Growing up in the 1970s, I loved the annual broadcast of the Christmastime TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas (I still make a point of watching it every year, making it one of the few holiday traditions I still observe). And of course childhood is also when I first got obsessed with uniforms. But I never thought of combining those two enthusiasms.
Fortunately, someone else did. In late November, a guy named Mike Summo announced an upcoming Twitter art project called “Season of the Grinch,” which he said would consist of a new “Grinch NFL-related illustration” each day for 30 days. A few days later, the project launched with an illo of the Grinch wearing the Rams’ accursed “bone” uniforms — or, as Summo put it, “the grinchest of all uniforms.”
I loved the concept and was instantly hooked. In the weeks that have followed, I’ve enjoyed Summo’s daily dispatches of uni-clad Grinches, each showing the Grinch in another NFL team’s uniform. Since the Grinch is sort of a sickly shade of green, I was wondering if Summo would depict him in the Seahawks’ neon-green alternate uniform. And sure enough, he did:
And of course Summo has also dressed the Grinch in the Broncos’ early-1960s uniforms with vertical sock stripes, one of the most reviled designs in pro football history.
The whole thing is magnificently absurd. I wanted to know more, so I asked Summo if I could interview him. Here’s a transcript of our recent Zoom conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Uni Watch: Let’s start with a little bit of info about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what do you do for a living?
Mike Summo: I’m 51 and I live on Long Island — born and raised. I work for Cushman & Wakefield [a commercial real estate company] — I run a bunch of shipping and receiving departments all over the country, from here to Texas. So I’m constantly traveling, which gives me time to draw.
UW: So your main gig is not art or design. But you clearly do a lot of art and design!
MS: I do, yeah, especially as of late. A couple things happened: I’m traveling more for work, so I have a lot of downtime, and I bought a new iPad that I learned how to draw on, and that’s where I’ve been doing a lot of my illustrations. That was like a quantum leap, because everything I did before that was on the computer and I had to be at my PC. With the iPad, now I can take it wherever I go.
UW: What software do you use to make these on the iPad?
UW: I think you said in one of your tweets that the Grinch is one of your favorite things, or your favorite character. Can you tell me more about that, like what the Grinch means to you?
MS: It probably has a lot to do with the art itself. I was born in 1970, and my earliest artistic influences were Ed “Big Daddy” Roth with his Rat Finks, Von Dutch and his flying eyeballs, and Dr. Seuss. It almost seemed like those three styles kind of work with each other — they’re all overdrawn, and they’re all ugly characters that are not, you know, mainstream cutesy characters. And I think that’s why I was drawn to those types of characters as a kid. I enjoyed drawing them, I enjoyed the stories.
I still have eclectic taste, especially in art, so I draw inspiration from everywhere. And I get influenced by something, and I see it as something that I want to try, then I try it and I run the hell out of it. I’ll do a million pieces, and then I get tired of it and move on to something else. I’m also a big fine art fan. Every time I travel for work, I try and find a local art museum and go to it.
UW: And you obviously grew up watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the TV special.
MS: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the best. I mean, I also love the movie with Jim Carrey, don’t get me wrong. But yeah, the original one has been on my DVR for probably 15 years, and we watch it every year.
UW: How did you get the idea of putting the Grinch in various NFL uniforms? And why did you choose football instead of the other winter sports, like basketball or hockey?
MS: Just because I’m mainly a football fan. I love everything about it. I’m obsessed with football helmets and uniforms — that’s why I love your website. And like I said, I love the Grinch, so I thought it’d be a cool idea.
UW: And the name “Season of the Grinch,” I assume that’s based on the old Donovan song “Season of the Witch,” right?
MS: Yeah, exactly.
UW: What kind of player do you think the Grinch would be? Like, would he be a dirty player who cheats? A trash-talker who technically stays within the rules but talks a lot of smack, dances on the opponent’s logo, and so on? Something else?
MS: I think he would fit right in with the Buddy Ryan-era Eagles — a highly skilled trash talker who would bite, scratch, claw his way over any opponent and spike the ball in their face when he was done.
