Work the floor at one of our galleries and you will get all sorts of opinions on various sporting topics. These opinions, naturally subjective, will vary, but can usually be placed under one umbrella header: "The Greatest." The greatest team or era, the greatest player, the greatest uniform or logo, etc. People don't go on about mediocrity. You might have a debate over who's worst, but being the worst is still being the best at something, technically...
Sometimes you'll see a general consensus develop, especially with uniforms and logos. People's opinions on players and teams are often the product of their generation and therefore vary. If you grew up watching Howe or Orr, one of them will be your GOAT (a commonly-used acronym for Greatest of All Time). If you're a little younger and were around for Gretzky, he's your GOAT. But the aesthetics of sport are different, they seem to transcend generational divides.
With results, more is always better. More points, more wins, more trophies. When it comes to uniforms and logos, simplicity is key. Less is more. This is why "vintage" looks are best loved, they come from a simpler time and therefore hold up better. Sticking with hockey, look at the Original Six; none have changed their uniforms or primary logos beyond a few tweaks and they continue to be seen as best in the league.
Sometimes a look can be so good it transcends the team itself. One such example is that of the Hartford Whalers. The Whalers, who played from 1972 to 1997 before becoming the Carolina Hurricanes, are sadly a footnote to most. On ice they are best known for being home to Gordie Howe post Red Wings. Mr. Hockey played with the Whalers in the WHA and then for one season in the NHL – in his 50s! – when the team moved leagues. The logo Howe wore became iconic, but it wouldn't be because of any goals scored or games won.
The logo the Whalers would use for their NHL tenure has become an all-time great. To call it a cult classic would be wrong; it holds its own with the best. If I were to make a list based on the number of customer comments and apparel sales – based purely on the logo and not a team's or athlete's success – it might even be the very best. I had one woman say the logo was the thing that inspired her to go to design school. Tourists gravitate towards it, despite having never heard of the Whalers before. Up comes the person to the desk saying, "I'd like this, please... and by the way what is it?"
Let's talk about the logo itself, made by graphic designer Peter Good. It is, after all, his sublime work that makes it so enduring and desirable. You have the two obvious pieces, a whale tail up top and a trident/spear below that doubles as a "W." But then there's that little open secret, the "H" that's formed by the negative space between the tail and spear. It takes some serious vision to develop such a simple logo and have it hold a wonderful easter egg. All together, it's perfection. Everything fits just right like the pieces of a puzzle.
Is it The Greatest Logo of All Time? That cannot be said definitively. There's always going to be people out there that disagree, especially when it comes to something as partisan as sports. But the Hartford Whalers' logo is up there. Try walking down the street with one emblazoned on your chest, you'll see. The bright light of a championship never shone upon it, and many don't even know the team. But the logo will live on forever, and with good reason.