Pittsburgh's Best (and Worst) Sports Uniforms of All Time
Sports teams are constantly reaching back into their history for throwback jerseys. But “retro” isn’t always a term of endearment when it comes to uniforms.
"Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify because the players are always changing. The team could move to another city. You're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it … for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city." – Jerry Seinfeld
If Seinfeld is right, and we are all just rooting for laundry, that laundry should at least be pretty.
But beauty is subjective. Are the Yankees’ pinstripes classic or boring? Do you think Oregon’s football team looks cool or like highlighters stabbing you in the eyeballs?
I’ve deputized myself as a tastemaker for this exercise: looking at the best and worst of Pittsburgh sports uniforms. At least, for the time we have color photographs. Maybe the 1892 Pirates wore tie-dye for a few homestands. I think we can all agree that would be a turn-back-the-clock night to avoid.
1970-76 Pittsburgh Pirates — Bucco Beauty
It is impossible to separate my feelings about this uniform from my feelings about Roberto Clemente. The striping is flawless: black, white and mustard gold on the sleeves, belt and high socks. It’s my favorite color scheme the team has ever had. It’s also the uniform Clemente was wearing when he won 1971 World Series MVP and knocked Hit No. 3000. In this uniform, Roberto stays in our minds, forever young.
1970s and Late 2000s Pittsburgh Penguins — Rhapsody in Blue
I’m glad Pittsburgh is unique as a sports city — the only place where all three sports teams wear the same colors. Still, the Penguins looked brilliant wearing baby blue. The striping all over the uniform is clean and gorgeous. It’s a look that feels right when the sport is on ice. And it looked downright beautiful with snow, when the Penguins revived the uniform for the 2008 Winter Classic. They’ve never looked better.
1960-62 Pittsburgh Steelers — Black and Bold
To the Steelers fans who complained about two straight seasons missing the postseason, remember: it could be a lot worse. In the franchise’s first 37 seasons, they made the playoffs just once. ONCE! But at least they looked good in the early ‘60s. The jerseys stayed with the traditional black and yellow, nothing more. And they looked divine. This is the way football uniforms should look: sharp, bold, uncluttered.
1980-92 Pittsburgh Penguins — The Look of Lemieux
When the Penguins reintroduced these uniforms as an alternate last season, I practically raced to the PensGear store to buy one of the jerseys. I plopped down the 150 bucks, put it on and felt like 150 million bucks. I later returned it, realizing it was not the smartest purchase at a time when I was without a job. But when I was wearing that classic jersey, I had those championship feelings rush through me. And it’s a fine-looking sweater to boot.
1980s Pitt Panthers Basketball — The Way It Ought to Be
I quite like the uniforms Pitt basketball wears now. The striping is sharp without being too much. And the PITT wordmark looks better than it did on the football helmets. But nothing can touch the team’s ‘80s look. The brighter blue-and-yellow pop more than the current colors. The cursive wordmark is a good look. Most of all, the shorts! The. Shorts. Diamonds on the side and not much longer than a foot in length. Now that’s a college basketball look.
1977-84 Pittsburgh Pirates — Yellow on Yellow
I’m committing Pittsburgh Treason here. I know. But the all-yellow uniforms are an assault to my eyeballs and to good taste. The team mixed and matched jersey and pants combinations, and some of them looked pretty smart. But even the good feelings of the “We Are Family” world championship season can’t hide the fact that the players looked more like Big Bird than a baseball team.
1996-2002 Pittsburgh Penguins — Asymmetry on the Road
This is one of those jerseys that doesn’t look so bad at first, but then you look closer. Each half is in a different style. On one side, you get the gray block with white stripes. Not so bad. On the other, you get a sickly yellow-black gradient with arrows on the sleeves. It looked even worse from the back. The Pens wore these as a third jersey at first. Then as a road jersey. Then hopefully they fell into dumpsters.
2005-06 Pitt Panthers Football — All That Glitters…
There is nothing wrong with wearing a gold unitard … if you’re auditioning to be a backup dancer in a new Lady Gaga video. It didn’t look so good for the Tyler Palko-era Pitt Panthers. Blessedly, this was only an alternate uniform. And they were only worn for short period of time, until the estate of Elvis Presley wanted them back.