UW: How are you choosing which uniform combos to put on the Grinch? Like, are you going out of your way to pick the worst uniform for each team?
MS: Yeah, exactly. That’s why I started with the Rams’ bone uniforms, and why I went with the bumblebee uniforms for the Steelers — the ugliest ones I could find, because I think that’s what the Grinch would pick.
UW: Personally, I love those Steelers bumblebee throwbacks, although I understand why lots of people hate them.
MS: Yeah, I think there’s a place in the world for ugly, like the Browns wearing brown over brown. Brown is not an appealing color, but they own it.
UW: Your Twitter bio says you’re a big Washington Football Team fan, so I was intrigued by your choice for them — mono-yellow, which they never actually wore on the field.
UW: Is there any rhyme or reason to the sequence of the teams, or is that pretty random?
MS: That’s random. It’s more about the illustrations and poses. My original plan was to have six different poses and rotate the uniforms among them….
UW: Right, I’ve noticed that you’ve got a few poses that you’ve repeated.
MS: Yeah, but I keep adding new ones! So it’s evolving as I’m going along.
UW: Are the poses based on reference photos, or are they just things that you’re coming up?
MS: Some of both. I tried to cover most of the offensive positions one way or the other. And I thought the “Air Grinch” would be a pretty cool one to do. Being a former offensive lineman myself in high school — a center — I had to do a center pose as well.
UW: That brings up something I was going to ask you about: I see that you’ve shown the Grinch passing the ball as a quarterback left-handed, but you have him snapping the ball right-handed as a center. So on top of everything else, you’re telling me the Grinch is ambidextrous?
MS: Yeah, yeah, I think so. So I thought if he was gonna be a quarterback, he would be a lefty. Not that that’s an insult to lefties, but that would fit his character. After I drew the center, I realized I should have made him a lefty too, but I’d already posted it so it was too late!
UW: You’re doing this as a 30-day project with one design per day. But there are 32 NFL teams, so that means two teams are going to be left out. Why did you set it up that way, and which two teams will be left out?
MS: Well, some teams don’t have ugly uniforms. Like the Chargers’ uniforms, those are the closest thing to perfection — they’re absolutely gorgeous. So that’s not a good fit for the Grinch. Also, some teams might show up more than once. [Sure enough, a few days after we spoke, Summo featured Washington for the second time in the series, this time with the Grinch wearing Sean Taylor-style tape on his facemask. — PL]
UW: How do you decide which number to put on each jersey? Is there a significance to any of them?
MS: I started off with the generic double-zero. And then I thought, the Grinch cartoon movie came out in ’66, so I did a couple with him wearing No. 66. Plus the 6 kinda looks like a G, for Grinch, so I thought that would be cool. I’ve been trying to change it up for goofiness, but this whole new numbering system that the NFL has, it’s been messing things up. I don’t know how much I like it, you know? It’s jarring when you see a linebacker wearing No. 7 or No. 9.
UW: Personally, I have a hard time thinking of the Grinch without also thinking about his little dog, Max. Have you considered including Max in any of the drawings?
MS: I have — I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. [A few days after this interview, Max made his debut in the series. — PL]
UW: We all know that in the original story, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes larger, and he ends up saving the day and rescuing Whoville’s Christmas and all that. Do you plan to have something similar happen at the end of the project, where there’ll be some sort of evolution in his character?
MS: Yes and no. I don’t want to give too much away, but another artist who does football-related stuff in a different style has reached out to me, and we’re actually collaborating on a final Grinch illustration, mixing his style with mine. So that will be the final illustration in the series.
And there you have it. Now, if I were art-directing this project, I might call for a few adjustments, like insisting that every NFL team be represented or asking for each illo to be rendered in a different pose (easy for me to say, right?). But even with those minor quibbles, this is a brilliant project and a really clever spin on NFL uniforms.
The “Season of the Grinch” series should culminate on Dec. 23. You can follow it, and catch up on earlier installments, on Summo’s Twitter feed. I’m looking forward to whatever he comes up with next.
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Bulletin articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.