We're all still bathing in the afterglow of the Adidas Reverse Retro jersey launch, but one particular nugget of news caught my attention in all the coverage. The Athletic's Jesse Granger spoke with Adidas hockey head Dan Near for a piece about the sweaters and when it came to Pittsburgh's inspiration, the fact that rapper Snoog Dogg wore a diagonal-lettered Penguins jersey in the music video for his song "Gin and Juice" was a factor in the new design.
Now, this is great on a couple of levels, but it really got me thinking back to the early 1990s, when that video first aired (1994, according to imdb.com). As a teenager and a hockey fan, it was downright thrilling to see Snoop Dogg rocking hockey jerseys in that video - along with the black Pittsburgh sweater, the rapper also wore an AHL Springfield Indians number that was incredibly unique because it was in the Hartford Whalers' dark blue color scheme. Hartford adapted the look in 1992, but the Indians moved to Worcester and became the IceCats in 1994, so the window for that particular Springfield jersey is pretty small. But I digress...
Hockey has never had the same association with music as some other major American sports enjoy: hip-hop and basketball have long been married and the fact sneaker culture intersects with both ties the two factions together even further. To a lesser extent, baseball has always had the backing of rock and roll thanks to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty of CCR, to name a couple artists.
And while I always enjoy when satirical punk news site The Hard Times makes a joke about hardcore kids and hockey, the avant garde is not the mainstream. But Snoop Dogg was becoming one of the most popular rappers on the planet when 'Gin and Juice' dropped and his tacit approval of hockey jerseys had cultural force to it, at least in my humble opinion: hockey was getting noticed outside of cold-weather climates, by one of the biggest tastemakers in pop culture, no less.
From what I've been able to glean, Snoop Dogg's stylist at the time was a fan of hockey jerseys because she liked how big the canvas was, in a manner of speaking. And it makes sense: basketball and football jerseys are boring because they're dominated by numbers and don't have long sleeves, while baseball is dominated by script-letter designs that are awkwardly broken up down the middle by buttons. But hockey jerseys are colorful with cool logos and plenty of space for stripes and other elements.
I don't know if Snoop Dogg was the first to wear hockey jerseys in a video, but in the ensuing years, a lot of other rappers took up the cause, from members of Wu-Tang Clan to A Tribe Called Quest - there's even a Twitter account that logs such appearances and it's pretty fun.
It's also important to remember what halcyon days the early 1990s were for hockey. Wayne Gretzky was in Los Angeles and Mark Messier was captain of the New York Rangers, putting two of the league's biggest stars in major American media markets. The fact Messier led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, breaking a 54-year slump, pushed hockey onto the front pages in the United States. Sports Illustrated even championed hockey over basketball in a 'Hot and Not' cover in June of 1994, though the sentiment was torpedoed when NHL owners locked out the players, truncating the 1994-95 season and killing all momentum. Whoops.
In more recent years, Snoop Dogg has become even more ingrained in hockey, showing up on Kings broadcasts ("Get'em Dion!"), welcoming Quinton Byfield to Los Angeles and wearing hometown jerseys at Canadian concerts, from the Saskatoon Blades to the London Knights and beyond.
Hockey never did eclipse basketball, but we always had Snoop Dogg supporting us. And now the Penguins have a special jersey that reminds us of that.