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Original Issue


Nineteen eighty-two was one terrific year for purple. Kansas State actually got to a bowl game, and Northwestern actually won a football game. In fact, three of 'em. When I think of purple, which often as not I do, I think first of K State and N'western. They are the quintessential purple teams. Kansas State set the record for most consecutive losses, and then Northwestern broke it. Kansas State and Northwestern are pure purple, too. All they allow to go with their purple is white—"bridal gown white," as Charlie Finley used to put it. When you get teams that mix and match their purple with orange or gold, colors like that, pretty soon, you mark my words, the purple starts to take a back seat. When I say purple, I am not saying purple trim.

Myself, I have a purple overcoat. I bought it in Naples once when I was traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters. Early one morning we went down a back alley to a warehouse-type place. I believe the purple overcoat was stolen. I believe everything in the warehouse was. There were some awfully good prices. I sprung quickly for that purple overcoat. It was the middle of the summer, 90°, wet heat, and my mind had not been on overcoats, but how often does an opportunity like that present itself?

The Vikings are another widely heralded purple team. They lose more Super Bowls than anybody you can name. And the L.A. Lakers are purple; only, as we shall see, they were closet purple for a long time, which probably explains why they do win the NBA every now and again.

I don't know why I fancy purple so much. I never went to a school with purple colors. I never saw a purple cow. I'm not a king. It's just the way I am. Some people like liver. Some people like bowling. Some people like Dandy Don Meredith. Me: purple. It's an acquired taste, I think. For a long time I didn't care about purple one way or the other.

I was like everybody else, Doctor. Red or blue—with a little white, maybe cream, if I was really feeling wild and impetuous. And understand, Doctor, even now I'm not constitutionally opposed to the red, white and blue. I'm not a subversive. But there's your red, white and blue, and your red, white and blue. Red, white and blue for flags, yes. For teams, no. I'm up to here with red, white and blue teams. Red and white; blue and white; red, white and blue; even the odd red and blue. Boring, boring, boring. The Betsy Ross Open. Maybe your idea of a great game is 21-20 or 86-85 in triple OT. My idea is a good purple team against a green club, maybe, or an orange-and-black, or your basic black and silver. Here we're talking about good games to watch.

Probably the most famous sports purple isn't worn by a team. It's Wimbledon's purple. Wimbledon's colors are purple and green, just like the Highland Brigade. Only Wimbledon chose its colors first. The best guess is purple for royalty, green for grass. Only they don't call it purple and green. They say mauve and green. Mauve is a kind of dull purple, an off-purple.

I never realized this until I got into purple, but it has many shades. Your violet, your lavender, your royal, your plum. And over here, your mauve. There's a purple for everybody. You could have a whole league of purple teams, but all different, because of the shades. Are you listening, USFL? Why, just look at Kansas State. It wears one shade of purple basketball top with another shade of purple shorts. Purple doesn't clash with itself, the way, say, red does. If you put two shades of red together in a uniform, it would never work. It would look like blotches and pimples, stuff like that.

But, back to mauve. You're probably saying: This guy, you could sell him anything purple, he has no discretion whatsoever. Not so. Mauve doesn't work with green. It's very hard to tell where the mauve ends and the green begins. Probably this is why Billie Jean King says Wimbledon has such a great background. Even the ballboys are drabbed out in mauve and green. They wear mauve socks. There are limits. Mauve socks, with sneakers, is a limit.

By now, I own practically an entire purple wardrobe. Purple ties, purple shirts, purple sweaters, purple (non-sneaker) socks, purple belts, purple handkerchiefs. Never have run across any purple underwear, though it's probably out there somewhere.

It's funny, too, when you think about it, this obsession with red, white and blue uniforms. What are the two greatest dynasties in American sports? The Yankees and the Celtics. One is black and white and yukky gray and black, and the other is green and white. You would think owners and general managers would see the message there, wouldn't you? But no, they just keep coming back to the same old combinations.

Probably the greatest breakthrough in the history of purple sports came about 18 years ago when Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Lakers, put them in purple garb. When he started the Kings later on, he dressed them the same. A nice full plum tone, head to toe. Now, the Kings we don't have to concern ourselves with, inasmuch as they play hockey and nobody outside of San Aqua del Rey Estates ever heard of them, but the Lakers are a real team, possibly even a role model. Before Cooke, the Lakers were just another everyday blue-and-white team.

But, as I understand it, Cooke has a thing about purple, and within two seasons he had the Lakers in purple. Only you know what? While Cooke is bananas about purple the color, he can't stand the word. And so he said, what do you mean the Lakers are wearing purple, they're wearing Forum Blue. The Forum is the place Cooke built for the Lakers to play in. We should not be surprised then, should we? A man calls an arena a Forum, he will call purple blue. Jerry Buss, who bought the Lakers in 1979, now calls the same color royal purple.

Cooke's blue purple reminds me of gold. Some teams have yellow in their colors, but they always call it gold. Yellow means you're chicken. And in the old-fashioned days, pre-TV, if you hung out a yellow flag, it meant there was an epidemic. So whereas, after red, white and blue we have gold, lots of times it's really a yellow euphemism.

There may be other purple people around, too, besides me and Cooke and Lady Elaine from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, who went through a purple period. Lady Elaine had a Purple Planet and whatnot. If I remember, she was sort of like Midas, only it was a purple touch. Anyway, there may be a cult. For example, last fall I worked on a series of articles with Ahmad Rashad of the Vikings. The way we got into this was we met one weekend and subsequently he wrote me a letter. It was on purple stationery, a terrific lavender. I sign my name with purple ink, but purple stationery from a football player! I thought to myself: Here's a guy you could work with. Also, he was obviously very sure of his masculinity.

Here's an interesting thing about purple: As far as I know it doesn't rhyme with anything. Turple? Schmerpel? Neither does mauve—if you avoid the first pronunciation in Webster's, which has the long "o". If you played charades, and you gave the other team purple or mauve, they wouldn't be able to touch their ear and do a "sounds like." Name one other color capable of getting away with that. I don't even think lavender rhymes with anything, and violet only rhymes, as far as I can tell, with the obscure triolet. Plum has rhyming possibilities, especially if you count b-words, like dumb and numb and what have you.

But remember earlier we were talking about flags and, in passing, wedding gowns. Lest I be misunderstood, I want it clear that it's only red, white and blue in uniforms I'm complaining about, not flags. As a matter of fact, I think the worst flags usually come from the Third World, where they go out of their way to avoid all those red, white and blue colonial empire-type flags. As a result, Third World flags feature a lot of hideous orange and pea green, not to mention moons and scimitars and unflag stuff like that. I have nothing against red, white and blue flags whatsoever.

I almost forgot. TCU is another purple team that rarely wins any games. But it wins one now and then, which robs it of distinction. Maybe you know some other purple teams like that. Somebody told me once that Amherst was purple, but I wouldn't believe a thing like that for a minute. I have more in mind Old Dominion. Sometimes I lie awake nights wondering what colors Old Dominion wears. Another thing. I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that one of those Oregon teams is a purple. Or maybe it's one of the Washingtons. It's one of them, I'm sure.

And I'm positive purple is cyclical, like sun spots and hems. Purple will be back, and more and more people will have the sense to say enough already of the red, white and blue uniforms.

Sometimes, even now, I seem to sense that the Dodger sweat shirts are going from blue to a purple. Check it out. And the Kansas City Royals' uniforms. Eastern Air Lines is another one taking its blue in that direction, I think. I watch these things.