Saturday, 29 October 2011

Oregon? Ohio? Ottawa? Oh, Oakland!

Finding official prototypes for NHL jerseys is rather hard to do since most marketing and design firms will hold on to these prototypes and guard them with US Secret Service-like secrecy. There are a vast number of reasons why this makes good sense, but the image above shows that there was much less worry about design theft in the 1960s when it came to hockey sweaters.

That, readers, is Charles O. Finley holding a mock-up of what he thought the Oakland Seals uniforms should look like after he had purchased the Oakland Seals team. However, his purchase of the franchise in 1970 saw him rename the hockey club as the California Golden Seals, and along with the name change came some very famous uniform changes. In the same vein as the Oakland Athletics - another sports franchise he owned - Finley changed the Seals' colours to green and gold, and then forced the players to wear white skates rather than the traditional black just like he had done with the Athletics. Notice the colour of the skates in the mock-up? Yes, it was definitely a planned move from the start.

The Seals looked like they were on the rise after going 21-39-18 in 1971-72 - an increase from 20-53-5 the year before - but Finley wasn't interested in "overpaying" for talent, and allowed his five best players to skate over to the WHA for a bigger payday. As a result, the 1972-73 season saw attendance numbers plummet, the team's record fell to an abysmal 16-46-16, and Finley's pocketbook suffered. In February of 1974, with the Seals on pace for a horrible 13-55-10 season, Finley sold the team to the NHL at a profit, and escaped his NHL venture realtively unscathed.

Of course, Mel Swig took over and moved the team to Cleveland a couple of years later, but the damage had been done as the Seals/Barons never recovered. In an interesting note, Finley almost sold the team to a group in Indianapolis in 1973, but the NHL rejected the sale of the team. The smitten Indianapolis group decided to get into pro hockey by joining the WHA for the 1974 season, and the Indianapolis Racers were born. It's amazing how things worked themselves out in hockey back then.

I wanted to bring to light the incredible picture above of an NHL owner holding a prototype of a jersey for the US Presswire to capture. It's rare when you catch NHL teams putting their ideas out to the public in this day and age about what they may wear with all the counterfeit jersey manufacturers lurking in the background. Back in the late-1960s, though, it probably didn't even cross anybody's mind.

Charlie Finley was different in terms of how he ran his sports franchises, and the "O" jersey was definitely something different than what NHL fans were used to seeing from the Seals.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

Actually, the Finley-era Seals didn't start with white skates - their first colored skates were yellow with green trim, and also green with yellow trim, in 70-71. Later came white skates with green trim, and finally all-white skates in which only the laces were green. After the NHL took over the Seals near the end of 73-74, they played their remaining games with normal skates

Teebz said...

The Finley era started with white skates. I have 100% confirmation of this, and the green-and-yellow skates came after. The St. Louis Blues used blue skates during the green-and-yellow skate era of the Seals. I'll have more posted on this shortly, but the book Shorthanded talks about the skates and how they changed colours from white to green/yellow to black during Finley's time.