by Paul Knepper
At the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony on August 6th, inductee Deion Sanders concluded his speech by placing his signature bandana on his Hall of Fame bust. Throughout Prime Time’s career the all pro defensive back wore a bandana under his helmet during games and often kept it on for the post-game interviews.
Over the years, many other athletes have been known for their use of a specific accessory, something above and beyond the normal uniform, which they regularly wore either during competition or on the sidelines.
These are the top ten trademark accessories in sports.
10) Patrick Ewing’s wrist bands
Ewing took the phrase “breaking a sweat” to a whole new level. Minutes after tipoff, the Knicks center would be as drenched as Ted Striker trying to touch down on the runway in the movie Airplane! Some players use a headband to stem the flow of sweat, but Patrick opted for enormous wrist bands. One of the most enduring images of Ewing’s career is him standing on the foul line, dabbing his forehead with those gigantic bands, while the sweat continued to drip from his chin.
9) Pete Maravich’s socks
The Pistol was known for his flashy passing, infinite shooting range and dazzling ball-handling, though no description of the basketball prodigy would be complete without a reference to his floppy hair and scraggly socks. For a period during his time with the Utah Jazz Maravich wore high socks with green, yellow and purple bands, though for most of his career he weaved his magic in raggedy loose socks that looked like they came off the feet of Woody Harrelson’s character Billy Hoyle in White Men Can’t Jump.
8) Deion Sanders’ bandana
It wasn’t clear if Prime Time’s bandana served a purpose during the game, such as keeping the sweat out of his eyes, or was merely a fashion statement. Occasionally, Deion would change it up and arrive for an interview with a do-rag on or go Tupac style, with the backwards bandana, but he always returned to his signature look. The Hall of Fame should have left the bandana on Deion’s bust, which looks nothing like him and instead bears a strange resemblance to a mix between Vince Lombardi and Troy Aikman.
7) Jim McMahon’s shades
The colorful quarterback of the ’85 Bears developed an extreme sensitivity to light in his right eye after damaging his retina in a childhood accident. He became one of the first football players to wear a tinted visor on his face mask and often wore sunglasses on the sideline, which developed into a signature look for the rebellious signal caller. McMahon even sported his famous shades in the Bears epic Super Bowl Shuffle video (link below).
6) Bjorn Borg’s headband
Borg is probably one of the five greatest tennis players of all-time, though his personality on the court was as bland as rice cakes, especially when compared to his rambunctious rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. What sports fans remember most about the talented Swede is the striped headband he wore just above his eyes to keep his long blond hair in place. The image has been imitated by everyone from Luke Wilson’s character in The Royal Tannenbaums to my lovely goddaughter Janie Paisner.
5) John Olerud’s helmet
Olerud suffered a brain hemorrhage and aneurism in 1989 while a student at Washington State University. Doctors advised the first baseman to wear a helmet in the field for protective purposes and he continued to do so for superstitious reasons long after he needed to. Over his 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, he was the only non-catcher to wear a helmet in the field.
That brings me to the funny story about Olerud and the notoriously absented-minded Rickey Henderson. Supposedly, when Henderson and Olerud were teammates with the Mariners, Rickey asked Olerud why he wore a helmet, then told him that he had a teammate the season before who also wore a helmet in the field. Olerud responded, “That was me.” Sadly, sources have confirmed that the exchange never happened, but it’s still a great story.
4) Richard “Rip” Hamilton’s mask
Hamilton broke his nose in 2002, then twice more during the 2003-2004 season, so a doctor recommended that he wear a customized plastic mask over his face to prevent it from happening again. The mask was certainly good luck, as Rip led the Pistons in scoring during the playoffs that season on their way to an NBA title. He’s worn it ever since. I always thought Jason’s mask from Friday the 13th would have been a lot more intimidating.
3) Andre Agassi’s hair piece
What makes this accessory so remarkable is that we had no idea it was an accessory at the time. Agassi’s long blond hair and his colorful clothes were the centerpieces of his rebel persona and “Image is everything” Cannon campaign. It wasn’t until the former tennis star’s autobiography Open was published in 2009 that we learned he was wearing a hair piece all along. We were duped!
2) Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ black gloves
Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, though it was their courageous black power salute on the medal stand which lives on in the American consciousness. The black glove on their hands remains one of the enduring symbols of the African-American civil rights movement and their defiant salute was recently immortalized in the form of a statue on San Jose State’s campus.
1) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s goggles
Plenty of basketball players have competed in sports goggles, though none embraced the look or became identified with them quite like Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He began wearing his specs while attending UCLA – when he was still known as Lew Alcindor – after scratching his cornea in a game against the University of Houston.
Abdul-Jabbar and his goggles reached a wider audience through his classic role as co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane! (Yes, that’s two Airplane! references in one article. I don’t care if I’m dating myself, it’s arguably the funniest movie ever made.)