We are getting towards the end of Jersey Week here at SB Nation (don’t worry, we’re stretching into the weekend), and now it’s time to really get nostalgic. We all remember our first...jersey purchase. Particularly what kind of jersey it was, the circumstances behind getting it, if it was customized, and why that jersey was the one that made it into your closet before any others.
Your first jersey will always hold some sentimental value. And even if it doesn’t fit anymore, it’s probably still hanging in the closet or buried in a box with other important jerseys and memories. So, let me talk about my first United States soccer jersey purchase, the one that will always be near and dear to me: the 2002 Home.
It was May 2002, and I had just finished my sophomore year in college and gone home to Michigan for the summer to work and take summer classes. I had secured a job at a German auto supplier, just up the street from the General Motors plant my dad ran. That meant many mornings began at 5:00am as we made the trek together from our house to his plant and then to my office. At night, I would pick him up on the way home, drop him off, and 2 nights a week I would have class down the street. For a college student, 5:00am wakeup calls are the definition of capital punishment, but it would work out that summer because the World Cup just happened to be in South Korea and Japan. Late night matches for the win!
I wanted to get the new home jersey that the USMNT would be wearing in the World Cup, so I asked my parents if I could get it as a “I finished sophomore year” present. They told me to save money and get it later. Well, that just wasn’t an option, but $70 to a college student who just started work is still something to save up to get. Luckily, Michigan offered another source of income: bottle and can returns. My parents already bought a bunch of pop (yes, it’s called pop) for me in anticipation of me being home and around the house. So, I drank it like a madman. Each pop can and bottle I could return to the store was worth $0.10. And, on top of that, I had to split all bottle return payments with my brother. That’s right, you did the math correctly: that’s 1400 bottles and cans of Faygo and Coca-Cola that needed to be consumed in order for me to get the funds to get this jersey. My first paycheck wouldn’t be distributed with enough time to have the jersey in time for the first match. So, let the binging begin.
Th first week, I knocked out about 100 cans on my own. My brother also helped out to increase our net profits. Still, that wasn’t going to be enough...my pace was too slow. I realized that I may have to wait until the first paycheck came a couple weeks later to get the jersey, but one night I made a bold discovery. I had hid some money in my room before I went off to school, and I totally forgot about it. Back then, I would just stash $10 here and there in random places so that if I needed it in a pinch, it would be there. Deep in a shoe in the back of my closet was $40. At that point, I had $20 in my wallet that was earmarked for movies and entertainment with my friends, and the bottle return money. I had the dough. I could get the jersey.
I ordered it from Eastbay (yep, Eastbay for life!) and it arrived a week later, just in time for a Wednesday 5:00am match against Portugal. My dad came downstairs to see me dressed for work with my new jersey on and yelling at the TV as John O’Brien scored the opening goal. He asked me what the hell I was doing. “Dad, the World Cup just started!” He told me to lower my voice, but he also let me finish the first half before we had to make the hour drive to work. I learned we had won 3-2 by logging onto ESPN when I reached work. The jersey had arrived, and it was the lucky charm.
I got to wear this jersey during every match of the 2002 World Cup, with games at 2:30am, 5:30am, and 7:30am. For the match against Germany, the company I worked for at the time (again, a German auto supplier) said that the office would be open and that we couldn’t congregate in the break room to watch the game, but that it would be on a TV should we want to watch while making a cup of coffee. I arrived at work that Friday morning at 6:30am to find the entire office, of which about 80% were German, already there dressed in white Germany jerseys. Don’t worry, they didn’t catch me slipping. I had my jersey too, and I held it down in a break room full of German fans and made sure they knew that Torsten Frings cheated.
That wasn’t the last time that I got to wear the jersey during the 2002 World Cup. When Germany reached the final against Brazil, it was on a weekend that we had to work. Of course, the office was closed for business for the hours of the game, and the entire office came in to watch the game.
I was there, right up front, wearing my 2002 Home. Just so they knew that they were lucky to be there getting rocked by Ronaldo and that America was here to stay.
Now, it’s time to hear from you. What was the first U.S. jersey that you purchased? Is there a cool story behind it or did you just love the jersey enough to part with your hard-earned dollars for it? Hit the comments and give us your tales!