We all began as fans.
Working in sports media, we are often asked how we got started. The truth is, we began as fans. Fans of a team, fans of a player, or maybe just fans of a particular sport. Now, we’re lucky to be able to parlay that passion into a profession, and we never take that for granted.
But as fans, that means those dear to us recognize that passion, and often lean into that during the holidays.
Which means lots of sports-themed gifts over the years.
With the holidays approaching, we thought we’d share our favorite sports-themed gifts that we’ve received over the years. Who knows, maybe these will spur some memories of your own.
Or maybe even help create some new ones.
The perfect jersey
As a man of … let’s just say a certain age, wearing a jersey is a little awkward.
Team apparel is fine, of course. But walking around in a jersey for an athlete who is young enough to be your son or daughter feels a little off.
However, a few years ago I decided that I could take jerseys in a different direction. Fictional jerseys. I started building out a little collection of quarterback jerseys from a few different movies or TV shows. Hanging in my closet at the moment is a white Washington Sentinels Shane Falco jersey, from The Replacements. There is also a blue West Canaan Coyotes Jonathan Moxon jersey from Varsity Blues, A black Miami Sharks Willie Beamen jersey from Any Given Sunday, and even a white Blue Mountain State Alex Moran jersey from the short-lived comedy Blue Mountain State.
So one Christmas Eve, my family was exchanging gifts. My parents were excited, extremely excited, to hand me a box to open. As I started unwrapping the gift, I noticed the distinct aqua of a Miami Dolphins jersey.
We should pause for a moment. Given my new career, and in particular my focus on studying quarterbacks, my parents also over the years have given me jerseys for QBs that I’ve studied for the draft, as mementos of the work that I have done.
So back to Christmas Eve. As I saw that Dolphins aqua, I started to think to myself. Was this a Tua jersey? Was I on the path to Tuanon? But, I’m a Patriots fan. We’re Patriots fans. Everything seemed off.
Then I saw the number.
It was a Ray Finkle jersey.
A Ray Finkle jersey from Ace Ventura.
— Mark Schofield
The nostalgia I needed, when I needed it
Christmas of 2003 wasn’t a great time for me. I was almost two years in to living in the United States after moving from Australia, and seriously doubting my decision to relocate halfway across the world for college.
At the time I was midway into my freshman year, and I really wasn’t liking college. I started in film school and found everyone around me to be notoriously pretentious and insufferable. My dreams of meeting like-minded, movie-loving people in college were crumbling under the weight of their chin-stroking quips about French New Wave cinema and bloviating about François Truffaut. Meanwhile I was getting scoffed at in class for suggesting that Die Hard was cinematic genius, because entertainment was just as valuable as social commentary. Seriously, screw all those people.
In a moment of crisis I internalized because I didn’t learn about the importance of therapy for another decade — hope arrived in a white “Australia Post” package. My mom sent me a Sydney Roosters jersey, my favorite rugby team, and it reminded me of one of my favorite sporting moments of all time.
Luke Ricketson, a bruising second row player had his head cut open in the 2002 Grand Final and Sydney were out of substitutions. Medical staff were telling him to head to the locker room to get stitches, but that would have cost the team valuable time and forced them to play a man down. So Ricketson, in his rugby-loving glory, GRABBED A STAPLE GUN THAT WAS USED TO HANG A BANNER AND SHOT STAPLES THROUGH HIS OWN HEAD! The medics then wrapped his head like a mummy, he ran back on the field and made a try-saving tackle.
It sounds dumb now, but that moment inspired me. If he could do something like that, surely I could tough it out and make my own path without fitting into the “accepted” path. I transferred out of film school and over to the English department, I concentrated in journalism, and met my wife in the Spring of 2004.
That jersey was everything I needed, when I needed it. Whenever I was filled with doubt or anxiety I’d wear it to class, like it was my suit of armor. I finally had to get rid of the jersey a couple of years back because it was too threadbare to wear, but I’ll never forget how important that jersey was to me.
