The captain is the most prestigious and important role on any sports team, but it comes with a massive amount of responsibility. The players who assume the role of captain bear this responsibility on their shoulders both figuratively and sometimes literally in the form of a “C” over their heart on their sports jersey.
Each major sport has its own traditions surrounding team captains. In some sports, teams can choose whether they have a captain or not. Some sports, like hockey, can have only one captain, while still other sports can have multiple captains, as they do in the NFL.
This week Keener Jerseys — the number one name in custom hockey sweaters — bends the knee to all the captains in the sportsverse. We’ll look at the role captains play in the four major North American sports, we’ll show you some of the interesting ways teams have recognized their own captains, and we’ll show you how you can get creative in recognizing your rec team’s captains.
So, let’s make it like the Roman poet Horace and C’s the day.
What makes a captain?
The captain of a pro sports team can play many roles from team representative to inspirational leader, to big brother/big sister. The extent of a captain’s duties can vary from sport to sport, however. Here, now, is a look at what being a captain means in each major sport.
why team captains in hockey are different
There is perhaps no sport where the team captain plays a more important role than in hockey. The captain of a hockey team must be a leader both on and off the ice, acting as an example of how to conduct oneself in accordance with the team’s goals and objectives. And, while in most sports it is the best player on the team that assumes the captaincy, in hockey the captain is typically the player who commands the respect of their teammates for their own on and off-ice conduct.
There are four new captains in the NHL for the 2023-2024 season. The Boston Bruins head into their centennial season with new hockey sweaters and a new captain in Brad Marchand. Brayden Schenn has been selected to wear the captain’s C for the St. Louis Blues, while Quinn Hughes and Adam Lowry assume the responsibility for the Canucks and Jets, respectively.
Brad Marchand was named the 27th captain of the Boston Bruins.
Roberto Luongo, former Canucks “captain”
The inside out C in Gallant’s jersey
Remember what happened in vancouver?
Some players have earned the respect of their teammates to such a degree that they become an honorary captain.
Gerard Gallant was one of those players. He played nine seasons for the Detroit Red Wings, serving as alternate captain for much of that time. He even wore the C on his jersey for a few months in 1988 while the Wings’ regular captain, Steve Yzerman, was injured.
But even while Stevie Y was acting captain, Gallant had a C sewn into the inside of his jersey as a mark of the respect he commanded in the Red Wings dressing room.
Goaltender Roberto Luongo is another player who gained incredible levels of respect from all the teammates he played with.
Unfortunately, only skaters have been allowed to wear the captain’s C in the NHL following a rule change after the 1947-1948 season. But, that didn’t stop the Vancouver Canucks from naming Luongo as their captain in 2008. Because of the rule, however, Luo was not allowed to execute any of the on-ice captain’s duties and he was not allowed to wear a C on his jersey. Instead he had a C painted onto his goalie mask, and teammates Mattias Ohlund and Willie Mitchell covered the on-ice captain’s chores.
Six goaltenders have acted as on-ice captain in the NHL before the 1948 rule change:
- John Roach, Toronto St. Pats, 1924
- George Hainsworth, Montreal Canadiens, 1932
- Roy Worters, New York Americans, 1932
- Alec Connel, Ottawa Senators, 1932
- Charlie Gardiner, Chicago Black Hawks, 1933
- Bill Durnan, Montreal Canadiens, 1947
There are no such positional restrictions in the NCAA, so any goalie can be captain in American college competition.
no captain, no problem!
Some NHL teams have opted to go without a captain, choosing instead to ice three players wearing the alternate captain’s A — and, yes, it is “alternate captain.” They’re not the captain’s assistant. They don’t bring the captain coffee or wash their car. It’s alternate captain. Anyway, naming three alternates in lieu of having a captain is sometimes a way of showing team unity, while other times it is a show of respect for the loss of a long-time captain.
