For most Pittsburgh sports fans, there's no better gift than the shirt off their heroes' backs. But if you're looking for special new Steelers or Penguins jerseys, you'll need to be quick, lucky or a very generous giver.
The hardest to find are special vintage jerseys marking the Steelers' 75th anniversary and the Penguins' Winter Classic, an outdoor game in Buffalo on New Year's Day. Ironically, both uniforms represent periods when the home teams weren't drawing big crowds -- the Steelers of the 1940s, '50s and '60s and the relatively new Penguins of the early '70s.
The Penguins' cool blue retro shirts are the hotter of the two for one big reason -- they're not here yet. Karen Ford, retail manager at Mellon Arena, is expecting them to arrive next week. When they do, adult jerseys without a name or number will sell for $149 and youth for $75. Ones bearing Sidney Crosby's name and number (87) and captain's "C" will go for $200 and $100, respectively. Fans who want another player's name and number will have to get their order in by Saturday to have it for Christmas, Ms. Ford said.
"Crosby is No. 1, but there are a lot of close seconds -- Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Georges Laraque -- everybody has their favorite," Ms. Ford said.
Cyber shoppers can find the Winter Classic jerseys on NHL.com's Penguins shop for the same prices, but a wait of three to five weeks means they probably won't get them by Christmas. Dick's Sporting Goods is the only other retailer who might be getting the special jerseys, Ms. Ford said. Dick's did not confirm they would be in stores, but the company does show the blue jerseys on its Web site, www.dickssportinggoods.com, as does Dunham's Sporting Goods on its site, www.dunhams.com.
The Steelers' 75th anniversary throwback jerseys are a little easier "get" because they've been out longer; the team wore them earlier this year along with the old mustard-yellow helmets. Dick's and Sidelines, the Steelers' official gear store (news.steelers.com/catalog/) are the only retailers that have them in stock. Adult sizes cost $110 and only Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu jerseys are available -- sometimes. The Dick's in South Hills Village had no more Wards last week, and the Cranberry Square store has been sold out of all three for two weeks.
There are some bargains on the Web for youth sizes. A customized James Harrison throwback jersey is only $80 in NFL.com's online Steelers shop and ships in five to seven days. A youth Polamalu throwback jersey is even cheaper --$60 -- on Dunham's Web site. However, a customized adult-size 75th anniversary jersey will set you back $340 on the NFL, Dick's and Dunham's sites. If it's any consolation, it's an exact replica of what the players wear.
The Steelers' regular jersey, which has changed little in 40 years, is much easier to find. At local retail outlets, adult versions cost around $75 and kids or youth sizes $40 to $55, less on sale. Most local retailers have the three most popular players -- Roethlisberger, Ward and Polamalu -- and often also Willie Parker, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington.
Dick's in the Mall at Robinson even had some lesser-known players like Max Starks, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. And Macy's in South Hills Village had the usual names plus that of Steelers hall-of-famer Jack Lambert.
The Penguins' regular home and away jerseys changed slightly this year, prompting some fans to want new ones. However, at many retailers, jerseys with players' names sell as fast as they arrive, and finding a player other than Crosby is hit or miss.
Dick's in Robinson and Cranberry had adult-size Crosbys and Malkins last week for $150, youth for $100. The JCPenney in Ross Park Mall had blank replica jerseys for $70 (adult) and $36 (youth) and adult-size Crosbys and Staals for $150, though they sometimes go on sale for less. Dunham's regular price for named jerseys is $140 and it also has sales.
At Mellon Arena, you can buy a new jersey with any player's name and number (or yours) for $185 adult, $135 youth. It has the 15 most popular players in stock, Ms. Ford said. Others must be ordered by Saturday to have it wrapped and under the tree by Christmas day.
If your Penguins fan insists on the real thing, you can go buy authentic customized Rbk EDGE jerseys at the arena for a whopping $335. Since the EDGE jerseys are more tapered than last year's, Ms. Ford routinely suggests that fans buy one size larger than last time. She also notes one hidden benefit of that Bead Away X-trafil fabric that the players complained was keeping sweat inside their jerseys:
"If you spill your beer, it will just run off," she said, laughing.
And that authentic tie-down "fight" strap inside the back of the jersey? Hey, you never know when a hockey game will break out in the middle of a brawl.
Mellon Arena's shop is open during hockey games and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and until 3 p.m. Saturdays; 412-642-1958.
Kevin Kirkland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1978.