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EOTP Roundtable: The stories behind our jersey collections

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From favourite players to priceless mementos, members of the Eyes On The Prize staff discuss the various sports jerseys they own.

Minnesota Wild v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Jersey sales are a big part of professional sports. Fans get a chance to show their support for their favourite team or player, while franchises get an additional source of revenue to supplement ticket sales and broadcast deals. Eyes On The Prize is home to a few collectors of the garments, and they discuss the highlights of their collections, as well as some of the more regrettable decisions.

What’s the most embarrassing jersey in your closet?

Scott: That might be a tough one, because I own enough jerseys that I have to call my girlfriend when I get tempted by an auction on eBay to avoid spending more of my paycheck on them. In terms of ones that are embarrassing, it’s hard to say, but maybe that powder blue Atlanta Thrashers sweater that says “Atlanta” on one of the sleeves? Besides that is has to be an Aston Villa jersey from 2008-09 that I bought on a whim.

Jared: This one is very easy for me. Well, it’s easy to narrow it down to three, anyway. I have a Josh Freeman Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, a Trent Edwards Buffalo Bills jersey, and a Rakeem Cato Montreal Alouettes jersey. Friends don’t let friends get jerseys of early-hype quarterbacks.

I am also slightly embarrassed that I have two of the same Brendan Gallagher jerseys because I forgot I already had one. There must be a story there...

Nathan: A knock-off CSKA jersey purchased off eBay around the mid-2000s that looks like it’s perhaps a design from the late 90s. The “CSKA” part is peeling off and the jersey itself only serves to remind me of ... thinner days. Jokingly, a tiny part of me wonders if it’s really a knock-off or just a product of the Yeltsin years?

Namiko: Amazingly, I don’t have one (yet).

Patrik: Not sure it’s embarrassing since it’s a Mikael Renberg jersey, however it’s also a Philadelphia jersey, so it is a bit embarrassing.

Julian: Before I gave them away, I had these old knockoff Premier League Manchester United and Arsenal shirts. They both had badges on the shoulder marked “F.A. Primier League”. Now, even if it isn’t that embarrassing, it’s an oversized black and red generic hockey jersey with my last name “McKenzie” and the number 23 on it. I wore it back when I played in a summer ball hockey league. I scored a goal (a knuckler from the blue line) and got an assist in the playoffs (hit it off the board before it found a teammate in open space) wearing it. It was crazy hot in that thing.

First jersey you bought with your own money?

Scott: The first jersey that I bought was a 1994 Vancouver Canucks Pavel Bure sweater. I was lucky enough to be pawing through a thrift shop looking for old vinyl records, and it was hidden away on a rack of other sports related things. Eighty dollars later, and that gorgeous jersey was coming back with me.

As for a Montreal Canadiens sweater, my first was on my first ever trip to Montreal during the Ides of March game against the Senators in 2014. After spending a weekend with some great EOTP folks, the drive home included a stop by the arena at Brossard. After wandering around for a bit, a 23-year-old Scott walked into the shop area, dropped $185, and walked out with a red and green centennial sweater that I proudly wear to this day.

Namiko: I bought my first Habs jersey in July of 2014. It was, of course, a Lars Eller, customized because he wasn’t popular enough to have ready-mades in the store — even online. It was a pretty nerve-wracking experience because he hadn’t yet re-signed. My first jersey, and it might be rendered immediately irrelevant. But I had a pretty good feeling about him returning, and figured even if he got traded, he had still been my favourite player, so it wouldn’t be wasted. Fortunately for me, he did re-sign just a couple of days after it arrived.

It’s also signed by Dustin Tokarski, Devante Smith-Pelly, Nathan Beaulieu, Dale Weise, Torrey Mitchell, and Brendan Gallagher (a random assortment because those were the players who happened to be signing at the time when I attended a blood drive with fellow EOTP writer Shayna).

Gallagher chirped my jersey choice and only agreed to sign it when he saw the Gallagher t-shirt I was also wearing. (The mere moments I missed Eller, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Plekanec by that day still haunt me.) So it’s got some fun memories associated with it.

Jared: It’s not so much a jersey I bought with my own money as it is the first time I had to choose a jersey with financial consequences. In the mid 1990s, I finally got my parents to agree to get me an Expos jersey. Back then, the way it worked at the official team store is that you paid for every part of the jersey. Every letter, every number. Forget getting Mark Grudzielanek... I ended up going with Moises Alou, although I did consider going with Felipe Alou instead since he would outlast almost every player.

Nathan: I can’t even remember.... I think it was a non-game version Colorado Avalanche jersey that I found in the clearance section at ... was it Canadian Tire, perhaps? It’s not a knock-off though, it just isn’t what they wore in actual competition. I think it was late high school or maybe early undergrad, Peter Forsberg was doing Peter Forsberg things, and I could only afford the $30 price tag.

