Visualizing Sabres

I imagine it was sometime in February 1970 that I was doodling on my drawing pad, considering the recently announced nickname – the Sabres – of the new National Hockey League team based in Buffalo, New York.

And as I doodled, several threads of my life were coming together.

A few years earlier, probably sometime in late 1967, I’d wandered across the street to Rick and Rob’s house. Rick wasn’t home, but Rob was busy considering nicknames for teams he’d made up as members of sports leagues he’d created. One of them, I recall, was the Akron Hubs, with the nickname playing on the Ohio city’s prominence in the tire trade. Another was for a fictional college, the College of Cosmos & Damien, whose athletic teams would be called the Trumpeters.

He also, I think, showed me a basketball card game designed to be played either solitaire or with two players.

Being a newly hatched sports fan, all of that fascinated me, and I soon had my own basketball card game and began putting together lists of team names. I also began thinking about logos. In that year of 1967, as I’ve noted before, two new professional sports teams came to Minnesota, the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League and the Minnesota Muskies of the American Basketball Association. I followed the two teams, but more than that, I found myself considering the thought and design that went into naming the teams and then crafting their logos.

Then, after the Minnesota Muskies’ first season ended, the team announced it was moving to Miami, where it would be called the Floridians. Sometime during the summer of 1968, I looked at the map of Florida, and I envisioned a basketball flying out of Miami northeast like a comet or a hurricane, then curving around behind the state and coming out under the panhandle. And I sat down with my crude tools – a compass, an atlas and some colored pencils – and created a logo for the Miami Floridians. I don’t recall what colors I used, but I remember that it was a pretty raw piece of work. Nevertheless, I found the address for the newly relocated basketball team and mailed my creation off.

And here’s what came in the mail that August:

And here’s the logo the Floridians chose:

I filed the letter away and started making logos for my own fictional teams. I had a couple of basketball leagues of eight teams each (one using my card game and the other a simple dice game I invented), and then I expanded: I divided the U.S. into seven regions and used Canada as the eighth region to conduct a national basketball tournament. Each region had sixteen teams, and I pored over the atlas to find towns small and large to enter into the tourney; when a team reached its regional semifinals, it was awarded a nickname. If it won its region, it got a logo. The number of logos in my file – a file I have sitting behind me on a table as I write – increased rapidly.

I don’t know which I enjoyed more: playing the individual games of the tournament, watching the progress of the various teams through the tournament, selecting the nicknames for the regional semifinalists, or crafting the logos of the eight regional champions. All of it fed my soul. I eventually played five annual tournaments, with the last one coming during my sophomore year of college.

It was at the midpoint of that five-year run, in 1970, that I found myself one evening doodling as I considered how one might illustrate the team name of the Buffalo Sabres, a team that would begin play in the National Hockey League that autumn. I sketched a large and somewhat ornate capital B, and a little while later, I had what we would these days call a concept:

I made another version of it, this time making the blade of the sabre white, so the “uffalo” was more clearly visible. And I sent it off to Buffalo. A few weeks later, I got a letter:

I was pretty pleased just to have been noticed. And, yes, given the final portion of the letter, I must have asked if I should continue designing logos. I don’t recall doing so, but I think I was truly asking for an honest opinion. (Really, though, what was Mr. Burr going to say to a sixteen-year-old kid?)

A couple of years later, in 1973, I quit making logos, quit my annual basketball tournament and pretty much quit creating imaginary teams. I’ve resumed in recent years, taking a tabletop baseball game – not Strat-O-Matic, but a different one – and creating a league that over the course of almost thirty years has grown to eighteen teams. I’ve used Word to create the logos, which is kind of limiting, but good enough for now. Here’s one of them.

Getting back to 1970, I remember wondering on evenings in my room if the Buffalo Sabres would respond to me at all. I’m sure the radio was playing as I wondered, tuned to either KDWB or WLS or WJON just across the railroad tracks. So what would I have heard? Well, I would have heard many records that are now, as I often say, old friends, and I certainly heard some that I have long since forgotten. One of those forgotten until recent years was “Take A Look Around” by Smith. During this week in 1970, the record was at No. 31 on KDWB’s “6+30” survey; it would top off at No. 22 a couple of weeks later (and at No. 43 in the Billboard charts).

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5 Responses to “Visualizing Sabres”

  1. David Prowse says:

    What? No Sabre Dance?

  2. Yah Shure says:

    Nice work on the Sabres logo! Too bad the Miami team didn’t use whatever idea you’d suggested, as I’m sure it wouldn’t have left one with the impression the Floridians were a pee-wee league outfit.

    Only once do I recall writing a company about a particular design, and that occurred during the early part of 1973, when ABC unveiled the New Coke of record label overhauls. The familiar ABC and Dunhill label logos gave way to an incredibly underwhelming typeface consisting of children’s wooden building blocks. The junior high print shop-look was bad enough in color, but the grayscale conversion printed onto the 45 RPM factory sleeves was a true masterpiece, as indistinguishable blobs go. Must’ve looked swell on those black & white display ads.

    I thought the new look was ridiculous, and dashed off a letter of protest. Evidently, mine wasn’t alone: the response I received indicated the company had decided to revert to the older designs, which they did by the end of the summer.

    The old school look hung on for another year before getting a final heave-ho in favor of a design with a series of concentric rings of color and plainer-font type. The Dunhill name was retired in 1975.

    Three Dog Night’s “Shambala” was one of the final major hit singles issued on the kiddie blocks design; the promo 45s and some commercial pressings had already come out on the revived “classic” design, but a couple of the Columbia pressing plants hadn’t yet depleted their blockheaded label stock:

    http://www.discogs.com/viewimages?release=4923665

  3. Doug Broda says:

    Of course, Minnesota and the ABA are involved in of the oddest franchise moves ever. After the Muskies drew poorly in season 1, they moved to Miami to become the Floridians, as you noted. Meanwhile, also in the ABA in season one were the Pittsburgh Pipers. The Pipers won the ABA title in the first season, drew pretty well compared to other ABA teams… and promptly moved to Minnesota. Why? Well, ABA league office was based in Minneapolis (home of league commissioner George Mikan), so perhaps Mikan was a mover in getting a Minnesota group to buy the Pipers and move them there. But here’s the weirdest part… when the Pipers didn’t draw in Minnesota either, what happened? They moved *back to Pittsburgh*! (Recommended reading: Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto.)

  4. Henri Roca says:

    Was the clock operator for the Buccaners.
    Am interested in the dice and or card game you used for your game.
    Please let me know if their is a cost involved.
    Many thanks and good fortune
    Henri

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