In 1996, the NHL began to roll out a third jersey program that radically reimagined how the humble hockey sweater could look. Some — like the jerseys worn by Pittsburgh and Vancouver — were weird and unnecessarily asymmetrical. Others — like the Mighty Ducks’ cartoonish “Wild Wing” design or Los Angeles’s “Burger King” look — ventured so far outside the box that they’ll forever be burned into the brains of hockey fans. Legend has it that the St. Louis Blues were set to wear a design so loud that then-coach Mike Keenan refused to let his players take the ice wearing it.
By those standards, the jerseys the New York Rangers introduced 24 years ago this month were pretty tame. With a logo that borrowed the Statue of Liberty design from Mike Richter’s mask and featured deeper shades of the team’s traditional colors, the modern-but-not-too-modern look would prove popular with fans: The team would wear the jerseys until 2007, and the design had some staying power even beyond that. The logo showed up on the team’s practice jerseys long after it was officially retired, the FDNY incorporated it (with permission) into its 150th anniversary logo in 2015, and this season, it’ll make a comeback on the team’s Reverse Retro jerseys.
But what if the Rangers had gone in a dramatically different direction in 1997 and gotten properly weird with it?
On January 13, 1997 — the night the team wore the Lady Liberty jerseys for the first time — MSG Network in New York aired a segment on its pregame show to hype the new look. I know this because in 1997, I was an extremely cool seventh-grader who would videotape Rangers games I thought I might want to watch again someday in the future.
I was, it turns out, correct. Desperate to watch sports during the early days of the pandemic, I started to raid my archive, pulling meticulously labeled DVDs (long-ago converted from the original VHS tapes) out of the cabinet where they’d sat untouched since the last time I moved. I watched the 1994 Rangers win the Stanley Cup. I watched Wayne Gretzky skate in his last NHL game in 1999. And I watched that pregame segment from 1997, with footage from the unveiling of the Rangers’ new uniforms and — better still — glimpses of some of the other designs that were presented to the Rangers and ultimately rejected. Those jerseys, I was delighted to learn, were more in line with the bolder designs being rolled out across the league at the time.
The least-outrageous of the bunch, this one’s essentially a color-swapped version of the Rangers’ traditional jersey (specifically, the ones they wore in the 70s and 80s that read “New York” instead of “Rangers”). It was basically a Reverse Retro design before there were Reverse Retro designs.
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This design adds 90s-style lettering along with a red-and-blue color gradient, similar to the jerseys the Canucks would later introduce but, for some reason, only on one shoulder.
This jersey is ridiculous and terrible and I love it. No notes.
This one has some strong “school-photo background” vibes.
This one has some strong “Apex One jacket” vibes.
These two were only shown briefly and not in close-up, but the one on the left also features a red-and-blue color gradient, plus angular striping at the hem.
The segment also includes images of a couple dozen alternate logos that weren’t ultimately chosen. Some actually look pretty sharp and wouldn’t have felt out of place as, say, a shoulder patch on the final design. Others are considerably sillier: One, for instance, appears to be a skating hockey player with a puck for a head, like the vulcanized-rubber offspring of Peter Puck and Mrs. Met.
There were apparently other jersey options, too. Ed O’Hara, a designer from SME Designs who worked on the new look, told the New York Times in 1997 that they’d “considered King Kong on the Empire State Building,” before settling on Lady Liberty.
So how close were the Rangers to choosing one of these wild looks? Probably not very. In the MSG Network segment, then-general manager Neil Smith said that “We looked at a lot of different designs but really there’s only one that ever really clicked with us, that we said was really representative of what we wanted, and that’s the one that we’re going to be using.” The segment also stresses that the Rangers tried to balance the team’s traditional look with more modern elements, which would rule out some of the more outrageous options.
Added Smith: “We looked at some real good ones, some ones that would really make you laugh, but there was a lot of thought and a lot of hard work put into it.”