Packers’ unis give him a rush
Non-native son loves the Green & Gold
BY JEFF ASH
Paul Lukas has loved the Green Bay Packers’ uniforms for as long as he can remember.
Asked whether they’re his favorites, his answer comes quickly.
“They are,” he says.
That isn’t so remarkable until you consider that Lukas is a native New Yorker, having grown up on Long Island in the 1970s. He now lives in Brooklyn. He’s visited Wisconsin, but has never lived here.
“Ever since I was three or four, green has always been my favorite color. I have a green car. I have a green sofa. My bike is green. The Packers got off to a good start with me there,” says Lukas, who is 52.
If his name sounds vaguely familiar, you may know Lukas from ESPN, for whom he writes about sports uniforms. He also runs Uni Watch, a blog he bills as “The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics.”
“When I think of what a football team should look like, I think of the Packers playing on grass at Lambeau,” says Lukas, who has traveled widely but has never been to Lambeau Field. “To me, that’s what football should be. Still even today.”
Here’s what Lukas sees in the Packers’ uniforms:
“I like the green and the ‘mustardy’ gold the Packers use. It’s particularly good for football, particularly autumnal colors for, well, autumn. If a color combination can hit me in the gut, that’s the one. It’s always seemed official and right. The Packers’ G logo strikes me in precisely the same way.”
Even the Packers’ white road jerseys appeal to Lukas.
“That’s another real strength of the Packers’ uniforms. The road uniform is every bit as strong as the home one. They both look really good,” he says. “The Packers are usually the better-looking team on the field.”
That said, Lukas acknowledges that the Packers’ uniforms have evolved, and not always for the better.
“The football uniforms I fell in love with in the ‘70s are not being used anymore. No more sleeves. No more sock stripes,” he says. “The Packers’ TV numbers are too big. They look funky on the shoulders. The fabrics have all changed. They look different in life and on TV. There isn’t quite that sense of color saturation.”
One of Lukas’ earliest pieces about the Packers’ uniforms appeared in 1993 in a small, self-published magazine called “Beer Frame: The Journal of Inconspicuous Consumption.” He wrote that they were “obviously the best in the NFL. You have the autumnal patterns. Then you add eye black and blood on the bridge of the middle linebacker’s nose, and you have all the colors you need for an autumn sport.”
That came at a time when Lukas feared for the Packers’ uniforms. When the team considered making design changes, Lukas sent a copy of his story to Packers president Bob Harlan, expressing his concerns. Harlan wrote back, describing the new jerseys and assuring this young guy from Brooklyn that everything would be OK.
“I can guarantee the Packers will have a class uniform,” Harlan wrote to Lukas, who still has the letter.
Just as Harlan tried to reassure Lukas in the ‘90s, Lukas tries to soothe Packers fans agitated about what their beloved Green and Gold might look like when they host the Chicago Bears on Thursday night, Oct. 20.
The Packers will wear jerseys and pants of the same color — the Color Rush uniforms — in that game at Lambeau Field.
“I am hopeful for the Packers. There’s a history of them wearing solid green and solid yellow,” he says.
True. The Packers wore all-gold and all-green alternate uniforms during the early 1950s.
“I’m hoping they can come up with something that references that and honors that and isn’t a super-hero look,” he says. “I’m hoping it will not be completely loathsome.”
Lukas points out that although the Packers’ uniforms have long been green and gold, “there are fans who fell in love with them in the navy blue era. It’s interesting the way they provide a window on team history.”
True. The Packers’ primary colors were blue and gold from 1919 to 1949 and again in the mid-’50s.
That kind of research matters to Lukas.
“I write about the details of things. I’ve always been a minutiae guy, and I’ve brought that filter to writing about business, travel, culture and food,” he says. “I tend to notice details that other people overlook, that other people stopped seeing, things that were so much in front of their nose that they never noticed it.”
Lukas’ projects include Permanent Record, a blog about found items, and the Key Ring Chronicles, a curated collection of stories about items on people’s key rings, for McSweeney’s, a literary website.
Those are diversions for Lukas, whose primary focus since 1999 has been writing about the details of sports uniforms. His column briefly appeared at Slate, a news and culture website, then landed at ESPN in 2004.
“Over the last half-dozen years, that work swallowed up all my other work and now constitutes the vast majority of my work,” he says of the sports uniform beat.
“I write about anything and everything regarding uniform design. My Friday Flashback column is a look back at some aspect of uniform history. I also cover breaking uniform news as it happens,” Lukas says of his ESPN gig, which started two years before Uni Watch was launched in 2006.
Friday Flashback samples:
The original color rush, the Packers: espn.go.com/video/clip?id=14337041
Frozen tundra fashion: espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14374949/uni-watch-friday-flashback-how-hand-warmers-took-hold-nfl-combat-cold-weather
A recent baseball story: espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/17077189/uni-watch-friday-flashback-look-back-throwbacks
Paul Lukas loves Wisconsin almost as much as he loves the Green Bay Packers’ uniforms.
“Sometimes you’re in a place, it feels right with a capital R. Wisconsin feels that way to me,” says Lukas, who tries to visit once a year.
“I love the people. I love the beer, the bowling, the brats. The small-town Wisconsin tavern culture in which it’s the nerve center of a Wisconsin community – like diners in New England – speaks to me a lot.”
Lukas loves exploring roads less traveled and places less visited. He’s happiest spending the night in tiny Mom-and-Pop motels. He’ll always eat local rather than at a chain restaurant. He has a gift for finding authentic, sometimes vanishing local culture.
“I’d never been to Wisconsin until September or October of 1996. I went to the House on the Rock, the Mount Horeb mustard museum, Circus World Museum in Baraboo. I didn’t know about all the other things I’d fall in love with,” says Lukas, who confesses he was “immediately smitten.”
When he last visited in December 2015, Lukas and his girlfriend made the rounds of southern Wisconsin.
Among their Milwaukee stops: Jake’s Deli, Gene & Marcy’s Holler House tavern and its two hand-set bowling lanes, Three Brothers (a Serbian restaurant) and the American Science & Surplus store. They crashed the members-only Eagles Club in Janesville to watch the Packers-Cowboys game. They stopped at Brewer’s Center Tavern in Albany and Dot’s Tavern near Paoli, which is in the basement of a house. They had lunch at Zwieg’s Grill, a charming old-school place in Watertown. They also found themselves at the intersection of Oosty Avenue and Oosty Court in Oconomowoc.
You get the idea.
Most of Lukas’ visits go like that.
“This is the place,” he says. “This totally does work for me.”