think “Bolts” is just too short to do the diagonal treatment justice. Part of the reason that I think the Rangers’ wordmark look is well-received and the Bolts and Sens jerseys might not be is that the Rangers have been wearing that sweater almost continually since the 1920s (when it really was a sweater). Sports uniforms that have been around for a long time gain acceptance because of their longevity and familiarity with fans. The use of nicknicknames on MLB and NBA uniforms has been around for decades and therefore has made fans mostly unaware and/or unfazed by it.

On the court, the Portland Trail Blazers go with the shorter “Blazers” on their jerseys and quite possibly have done that for the franchise’s entire existence (unfortunately, there is no comprehensive uniform history site for NBA teams). The Minnesota Timberwolves wore jerseys with “Wolves” across the chest from the team’s inception in 1989 until 1996 and then switched to the full nickname for more than a decade before going back to the nicknickname with their latest uniform set. In 2004, the Dallas Mavericks introduced a green alternate jersey with “Mavs” on it that is now blue but still features the nicknickname. The Cleveland Cavaliers have worn a number of uniforms with a “Cavs” wordmark (scroll to bottom), many of which are now worn seemingly every other game as throwbacks (probably to let LeBron mix it up with his headbands and footwear).

In baseball, the Oakland Athletics had worn various versions of a single “A” on their hats and jerseys going back to the franchise’s inception as the Philadelphia A’s in 1901. In 1970, the team (now in Oakland) switched to the nicknickname “A’s” on their jerseys and hats, which they still wear today. The nicknickname “Sox” for the Chicago White Sox first appeared on a jersey in 1911 and on a hat in 1917 – a style that carries on in the present. In 2001, Tampa Bay decided to go with just "Rays" on their jerseys despite the fact that the full team name was still “Devil Rays” at that point (it would be officially shortened to “Rays” in 2008). The Toronto Blue Jays have tried very hard to distance themselves from blue in recent years – both in their color scheme and in their nickname, which has been shorted to “Jays” on jerseys since a 2004 redesign. The Orioles have long been referred to as the O’s, officially adding the mark to their uniforms in 2005 with a hat (no doubt modeled after the A’s) that they have worn since then.

The one exception to the nicknickname love in baseball might be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who in 2007 went with the shortened “D-backs” mark on their home jerseys and were almost immediately ridiculed for it. I guess the built-up acceptance of nicknicknames in the sport only goes so far.

Photo Courtesy of The Hockey News