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Where Are They Now? The Vaguely Unsettling Giant Inflatable Jersey at Buck Shaw Stadium.

As the third home game of the season is on Saturday, April 21 (7:30PM) approaches, once again there will be a gaping hole at the southeast corner of the pitch at Buck Shaw stadium - and I don’t just mean the absence of Shea Salinas and Big Vic Bernardez.   I hadn’t realized how I had gradually become accustomed to the vaguely unsettling giant inflatable Earthquakes jersey that the fans passed on their way into the stadium through the George Best Gate.

The mighty inflatable cut an imposing figure, with bulging shoulders and a glistening 40 foot chest, emblazoned with the team’s former sponsor.  Why did I find it so unsettling?  Maybe I watch too much Mystery! on PBS, but in darker moments, it appeared to be an over-sized dismembered torso from Gulliver’s Travels.  I imagined other body parts distributed around various locales - people walking their dogs would uncover giant inflatable shorts in the Muir Woods, giant inflatable legs would be discovered in storage lockers still wearing their giant inflatable boots, and a giant inflatable head would wash up on the shores of China Beach.

I also have an irrational fear of giant inflatable objects - as a kid I watched reruns of the oddball suspense series The Prisoner, with its menacing inflatable balls that suffocated escaping prisoners as they made a break for it across the windswept beach.  These huge balls were not to be trifled with - they were swift, relentless and could asphyxiate in seconds (much more punishing than a three match suspension).  For this reason I often found myself inspecting the restraints on the giant inflatable jersey before I could get settled in the bleachers.

So when the giant inflatable jersey left town when the Amway bubble burst, I found that I still had many unanswered questions:  How big was the shirt? What was the shirt made from?  How many pounds of pressure were needed to inflate its full and bulging biceps?  How long did the shirt take to inflate?  Where was it kept between games?  But above all - I want to know where it is now and if the club has any future plans for it?

Talking over beers with friends and fellow fans, we’ve had fun considering how the giant inflatable shirt might be re-purposed for the city of San Jose.  Most ideas focussed on the bouncy traits of inflatables - castles are standard issue at kids’ parties, and a soccer shirt would lend a certain challenge to little ones to stay on top, but would surely make most parents cringe in fear of hospital bills for broken limbs.  My engineering buddies pointed out the advantage of that much air in such a large volume, and which could be exploited for superlative sound insulation - perhaps  it could be installed between the new stadium and the railroad, so the 1906 Ultras’ gameday chants won’t be drowned out by the noise of the trains.  While the monster shirt might fit Big Vic off the peg, I wondered  if it could be tailored down for  the slighter 150 pound frame of Shea Salinas - a smaller, personalized version to wear in training would protect his fragile clavicle as he gingerly returns to the pitch - something along the lines of this Norwegian bubble soccer.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIl45f6i1PU&feature=related[/youtube]

One intriguing possibility is the Swap of the Table jersey exchange run over at the Top of the Table web site.  The jersey swap is a social experiment among fans, copying the exchange of jerseys by players the end of games with the call for jerseys broadcast on Twitter over a two week transfer window - hopefully the fans’ jerseys are not as sweaty.   CLS’s resident kit nerd Robert Jonas recently traded an Earthquakes training top and a pair of FC Dallas shorts for a Philadelphia Union home jersey and a personalized Peter Crouch Portsmouth FC kit.  At Around the League, the kit-nerdiness of our managing editor has been long recognized - indeed, there was an unsubstantiated rumor circulating that Robert was preparing to trade for the giant inflatable Quakes jersey at Swap of the Table - one can only surmise the reason why, but ATL proposed one possibility:

Rumors of the acquisition were quickly nixed in the Jonas household - insufficient closet space - though a possible yard installation was briefly considered, perhaps serving as an annexe to house his extensive kit collection.

So, in honor of Earth Day this coming Sunday April 22, 2012, show your environmental awareness and consider how you might recycle your own soccer gear - Swap of the Table is an option for jerseys, or donate your gently used  equipment to charities such as Jean-Marc Alexandre’s for kids in Haiti.  If the fans ever discover the secret location of the (presumably) deflated jersey, I invite your imagination to speculate how the vaguely unsettling giant inflatable Amway jersey might be recycled into something of use for the San Jose soccer community.