Like any self-respecting University of Cincinnati alumnus, my closet consists of garments that I can group into one of three categories:
Free t-shirts. Former AD Whit Babcock was big on this early in my UC tenure. It felt like every other game had some t-shirt giveaway for students, usually with a logo for a local bar or deli meat company on the back. I wonder how many Bearcat t-shirts I own for which I paid nothing. My guess is somewhere around 20. I don’t wear any of them.
Current apparel. I’ve got a “Sean Kilpatrick” jersey. I’ve got a 1992 throwback. I’ve got more Under Armour and Adidas clothing than any adult should own. My uniform in the office is indistinguishable from that of an Homage model. (Hey Homage, sponsor me.)
Retro stuff. I spent too much money on a Leonard Stokes jersey that’s too big for me. I spent too much money on a Jordan-era warmup (also too big for me). I spent way too much money on a vintage American Thunder t-shirt that ostensibly features someone vaguely resembling Curtis Bostic soaring through outer space. I have not yet found the proper moment to wear it, and I am considering donating it to a museum.
I tell you this to illustrate the point that an embarrassing percentage of my wardrobe is devoted to UC apparel, and yet I’m not happy. I have all the gear a Bearcat fan could want, and yet I look at my shelves with disdain because they are devoid of the one thing I lack: Absolute trash available at your local online secondhand store.
I have a sickness. I am obsessed with terrible Bearcat apparel.
Weekly I browse eBay’s wares, searching not for the latest quarter zip or moisture-wicking polo, but for an abomination manufactured (likely without a license) in 1990.
I’m allured by pieces produced without the constraints of modern branding standards. Do I want a game-worn Kenyon Martin jersey? No. I want an obviously counterfeit Under Armour jersey from China or a 1998 windbreaker autographed by Melvin Levett and personalized for someone named Derek.
Beautiful product shots are passé and, frankly, insulting and indicative of a millennial generation obsessed with superficial beauty. Give me a photo of an old snapback covered in cat hair, taken on an iPhone 3G or, better yet, a Canon PowerShot of the same vintage as the snapback itself.
I don’t know how this 1993 Great Midwest Tournament shirt got to a seller in Boca Raton, Florida, but I know they once visited Cincinnati because I can see the unmistakable Skyline stain on the left breast. It only entices me further.
The best products can be found under titles such as “Cincinatti BearCats VINTAGE **LIGHT WEAR ~~ HOLE NEAR LEFT ARMPIT**.” This seller is a hoarder, or maybe an “entrepreneur” that scours local Goodwills for sports merchandise bearing logos from schools in cities whose name they can’t spell. No matter, I want what they’re offering.
Do I buy it? I do not. I resist the temptation on each of my scouting trips.
I don’t know why. Maybe I sense that the desire is better than the acquisition. Perhaps Etsy temptation is a playground where I like to swing from the monkey bars without using the aluminum slide. Maybe, deep down, I know the pain of longing strengthens the soul.
Maybe I want to leave these items available for others. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because I want them to remain online forever… or at least until my sick, morbid curiosity gets the best of me again.
If I’ll never own these items, the least I can do is commemorate them and etch them into the walls of eternity. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce The OhVarsity! Bearcat Apparel Hall of Fame.