Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Remembering my sports youth - Starter jackets, Cock hats, Reeboks and more

Every generation of sports fans grew up with with something. Something that everybody had to have. Air Jordan's, Starting Lineups, baseball cards, retro jerseys, the Stadium Pal.

For me and my friends, Starter jackets were it. I mean, it.

Starter jackets had similar dimensions and composition as George Costanza's Gortex blob, but with a sports logo plastered on it. And I mean plastered. Starter got that logo on the zipper, the hood, the front pocket and the sleeve. Everybody was going to know what team you were rocking from every angle. You had to slip it over your head, so that meant you had to be careful or otherwise you might mess up your side-part spike.

My starter jacket was a 1994 Dallas Cowboys beauty. And I fell victim to the Starter Jacket fan birth. I had no affiliation with the Cowboys. I had no previous feelings for the team. I was actually (for some unknown reason) a Buffalo Bills fan at the time. I don't know, I guess Steve Tasker did something for me.

But my mom bought me a Starter jacket and wham-o, I was immediately part of America's Team. My jacket went beautifully with my Reebok pumps and bowl-cut 'do. I was totally awesome. I remember also, the jackets were SO popular, that everybody was wearing them in August. It didn't matter how hot it was outside, your Starter jacket was every bit part of a "normal" wardrobe as shoes, socks or underwear. All my friends had their jackets too - but only a few of them actually possessed a jacket of their favorite team. You see, the jackets were so popular that it was near impossible to land your favorite team when you walked out of JC Penny. It was a total crapshoot. But it wasn't like you were going to actually wait and come back later. And this was before you could say, "Oh well, I'll just order it online." You had to get that Starter jacket and get it now. Didn't matter what team - you'd take whoever they had in the store even if it was a Montreal Expos one.

My older brother was a 49ers fan, but got a Chiefs jacket. My friend Cody got a Florida Seminole one and was now a Charlie Ward fan. Strange how much power the Starter jacket had. But nothing made me feel better than putting on my Penny Hardaway jersey and then tossing my Big D puffcoat over it. I was a walking cornucopia of sport.

Why did it seem like everyone only had a Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket? I know we all loved Mugsy Bogues, but come on.

Along with the acceptance of getting a coat in which you had no affiliation with the logo on it, you also would forgo all typical sizing common sense when buying one. I had friends that weighed all of 52 pounds walking around in XXL Starter jackets. The reason for this was two fold: 1) Because of the supply and demand issues and 2) because they were "expensive" so your mom wouldn't buy you one your size because "you'd just outgrow it in a year." What mom didn't know was that the potential life span of the Starter jacket. Funny how back then we all thought in 15 years people would still be wearing those bloated snowsuits.

One thing I recall about Starter jackets was the incredible demand. I remember seeing stories on the news about people getting held up at gun point for one. To which of course my mother freaked out and threatened to not let me wear mine. It was that day I cursed my bulging Cowboy coat. Why didn't I get a freaking Arizona Cardinals Starter jacket? No one would want that! But instead I had the coat of a back-to-back Super Bowl Champ. I was like a walking T-Bone in a bear cage. I was asking for it. But somehow, I escaped unscathed.

It's weird to look back on what used to be cool. Remember the somehow unoffensive "Cock" hats? Everybody had one. It started with the plain white, snap-backed, Times New Roman font hat that simply said "Cocks" on the front. This was acceptable because it was just a team hat for the South Carolina Gamecocks. And if you brought up the obvious point, you were hit with, "Ah come on dude! Get your head out of the gutter! It's a team dude!" I could accept that. Sure. Everybody knows the Gamecocks. But then the trend caught fire and hats with "Peckers" and "Woodys" and I swear I saw one that just said "Penis" on it one time. I may have been 10 but I wasn't stupid.

I wonder what we'll look back on 10 years from now and laugh at. Fatheads? Graphic tees? Flat-bills with the sticker still on it? Who knows. All I know is that nothing will top the Starter jacket. Lord, I miss mine. I may bust it out tomorrow and rock it one more time. Good thing my mom got me an XXL - I think I finally may have grown into it.


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