Celebrating defunct teams, mascots and nicknames

Brooke and Tim Shelmadine recently opened a screen printing shop in Alliance, Nebraska (Shelmadine Screenprinting) and they often call on me to do freelance design work. Brooke and I share a common infatuation with retro and classic sports design. 

Recently she asked me to design shirts for local schools with a vintage feel. She showed me some photos for inspiration of angry mascots drawn in the style of Depression era Looney Tunes, wearing turtleneck sweaters and beanies. She directed me to the website for Ebbetts Field Flannels, a Seattle-based company that specializes in recreating vintage sports apparel. The more I dug in, the more intrigued I became.

Think back to a day when there weren’t computers. There wasn’t Photoshop. Fabrics came in about eight basic colors. Nike, Adidas and Under Armor didn’t exist or employ an army of designers to hash out the details of Oregon’s weekly costume parade. Instead there was a guy at the sporting goods or hardware store with a pencil and felt. He used the pencil to create a stencil, then transferred his designs to felt, where they were hand-cut and hand-sewn on wool uniforms. The limited tools and pallet resulted in simple, minimalistic, sometimes crude designs. It also resulted in timeless classics.

I think about our house. About every three years, my wife repaints the walls. Each time she paints, the room immediately feels new, but after time everything seems dated. Our bathroom recently went from crimson to a Miami Dolphins color scheme, reminiscent of the local Mexican restaurant. Don’t get me wrong. I like it. It’s trendy. But it will be out of style in a few years and my wife will paint it again. She could save herself a lot of trouble if she just went with beige. 

Uniforms and team logos are the same way. Any combination of red, white and blue is timeless. Black and yellow is always cool. Navy and anything is classic. Think the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Michigan Wolverines or Chicago Bears – teams that have had relatively the same uniforms seemingly forever. Then think back to the 1990s. The Charlotte Hornets hit the scene with fresh teal and purple pinstripes and turned the sports world on its ear.

Every expansion franchise of that era went with purple, teal, or both - The Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Carolina Panthers . Even established teams such as the Detroit Pistons, Sacramento Kings and Washington Bullets rebranded with teal or purple.

It wasn’t just colors. Teams changed their logos. Again, the Pistons ditched a simple basketball design and block letters for a gaudy horse. Then they had the audacity to stamp that horse on the front of their jerseys as if they were hockey sweaters. Other teams followed suit – Atlanta, Golden State, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Washington. Houston took it a step further with pinstripes created out of the rocket’s jet stream. The trend created some of the most hideous uniforms in the history of the NBA.

Rebranding wasn’t strictly basketball. The Patriots ditched their three-point-stanced minuteman for a sleek, stylized triangle that fits nicely on the side of a helmet. The Broncos and recently the Dolphins did the same thing. Gone are the days of hand-drawn cartoons complete with etching, crosshatching and ink smudges. They have been replaced by mascots reduced to geometric shapes with gradients, strokes and fillers. Some of them are cool, but like the walls of my bathroom, they won’t be in a few years.

I will admit that new logos and color schemes are handicapped by their lack of nostalgia. For instance, my alma mater, Hemingford High School, went to a modern, triangular Bobcat (really they just added whiskers and changed the colors of Montana State’s logo). It looks nice and fits well on the side of a football helmet, but there’s something about walking into a high school gym and seeing the mascots of conference schools painted poorly by the art class and hanging above the bleachers. That’s what I’m trying to capture/recapture with this project.

It was actually working on a shirt design that sparked the idea. In 1951 Hemingford changed its mascot from the Spudpickers to Bobcats. I’m sure that the student body was tired of jokes and elected to go with something more mainstream. But, in my opinion, they lost some uniqueness and heritage.

Hemingford was and is an agricultural community. Around the turn of the 20th century, potatoes were the area’s top commodity. This was before center-pivot irrigation and potatoes didn’t require a lot of water. Native Americans set up camp on the outskirts of town and provided labor for the potato harvest. No pun intended, but potatoes are our roots. On the contrary, I lived in Hemingford for 18 years and never saw a live bobcat.

Brooke wanted to create some Spudpickers’ merchandise for their shop. The problem was I don’t know if a true Spudpicker logo ever existed. We found some old booster signs that had a picture of a spud. Excuse me for being crass, but there is a fine line between a one or two-color potato and a one or two-color lump of poo. Since a logo didn’t exist, I created one. 

Quickly a farmer came to mind, but I didn’t want to emulate Herbie Husker or his predecessors. I elected to borrow a page from pre-Nike Oregon and use a popular cartoon character for inspiration. I dressed Popeye as a farmer, gave him a beard, had him carry a barrel of potatoes and the Spudpicker was born.

The whole process got me thinking about all of the mascots, schools, towns, teams and leagues that are now defunct. Moths have eaten their uniforms and history has largely forgotten them. If we are lucky, they might be listed in a dusty newspaper clipping or a Wikipedia page. 

What was their mascot? Did they have a mascot? What were their colors? What did their uniforms look like? 

At some point in history, these teams, schools, towns and leagues were important to somebody. They deserve to be remembered in some way. 

That is what this project is about. I want to blend my passions for art, design, history and sports to recreate, create or invent logos celebrating these defunct teams. I know that every year, some graphic designer reworks NFL uniforms or creates alternates for college bluebloods. This isn’t like that. I will use Photoshop for editing purposes, but primarily I’ll stick to the traditional pencil and paper, an homage to pre-1970s logos. I’ll update this blog periodically with designs, the history behind them and general geekery. Think Forging Fire meets Uniwatch meets Ken Burns.

I have a list of teams and ideas to get started, but feel free to send me your suggestions. Follow me on Twitter @AaronWade308. 


  1. Tonawanda Kardex - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonawanda_Kardex_Lumbermen


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