Patrik: Said Flyers jersey...

Julian: It was an Argentina jersey I found on a thrift store’s Instagram account. A lot of the jerseys I own or have owned have either been received as gifts or as hand-me-downs. I had an old Argentina one that was also a knock-off and I wanted an authentic one. It’s a little tight now but I still have it.

What’s your favourite jersey in your collection?

Scott: I have to preface this by giving a huge shout-out to Patrik for this one, because without his efforts I would not have this sweater. Thanks to Patrik, I managed to get my hands on an Artturi Lehkonen Frölunda jersey. Not only does it mean a ton to have it sent by a good friend, but even more so to have such a unique jersey as well.

It’s really fun to have a fellow fan ask where I got the jersey, or even just be asked in general about it, plus I love having unique jerseys that no one else ever seems to be wearing at a game.

Julian: Back when I was an intern for the Syracuse Crunch hockey team, I got to see them wear these super sweet orange jerseys. It’s a town that loves orange, so of COURSE, they have an orange jersey. When I finished my internship and was preparing to move back home, the team’s chief operating officer (big shoutout to Jim Sarosy) gave me a jersey as a parting gift. It’s a sentimental piece of clothing from an amazing year abroad.

Fun fact: working with the Syracuse Crunch was how I met Scott Matla, who was in the press box for a Crunch playoff game against the now-defunct St. John’s Ice Caps.

I’ve only worn it once to a game, though. Scott was in Montreal for a Habs game against the Flyers. His very first game at the Bell Centre. We went together and I wanted to wear my Crunch jersey to be a neutral. I’ll let you figure out if that worked or not.

Namiko: It’s really hard for me to pick at all, but if it has to be just one, I have to go with my Team Denmark Eller jersey, just because I love the lion running onto the sleeves so much, plus it’s not like it’s a super common jersey to see on this side of the pond ... ever.

Jared: I have a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Toronto Blue Jays jersey which I love. But this choice is a bit off the board. At some point in the mid 2000s, I decided to buy an Ichiro jersey on eBay and I appreciate it every time I open my closet and see it. I recently added a Shohei Ohtani jersey which is also pretty great. The vintage Anthony Calvillo is pretty great too.

Patrik: It’s obviously my Canadiens Jean Beliveau jersey that I bought before the legend passed away. My dad once spoke to me about how good the Canadiens were when he grew up and told me that “they were so good, that they had to change the rules; they once scored three goals during one power play.” My choice of NHL team was made then and there. When it was time to get my first Canadiens jersey, it wasn’t a question of what name it would be on the back.

Which jersey holds a special place in your heart?

Scott: This is the easiest one for me to answer. The jersey that is the most near and dear to me is a St. John’s IceCaps Newfoundland Regiment jersey, worn for only two games in the last season that the IceCaps were an AHL club.

What makes it so special is that my dad surprised me with it for my birthday, and given the limited amount produced and the total surprise it made it extremely special. It is no longer part of my collection though, it is part of a shadowbox with some other IceCaps memorabilia (including a John Scott game-used stick).

Jared: This one is easy for me. Throughout my time as Sports Editor of The Concordian at Concordia University, I kept joking that I wanted a Stingers jersey in my column. It was the kind of throwaway line I would use in Christmas wish list columns, or what have you.

My last year, I attended the year-end sports banquet, my last one as a student. Les Lawton, the Stingers women’s hockey coach — my first beat and one I had all five years — told me to sit with his team at the banquet instead of at the media table. That’s when he brought out a box.

I opened it, and there it was. A personalized Stingers jersey with the year I graduated. I’m not sure how I kept it together (probably shock), but I did. Every time I see it, it brings back all those memories.

I didn’t play for the Stingers, but they still had a very real impact on my life, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am without those five years.

Namiko: I have quite a handful that do, and they’re all Utah Grizzlies jerseys. I have a 2010-11 hunter green Brock Wilson jersey which particularly special because he was my first favourite hockey player ever — from back before I was even a hockey fan.

There’s a Phil Pietroniro Cancer Night jersey from a couple of years back which is cool cause it was the first jersey I bought of a player I actually knew, and I have quite a handful of fond memories associated with it. My Military Night Mike Banwell jersey from the same year is special for similar reasons. We bonded over living in Scarborough, and really missing Toronto in general, so again, it’s less about the jersey itself, and more about the memories from that season.

Then there’s Taylor Richart’s jersey from this season, his first as captain. Richart is the only player who’s been on the team as long as I’ve been in Utah. He’s gone from rookie to captain in that time, and he and his family are among the very small number of players/player families I’ve met who I would actually consider to be friends rather than just people I’ve worked with. So, unsurprisingly, it’s a special jersey to have.

