photo credit: "Marge" via alexovetjkin.blogspot.com
Each early evening of a game night, a game for which I'm fortunate to have a ticket, I relish that magical, transformative moment as a fan when I pull over a jersey just prior to leaving my home (or hotel room) and making my way to the arena. A fan may get a tingling, prideful feeling when buttoning up his favorite wide-collared shirt, clasping on those sweet cufflinks (you know, the vintage ones with the wheel of cards; or these), sporting that perfectly tailored suit. Or when slipping on and zipping up her favorite dress. Slammin'. Ah, but putting on that jersey, feeling that synthetic weave over your head, fight strap tickling your back, brings emotion of a different quality altogether.
Long before I ever laced 'em up to play hockey on ice, I was a fan. And in those early days as a young teenager, with no other connection to hockey, I treated my first couple of Capitals jerseys with a care befitting the Shroud of Turin. (Ok, not quite.) Washing a jersey was out of the question. A stain sent me into a panic. But, slowly, I emerged from that ignorance to realize that jerseys were made to be washed, even played in. Still, whether it's as a spectator or a player, putting on the jersey is always a uniquely special occasion.
I attended the Caps' road game at MSG on February 11. A healthy number of Caps fans were there with me that night but, of course, we were all smack in the heart of Rangerville. I boarded a crowded E train on my way to the Garden, filled with commuters and a sizable contingent of Ranger fans. My home red Boyd Gordon gamer stood out about as much as one could stand out in a Gotham subway car. An older gent sat across from me reading the NY Post sports page, and his eye caught my jersey. He looked up at me and muttered "Should be a great game tonight. You got a good team there." Heh. I have a good team. And it was a wonderful feeling to saunter through the catacombs of New York's Penn Station on my way to the arena, wearing the bold colors of a renegade tribe. Well worth the price of that jersey.
It's always a well-contemplated decision of what jersey to wear on a given game night. Some nights call for the Alex Semin replica. Others call for Gordo. During the 2006-07 season, unable to wait for the return to the original colors, I wore this fictitious Caps sweater. (I know, a jersey foul, some might say.) And all manner of superstitions may dictate the wardrobe result, though I've tried to distance myself from those.
Research studies abound concluding that the style and color of uniforms affect performance, can bring forth powerful emotions, and even fundamentally alter our behavior. For what it's worth, the Capitals' dominant color of red "is a sexually selected, testosterone-dependent signal of male quality" and can alone lead to greater athletic success.
We wonder if "Professor" Matt Bradley feels just a little bit brainier, authoritative, wearing that white lab coat. And we wonder what you feel when you wear your Capitals jersey.
For fans, donning the colors of a uniform resembling, as closely as possible, those worn by one's favorite team on the ice is a tremendously powerful bonding experience, bringing us together with our fellow fans as well as, at least superficially, with the team on the ice. Wherever they may be. It's perhaps a significant reason for many fans using "we" to reference the team they love.
More fascinating than the thrill of wearing a Caps jersey itself is breaking down the decision-making process of choosing a particular player's sweater to purchase and wear. Often, the players whose surnames we wear on our backs reflect how we perceive ourselves and how we want to express ourselves.
Wearing Bradley's jersey may signify that you're a very determined fellow, quick, full of heart, witty, and perhaps disposed to important environmental causes. Wearing Alex Semin's jersey may underlie a desire to identify with razor-sharp athletic skill, artistic brush strokes of pure genius on ice. (Or, perhaps, you enjoy drumming.) Sporting #8 may mean that you always shoot for the stars, look toward nothing but the ultimate package of grit and glory. Or perhaps a Caps jersey with NNOB is for you. The team and community come first, above any individual player.
Further, do you more enjoy celebrating old glory, or looking to the future? It's quite a different feeling when pulling Kevin Hatcher's home #4, with captain's C, from the early '90's out of my closet, then when I slip off of its hanger Stefan Della Rovere's blue practice jersey from development camp.
So what's your favorite (or only) Caps jersey, and why did you choose that particular player (or no player)? Do you have any pre-game ritual focused on pulling over those threads? How does it make you feel when you go out into the world wearing a Caps jersey?