With holiday shopping season in full swing, it's time for the Uni Watch Holiday Gift Guide, our annual roundup of unusual gift items that are uni-related, logo-related or otherwise connected to the visual culture of sports.
Need to find something for that hard-to-please sports fan on your list (or just for yourself)? You'll find it here.
This year's guide is our biggest yet, with 15 showcased items plus a bunch of honorable mentions, with a range of price points that offer plenty of options for cheapskates and big spenders alike. Ready? Here we go:
1. College football Jell-O molds from Kraft Foods. Align your dessert with your rooting interests with these NCAA team logo Jell-O molds, available for a wide variety of schools. Guaranteed to put a new spin on your next round of Jell-O shots!
2. NFL throwback-logo refrigerators from Bed Bath & Beyond. Jazz up your tailgate -- or your kitchen! -- with these NFL fridges featuring old-school logos and mascots (including the always awesome Steely McBeam). Too bad the Bears' version doesn't feature William Perry, so you can't have the Fridge on your fridge.
3. NCAA, NBA and NHL logo belts from Mission Belts. Want to wear your favorite team or school's logo on your waist? Mission Belts is offering some sharp-looking belts in team colors, with team logos on the buckle. Choose from NCAA, NBA and NHL designs.
4. NFL, MLB and NHL toy figurines from OYO Sports. Tired of collecting bobbleheads and McFarlane action figures? Try the OYO toy figurines. They're endearingly goofy-looking, they're poseable, and they're available for every NFL, MLB and NHL team. Reasonably priced too.
5. "1000 Football Shirts" by Bernard Lions and "Shirt Tales & Short Stories" by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke. Two excellent books on soccer uniforms hit the market in the past year. "1000 Football Shirts: The Colours of the Beautiful Game" is an excellent resource, showing the kits for over 100 national teams and 500 professional teams, while "Shirt Tales & Short Stories" (currently available in the U.K. and due for American release in January) tells the story behind 60 classic British kit designs. Can't decide which book to get? Easy: Get both!
6. NFL hammers from Groupon. Just the thing for your hardware drawer -- a classic claw hammer designed with your favorite NFL team's colors and logos. A pebbled, football-like texture on the handle too. Just imagine that every nail is your most hated divisional rival and pound away! Order fast. These are available only through Dec. 7.
7. Basketball and baseball jersey posters from Pop Chart Lab. Pick your sport, pick your poster. If you're a fan of the hardcourt, this handsome basketball print charts the evolution of the basketball jersey, from the quaint designs of yesteryear through the sleeved designs of today, and includes jerseys from the NBA, ABA, the Olympics, movies and more. You say you'd rather be taken out to the ballpark? Then you'll want to check out the baseball version.
8. Pro and college bird feeders from Craftsman Larry. There's a guy on Etsy named Craftsman Larry who makes bird feeders designed like NFL and NCAA football helmets. If you check his full slate of listings, you'll see that he also makes lots of other football-themed stuff -- wine racks, planters, cornhole boards and more -- but it's the bird feeders that really hit the spot, achieving that ideal balance between kitsch, practicality and showing your neighbors what a crazy fan you are.
9. NHL-themed license plate artwork from Route 401. Another Etsy vendor -- Anthony Kentris, who calls his shop Route 401 -- cuts up old car license plates and repurposes them as rustic artwork. Many of his designs are NHL logos made from state- or province-appropriate plates, as you can see in these Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Lightning and Islanders pieces. Very cool stuff.
10. Big play diagram coasters from Points and Pints. Most teams have a few famous plays in their histories -- Dwight Clark making The Catch for the 49ers, Michael Jordan's game winner to close out the 1998 NBA Finals, Notre Dame beating Miami with The Play. Now those plays have been diagrammed, X's and O's-style, and laser-etched on a series of handsome slate coasters, which make for great conversation pieces. (If you'd rather have your big plays diagrammed on T-shirts, Hunter Mize has you covered.)
11. Baseball stadium prints from There Used to Be a Ballpark. Illustrator Jeff Suntala has created a series of gorgeous, retro-style prints featuring overhead views of various current and bygone baseball stadiums. You can choose an individual ballpark or see all of a city's baseball venues grouped together on one print. Very nice work.
12. "Rowing Blazers" by Jack Carlson. Did you know that many universities' colors are derived from their rowing teams? It's true. Georgetown's rowing team, for example, took blue and gray as its colors in 1876 as a sign that the northern and southern boys in the crew would be "pulling together" (in a reference to the Union and Confederate uniform colors during the Civil War). The university adopted those colors several years later. That's one of the many great stories told in Jack Carlson's lavishly illustrated book on rowing blazers, which is pretty much the last word on this topic. (For additional info, look here and here.)
13. Baseball-themed luggage tags from Bergino Baseball Clubhouse. Looking for a small, inexpensive stocking stuffer? You could do a lot worse than these embroidered luggage tags. So when the airline inevitably loses your bag, you can tell the customer service rep, "Yeah, and it has a really nifty tag showing a bunch of baseball caps. Now find it!"
14. Soccer artwork by Paine Proffitt. Soccer uniforms never looked better than in U.K. artist Paine Proffitt's paintings, which put the "beautiful" in the beautiful game. (He also dabbles in baseball and hockey paintings, although those don't feel quite as special.) Choose from limited-edition prints or original artwork.
15. Old-fashioned pennants from Oxford Pennant. The pennants you buy in stadiums and arenas these days are stiff, synthetic garbage. Oxford Pennant, a new operation out of Buffalo, New York, looks to recapture the feel of old-school pennants by making all-wool and all-cotton pennants with simple, heritage-inspired designs. Nicely done.
Honorable mentions and returning favorites. Do you have a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan on your shopping list? This coloring book of disappointing moments in Cleveland sports history should cheer him up (or at least make him laugh ruefully). ... Looking for colorful, logo-free basketball shorts? Check out Starman New York. ... Gotta love the gorgeous simplicity of the single-stripe Van Cortlandt singlet running tank, although 65 smackers for a tank top seems a little steep. ... Lots of interesting retro-style caps and patches at This Sporting Life. ... Last year we featured J. Preston's posters featuring minimalist ballpark illustrations. This year he has expanded his offerings to include football stadiums. ... Not sports-related, but fans of graphic design and logos will want to check out the new book "TM," which tells the stories behind the development of 29 classic brand logos. ... Sean Kane's custom-painted baseball gloves are pricey but make for incredible one-of-a-kind keepsakes. ... Your go-to source for throwback college football helmets is still Gridiron Memories, your best bet for throwback college basketball shorts is still Retro College Cuts, and you can still get impressively quirky baseball-themed cards and T-shirts from longtime Uni Watch favorite Left Field Cards. ... If you want to start a kid down the road that eventually leads to uni-watching and other forms of sports geekery, Jon Lindenblatt's book "Trolley Dodgers, Pinstriped Yankees, and Wearing Red Sox: How MLB Teams Got Their Names" should do the trick.
Paul Lukas knows who's been naughty and who's been nice, but he's not telling. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.