About Those Brett Leonhardt Jerseys
There are at least two possible reasons for buying a "Leonhardt 80" Caps jersey. You could, like Eric Boshoven, want to pay touching tribute to one of the craziest NHL stories of the year, the one in which a Web producer went from the cubicle to the bench as a backup NHL goalie.
Or you could be more like Mark Kinnear, a 41-year old season ticket holder from Parkville who also spent about $140 to outfit himself in the answer to a trivia question. Why did he do it?
"I was home one night, probably had a few too many," Kinnear told me, "and I was like, 'What the [bleep]?' "
What the [bleep], indeed? For all I know, there are more "Leonhardt 80" folks floating around, but neither of these guys has any personal relationship with the shirt's inspiration, despite what passersby assume. Brett has, of course, seen them around, so I asked what he thought the first time.
"Shocked, surprised, grinning ear-to-ear," he told me. "That's one of the highlights of this whole thing, seeing someone wear your jersey. That's like a childhood-dream moment. That was right up there with actually putting the jersey up over my head."
"Exactly," agreed rookie Karl Alzner, when I asked what it was like to see HIS jerseys in the stands.
"It's unbelievable to have someone walk around in your jersey. I had a few back in Calgary, in juniors, but this is the NHL. This is, like, legit. This is for real. And that's what really kind of makes me tingle up here when I see it."
Kinnear, whose only other Caps jersey is an Ovechkin, figured that five years from now, only a true Caps fan would have any idea what his Leonhardt jersey means, which appealed to him. He called the sweater a Christmas present to himself.
Boshoven's purchase takes some more explanation. He bought a blank red Caps jersey the night the new design was released, and planned on keeping it that way. Until Dec. 12, when weird stuff started happening. The 37-year old from Mount Airy, hadn't heard about
Brent Johnson's Jose Theodore's injury or Leonhardt's signing before the game, so he and his friends sat there staring at No. 80 taking warmups, with no idea what was happening.
His friend, Courtney Ferry, started looking for info on her iPhone. Shortly after the game started, and before Leonhardt was replaced on the bench, she found the answer.
"She tells us it's the Web producer," Boshoven remembered. "We didn't believe it."
When he finally believed, he said that night he would convert his pristine red shirt into a Leonhardt tribute. He went to the jersey customizer in the Verizon Center. And they were out of the letter L. After four or five games of this, he finally went to the Caps' practice facility, which was out of Es and Os. So he got the jersey started, and then took his Wheel of Fortune puzzle back to Verizon to finish the job.
Why so much trouble to get a Web producer's hockey jersey?
"Because that's the coolest story in hockey this year," Boshoven told me. "I think we all have that dream. Whether it be hockey or football or basketball or whatever, every boy grows up doing the last-second-shot kind of thing in the schoolyard....That the regular guy gets a shot, and that the rest of us get to hear about it, it makes it more tangible, I guess."
"One of the greatest stories of the year," piped up another nearby fan who was listening in.
That first night, about a dozen fans in Boshoven's section turned to face General Manager George McPhee in the press box and began a "We Love Leonhardt" chant, prompting laughter from the GM. Boshoven has a Leonhardt action shot as the wallpaper on his phone; "that's my boy Leonhardt right there," he says, showing the photo. He wants to get the Web producer to autograph his shirt.
"People love Rudy," Leonhardt said, trying to explain this phenomenon. "If it gives regular hockey players who never made it a good story, and if it reflects positively on the organization, then why not?"
"Or maybe they're just big fans of our podcast," he said.
(More jersey tales. John Erskine has indeed noticed that there are a few "Erskine 4" sweaters in the stands. "When you see a couple of guys walking around with Ovechkin jerseys and Semin and all that, then you see the odd Erskine one, that's kind of neat to see," he told me. "My game is just like the rough and physical stay-home defenseman, so if [you] like that type of player, buy my jersey I guess."
I told David Steckel I had seen one of his jerseys in the crowd; "more power to me, I guess," he said. "I mean, it is what it is. I see the majority of Ovechkin jersyes running around, so it's funny when you see one of mine, but it's not really anything I pride myself on."
And Alzner still remembers the first time he saw a fan wearing one of his Caps shirts. It was during the exhibition season. She had "Alzner 47." That was before he changed numbers. Whoops. He also echoed what Brett said about the boyhood dreams fan jersey deal.
"Hopefully some kid's gonna be wearing that outside playing street hockey, and then I know exactly how they feel," Alzner said. "It's just awesome. It's nice to know people care that much to pay to get a jersey like that. I'd always wear jerseys [as a kid], not usually where you get the names on the back, because that was a little too expensive for me. But you know what, it's funny. I'm from Vancouver: I had a Florida Panthers jersey, a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey, a Nashville Predators jersey, and I didn't have a Canucks jersey until I was older. Get that. it was a little strange."
I told Alzner about the Leonhardt 80 jerseys, and he laughed.
"I should get one of those," he said. "That was cool. That was awesome. I'm happy he got a chance.")
[Inspired by Japers.]
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