This year there are six NHL franchises starting the season sans captain:
Calgary’s unique take on the ‘C’, using a smaller version of their primary logo!
here's how you can spice up the 'c'
There have been instances where teams choose to decorate their captain with something more than just a regular old block-letter C. For example, the Calgary Flames have used a smaller version of their flaming C logo as the captain’s C as well as the old Atlanta Flames flaming A logo for their alternate captain’s A.
Another team that got artistic with their leader’s badge is the Colorado Avalanche who use what looks almost like a stylized arrow for a captain’s C.
Of course, many teams outside of North America don’t speak English, and so they don’t always use a C to distinguish their captains. In Russia, for example, they use a K, which many Canadians will remember vividly from all the great Canada/Russia clashes through the ages. We actually had a team approach us to do up a Soviet Red Army kit for their rec team, complete with a K for their captain.
Example of the Russian K
Team Captains in other sports
Other sports have captains, too. Here’s how the other major leagues acknowledge their team leaders.
The nfl's does what with their captain C's?
It’s actually pretty cool. NFL (National Football League) football teams typically name two or more captains for both the offensive unit and the defensive unit. Like in the NHL, these players are often the ones who have earned the respect of their teammates for their work ethic and drive. NFL team captains are responsible for calling coin tosses and can be responsible for accepting or declining penalties.
Captains in the NFL wear a white C patch on their jerseys with four white stars underneath the C. With every year that a player serves as captain, one star is filled in with gold, and after their fourth season as captain, the C itself is filled in with gold, denoting a five-year captain. So, die-hard fans will want to make sure that their jerseys’ captain’s patches are updated every year to stay current.
Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes seen wearing the captain’s patch.
what happened to captains in baseball?
It’s up to individual MLB (Major League Baseball) teams if they want to have a captain or not.
In the early days of baseball, captains took up many of the responsibilities that we now imbue in managers. Back then captains would set batting orders, appeal to umpires, and would even serve as base coaches.
These days the position is more symbolic of a player’s locker room leadership. Few teams have an official captain, and when they do they rarely wear a C on their jersey, though it has happened.
Aaron Judge was named captain of the Yankees back in January of 2023.
Close-up shot of the Sox’s version of a captaincy patch
does basketball have captains at all?
Teams in the NBA (National Basketball Association) are not required to have a captain, but they can name one or more captains if they choose. Some teams have no captain, while others have had up to three co-captains (the NBA doesn’t have alternates like the NHL), and it is up to the team if a captain wears a C or not.
Only a select few clubs have chosen to have their captains wear a C on their jersey at any point — 12 in fact. Here are the NBA franchises that have sewn a C on to their leader’s garb:
- Atlanta Hawks
- Denver Nuggets
- Golden State Warriors
- Indiana Pacers
- KC-Omaha Kings
- LA Clippers
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- New Orleans Hornets
- Orlando Magic
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Seattle Super Sonics
But, no C doesn’t necessarily mean no captain. There have been 15 captains in Boston Celtics history, for example, and not a single one has ever worn a letter on their jersey.
Chris Paul of the Golden State Warriors with a ‘C’ on his jersey
how a 'c' can make your team jerseys stand out
You can look just like the pros by decorating your custom sports jerseys with captain’s C’s and alternate captain’s A’s. And with Keener Jerseys on your team, you can be as creative about it as the Calgary Flames and the Colorado Avalanche have been.
We’ve seen a lot of fun ideas from our customers. One team recently had us attach velcro patches to their custom team jerseys so that they could pass the C around from game to game, just like the Kings, Jets, Stars, and Capitals all did in the late 80s and early 90s. We had another team that wanted C’s put on every jersey — a creative way to show unity. And let’s not forget the Russian Red Army-themed squad that had a K put on their captain’s team jerseys to complete their ensemble.
So, if you want to look as good as the pros do, check out our jersey builder or give us a call and tell us what you’re looking for. My team of experts can make it come to life. Our attention to detail is unmatched and you can always expect your order on-time and accurate. Every time.