Patrik: It’s actually a gift from the time when my Eyes On The Prize career really started. When I was in Slovakia for a Slovan Bratislava game, a good friend in the club asked if I wanted a game-worn KHL jersey. I got the chance to pick whichever one I wanted from a pile of old jerseys, and I saw that one of them was the KHL “Children’s Cancer Foundation” Jersey. I asked if I could really get that and the answer was “Yes.” Even if Slovan is struggling, and it isn’t a ‘cool’ team, it’s a KHL game-worn jersey that promotes children’s cancer foundation. (Now I just need to get it signed by Rok Tičar.)

Nathan: A personalized Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.

I’m fired, aren’t I?

So ... the story behind this is that I married (and am still married to) a Leafs fan — I see you writing that pink slip faster — and one of our friends got us personalized jerseys for our wedding. My name on her team’s jersey, and her name on my team’s.

So naturally, there’s a lot of attachment to that particular sweater.

And before you ask, no, I have never worn the thing, and I never will.

Julian: My grandma got me a LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers jersey as a gift and I still have it. I wore it during Game 2 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals between LeBron and the Orlando Magic, where the Cavs needed a buzzer beater to win it.

Just exactly how many jerseys do you own, and what are they?

Scott: Short answer: too many.

Long answer: I own Canadiens home jerseys with Brian Gionta, Lars Eller, and Larry Robinson on the back. In away jerseys I have an Andrei Markov, Charles Hudon, and a blank version. I also have a Paul Byron Winter Classic sweater, a Jeff Petry NHL centennial jersey, plus the aforementioned red/green sweater.

I also own the Pavel Bure Canucks jersey, a London Knights jersey, a Chicoutimi QMJHL sweater, the Lehkonen Frölunda jersey, a Joni Ikonen KalPa jersey, an Andrei Markov Ak Bars Kazan KHL jersey, plus a blank Rochester Americans jersey.

(Deep breath)

Also a Team USA Sochi jersey, a blank Team Sweden IIHF jersey, my Thrashers jersey, a Jack Grealish Aston Villa kit, an AJ Hawk and Aaron Rodgers Packers jersey, a Michigan footbal jersey, a Red Bull NY jersey, and finally a Ted Williams Red Sox jersey.

No, I don’t have a problem, how dare you.

Namiko: Too many. I have far, far too many.

In terms of the Canadiens, I own home jerseys of Pacioretty (C), Eller, Gallagher (A), Markov (A), and Nathan Beaulieu (bought at extreme discount after he was traded).

I also own an Eller Capitals Stanley Cup Final jersey, a Sidney Crosby Sochi Team Canada jersey, the aforementioned Denmark Eller jersey, and a signed Charlie Sarault EC Bad Nauheim jersey that took some major networking by a friend to get ahold of.

Then there is the frankly absurd amount of Utah Grizzlies jerseys I own, collected over the course of four years, and nearly all signed. I own the Wilson jersey, a blank white jersey from the 2015-16 season signed by most of the team, three home and three away “loan-to-own” jerseys where you buy the player’s jersey during the year, and they wear it with your name on the bottom all season (Pietroniro, Richart, Austin Carroll, Austen Brassard, Kevin Carr, and Brendan Harms).

Then there are all the specialty jerseys. I’ve got three cancer night jerseys (Pietroniro, Gage Ausmus (this one being special because it’s got some of my family members’ names on it), and Yuri Terao (special because how often does a Japanese hockey fan get to cheer for a Japanese player in the ECHL?!), an Ausmus Captain America jersey, two different military night jerseys (Richart and Banwell), two Epilepsy Foundation jerseys (Harms and Connor Yau), a Brad Navin Angel’s Hands jersey, and a Navin warm-up jersey. I also own a practice jersey with my last name on the back, which the equipment manager a couple years back talked me into.

In my defense, I didn’t buy all of them, quite a few were given to me.

It’s still a problem.

Jared: *looks above* Wow.... Not that many. Or actually, maybe. The actual answer is 23 between myself and my wife. Just my own jerseys would take that number down to about 17 including ones from when I was a kid (the aforementioned Alou jersey still hangs, and some that I bought just to get signed). For the rest, I blame liquidation sales...

Julian: Eight, but I only have one hockey jersey. Definitely not as many as Namiko. She is the jersey queen as she should be addressed as such.

Patrik: Let me count; an old Frölunda jersey from the 70s, one from 2005 run, and the special jubilee jersey from this season. The mentioned Canadiens one, the Flyers one, the Bratislava one and I am waiting for an Alexander Romanov CSKA jersey. I have also promised to get a Lukas Vejdemo jersey, not sure if it will be Djurgården or a Canadien one though... That’s six in hand, and one on the way.

Nathan: Only a handful. It comes with being a poor undergraduate and then graduate student, and then when I stopped being a student, young children prevented me from having an occasion to wear them. I imagine the number will go up in a few years though when my kid(s) get to an age where I can drag them to a rink and they might actually pay attention to what’s happening on the ice.