WHEN THE LOS ANGELES CHARGERS revealed their new logo last week—a linked la, white on blue, with an electric zigzag flourish—fans said it looked like the Dodgers' logo, if it were being Tased, or having Biblical relations with the Tampa Bay Lightning bolt. Public ridicule was so swift and unyielding that the Chargers abruptly abandoned the design, though it will long haunt the team as a secondary emblem, an unfortunate logo BOGO.
Logos are nothing to trifle with. "Sports fans are the most passionate brand loyalists on Earth," says Todd Radom, a graphic designer who specializes in pro sports. Yankees logos grace onesies; Packers logos adorn coffins; Cowboys logos embellish everything from car bumpers to boxer-briefs. They're civic emblems, uncoupled from their teams.
"People look to logos to solve their problems," says Peter Good, the DaVinci who designed the Hartford Whalers logo in 1979. When the Whalers began to lose, team officials asked for a more aggressive whale. "It seldom works," says Good, who declined the re-design. But sometimes it does: In 2002, Radom refreshed the Angels' logo, and they won the World Series.
In this golden age of disposable consumer products, when a good sports logo is designed to last five years and a great one makes it to 10, the cursive of Coca-Cola or the Dodgers might as well be Uncle Sam's handwriting. New logos, as the Chargers know, are instantly gang-tackled on social media. Suffice to say the Celtics would not choose a potbellied smoker to represent their NBA aspirations in 2017. "If the Dallas Cowboys put a star out there today," says Radom, "it would get savaged on the Internet because it's just a star."
Teams of corporate designers now labor over NHL logos. But when the Whalers commissioned Good, he was a hockey agnostic who withdrew to his Connecticut studio and sketched a w and a trident that revealed, in the negative space, an h for Hartford. This was the save-the-whales 1970s, and Good quickly abandoned the deadly harpoon for a whale's tail, a design made possible by the blind luck of those symmetrical letters, H and W. The result is more famous to more Americans than nearly anything in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As with all great art, many of these masters died in obscurity, their names lost to history. Like most artists, they were often poorly paid. "Think about people like Ray Barton," says Radom. In 1961, Barton was paid $15 for his drawing of two uniformed schlubs shaking hands. A 46-foot-tall version of that Minnesota Twins logo—Minnie and Paul—is now the centerpiece of Target Field, serving as an electrified headstone for Barton, who died in 2010, five days after the park opened.
One of my favorite logos—the Milwaukee Brewers' M and B, joined together to form a baseball glove—was designed in 1977 by a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin--Eau Claire named Tom Meindel, who beat out 1,931 entries to win a $2,000 prize.
But your favorite logo will depend on your age. One man's teal abomination is another's security blanket. "Nostalgia is such a powerful narcotic," says Radom.
Some logos grow on us. Others are resurrected—the Orioles' cartoon bird—while a few never die: The Yankees interlocked ny, the Canadiens' CH.
And some, like Good's Whalers logo, live on long after their host organism has died. The Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes 20 years ago, but their old logo is more popular than ever, appearing on T-shirts and tailgates and biceps. When the writer John Hodgman told Good he saw a Whalers tattoo on a hipster's ankle in Brooklyn, the designer knew: "It has migrated out of Connecticut. I get emails that say, 'I saw a Whalers hat in Kathmandu!'" The Whalers have been gone longer than they existed in the NHL, but the Whale is thriving in a Free Willy way, set loose in the world.
"In my obituary," says Good, who is 74, "the Whalers logo will be mentioned before anything else." And that's fine, for his logo does what all good ones do: "It gives me pleasure."
When the writer John Hodgman told Peter Good he saw a Whalers tattoo on a hipster's ankle in Brooklyn, the designer knew: "It has migrated out of Connecticut."
Did you like the Chargers' new, now-abandoned logo?
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