Flying Skates and Buffaslugs

In 2005, Kristopher Bazen, a Nike designer, was asked to come up with a new logo for the Buffalo Sabres. He was excited and enthusiastic about working on the new design. Poor wretch, little he knew what was about to happen.

Bazen came up with a charging buffalo and crossed sabres in a circle. Looked good. Still looks good. But then a committee got hold of it. This committee said the logo needed “to become more progressive, more abstract, to be aggressive and take on a new identity.” Right. So Bazen kept working. Recently, on his website, he released a complete page of the various designs that were worked through during this decision period:

See something good there? Sure. But the committee… Listen, for some years I worked at designing T-shirts and let me tell you, without any qualification whatsoever, committees suck! The worst is when you’re dealing with Lefties who want some kind of a group consensus. If you put a bunch of people together and tell them they’re critics, well, they will criticize. They will find something, anything, to complain about and then the designer has to go back and try to make sense out of their whines. But even without consensus, you have problems from committee members who maybe don’t want a change or, in my case, don’t want to spring for T-shirts. I recall a committee where one member said that the mountains looked like breasts and I should change them. It doesn’t take much of that kind of thing to turn you off people.

The thing is, most people don’t see. They talk about wanting this or that wavy hand in the air bullshit but they can’t really see what they’re blabbering about. They have a head full of notions but no eyes. Well, enough about my bitterness. Bazen was more committed to his profession; he stuck to it even when the committee came up with this “furry horned cashew nut”:

 

Soon the fans (world’s biggest committee in any league) made their opinions very clear:

“Where are the legs? Why are there no Sabres? Why is it wearing a mask? If it’s not a mask, then why is that blue strip on its nose? Is that a Breathe-Right strip that football players wear? Why is one horn white and the other yellow? Why does it look like it was inspired by Homer Simpson’s sperm?”

And so forth. Soon the logo was deemed to look like a slug and called the “Buffaslug”. There were Photoshop contests, pictures of salt being applied to the logo… For Bazen, it was hell: “It felt like shit.” But Kristopher Bazen might take solace in the fact that he is not alone. Let us consider the case of Joe Borovich, a Vancouver hockey fan who designed the original Canucks team logo.

When Vancouver finally got a franchise in 1972, it did not go to the Canadian group who already had a stake in the WHL Canucks, but to a Minnesota hustler named Tom Scallen. (The reason why the good guys lost was because of opposition from Toronto ownership who didn’t want another Canadian team in the NHL, but that’s another story.)  The WHL Canucks therefore continued to use their fine old logo and Vancouver had to come up with something new. Scallen wound up in prison, which is not unusual for NHL owners, but before that managed to select Joe Borovich’s design as the team logo. Joe got $5000. The logo depicts a stylized “C” made from a rink and a hockey stick and printed in “West Coast colors”: teal, green, and blue, which were also the official provincial colors at the time.

Well, that’s pretty good, right? Maybe, unless the team does poorly for too long, that’s when fans begin organizing coach lynchings (I’m looking at you, Toronto) and demanding stupid stuff, like changing the logo.

Tiger Williams in the happy yellow uniform.

One thing that needed doing was to change the ownership. That happened in 1974. With the team still losing, the next step was a new logo. So a hotshot San Francisco outfit, Beyl and Boyd, was brought in. They said the Canucks logo was too passive, Boyd had a theory about the way that the human eye perceives color, something about rods and cones and one or the other is more aggressive. He said a lot of other shit, too. So, for $100,000, the Canucks got this:

Then, as had been the rule since the Canucks joined the NHL, the light or white background jerseys were worn for home games and the team colors for away games (one of many stupid decisions intended — don’t ask me for the logic — to draw American fans). Beyl and Boyd substituted yellow for white, because yellow was a happy color! The rest of the logo (yes, that’s a logo) was that “V” from the shoulders to the crotch and the colors, orange and black — a black background for away uniforms — were not meant to recall Nazi rallies but for their inherent aggressive qualities. Joe Borovich first heard that they were killing his logo on the radio:

 I was devastated when the California group designed the new one. I hated the Canucks. I heard it on Frosty Forst in the morning on CKNW. I couldn’t believe it. I figured like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, I am here forever. Then all of a sudden this happened and I was just devastated.

Yeah, the Leafs and the Canadiens with their non-aggressive, classic uniforms. Boston may have the proper aggro colors but does anyone really know that the  logo shows a puck in the net? The Rangers only have the word… I could go on. Anyway, pretty much everyone hated the new uniforms from the team to the screenprinters (the team had to go to a flag manufacturer to get the things made). One thing that Beyl and Boyd got almost right was the shoulder patch, the flying skate. Pretty soon, when the Canucks braintrust decided to change the logo but not spend any money doing it, that skate became the new logo. The only problem was the background, “puke yellow” as Brian Burke called it, and that was soon shifted to white.

The then owners, the Griffiths family, changed the logo entirely to a killer whale “C”. This was criticized because it was blatant advertising of the Griffiths’ corporation, Orca Bay Entertainment. They also brought back Joe Borovich’s original logo as a shoulder patch — they paid $10000 for that. Later, for a few tweaks and color changes to the killer whale, they reportedly paid a million bucks!

But Joe should not be bitter. History has absolved him as the Canucks are now using his original design for their alternate uniform. This is after some years of fans paying premium prices for the “classic” or “retro” logo on their sports souvenirs. And Kristopher Bazan should take heart: even as his logo is being removed from Sabres uniforms, fans are starting to ask for the classic Buffaslug. It’s only a matter of time, Kris! Soon your despised creation will be the new must have.

Notes:
Vancouver Canucks logos

History of the Canucks Logo

The Buffaslug

Kristopher Bazan Homepage

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One comment on “Flying Skates and Buffaslugs

  1. Wow… found this article after trying to track down the one from Yahoo. Thanks for sharing this, I greatly appreciate it!

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