— James Dator
My first piece of sports apparel
I’ve had “better” gifts since, but my most important sports gift was a San Francisco 49ers t-shirt I received in Christmas 1988. I was 9 years old and had only recently joined the 49ers bandwagon (I lived in Las Vegas). This was my first ever piece of sports apparel.
I was in fourth grade that year and my teacher happened to be a Bengals fan. Given that I was a kid and had no qualms doing so, when the 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl matchup was set, I wore the t-shirt every single day for two weeks. It did get washed on occasion, but as a nine-year old, I didn’t care whether it was washed or not. It was my first moment of “trash talk” for lack of a better term and I wore it all the way through the Monday after the 49ers beat my fourth grade teacher’s favorite team. That set my 49ers fandom in stone.
— David Fucillo
Rose Bowl tickets
In 1997, when my beloved Washington State Cougars earned a bid to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years, I found two tickets to Pasadena under the tree. I was just seven years old, but had scarcely missed a game at Martin Stadium as far back as my memory would go. It was the Grandaddy Of Them All, a chance to potentially win a national championship, how could we miss it?
It’s funny what your 7-year-old brain remembers and what it forgets. I remember playing catch with a Nerf football in the hotel parking lot, I remember being in the background of a TV shot during the Rose Parade, I remember taking a nap in the grass in front of the stadium before the game. I remember very little of the actual game itself.
I remember crying when my favorite player, running back Michael Black, went down with a calf injury early. I remember Charles Woodson picking a WSU pass off in the endzone. And most of all, I remember there were still two seconds on the clock when Ryan Leaf spiked the ball. My dad and I sat there for what felt like half an hour after the field had cleared.
I’ve been to hundreds of sporting events since, but it’s impossible to compare anything to watching your alma mater play in the biggest game in the most iconic stadium.
– Adam Ward
A Curtis Conway jersey
I spent my summers growing up in suburban Chicago tagging along with my father on road trips to Platteville, Wisconsin to watch some of the worst teams in Bears history go through training camp. I would stand alongside their entrance and exit of the practice field hoping for an autograph. I would like to think no one has more worthless memorabilia from that era of Bears football than me, from Steve Stenstrom’s practice-used wrist bands to a Dwayne Bates’ signed mini helmet to several trading cards autographed by Rashaan Salaam.
My favorite player, though, was Curtis Conway. He was young and fast and cool, and twice went over 1,000 yards receiving, which seemed like the most impossible task in sports for a Bears wide out in the ‘90s (not much has changed). I got a Conway jersey for Christmas as an 8-year-old in 1995 and wore that thing constantly. I would wear it to run fly patters in the backyard, rock it to ever ‘dress down’ day at Catholic school, and of course wear it annually to Bears training camp. Muhsin Muhammad once said that “Chicago is where receivers go to die” and he wasn’t wrong — but you could also be an icon to a young kid simply by being pretty good.
— Ricky O’Donnell
NBA Beef for Christmas
I was a teenager in Los Angeles during the Lakers’ three-peat dynasty which means any time I wasn’t focusing on school, I was thinking about that evening’s basketball game. I became infatuated with everything about Shaq and Kobe. I was equally as devastated when the two future Hall of Famers couldn’t work things out and Shaq left to the Miami Heat. They could have won so many more championships had they tossed their differences aside.
Everyone knew before the 2004-05 season started that their first matchup as opponents would be as dramatic as anything sports could offer. I just didn’t know I would be there in person. My parents surprised my younger brother and I with two tickets for the Heat-Lakers Christmas Day game. We couldn’t believe it.
They were the highest seats in the arena, but I didn’t care. I was there. I remember my brother and I waiting to see whether Shaq and Kobe would acknowledge each other before the game. They did, but half-heartedly. I was an emotional mess as the game went to overtime. I might have gotten a little too rowdy because I spilled some of my Sprite on the nice sweater of a fan in front of me. If you are somehow reading this, I’m sorry. Hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did.
— Hector Diaz