Ken Griffey Retros And The History Of The Turf Shoe

With the announcement over the weekend that Nike is going to be retroing Ken Griffey’s signature turf shoe the “Air Griffey Max 1” in the iconic “fresh water” colourway I want to take a stroll down memory lane, or maybe introduce many of you to the history and beauty of the 1990’s turf shoe. Nike announced that they would be releasing a retro version of the “Air Griffey Max 1” on the fifteenth of February this year and I cannot be more excited. I have always had an affinity towards turf shoes because of the history and functional aspect of the shoes as well as their ties to both the 90’s and the NFL two of my favorite things.

Turf shoes may come across clunky looking or bulky and that may be a turn off for some people (those same people would probably still wear a pair of Balenciaga triple S’ but I digress) but the functional aspect of the shoe is what really make this shoe important to the history of sneakers. Much like retro Jordans they were created to have an athletic purpose rather than solely for style; as for turf shoes though their life span was much shorter due to changing technologies of the playing fields of the NFL and in Griffeys case the MLB. Back in the late 80’s and 90’s the playing fields for many NFL and a handful of MLB teams was not grass or the realistic grass like turf athletes play on nowadays, it was astro turf. If you are not familiar with astro turf imagine the last time you went mini golfing, now image trying to run full speed and change direction on the mini golf greens, that’s what astro turf was.

Athletes had become accustomed to wearing cleats to help them maintain their footing while playing on grass but when the future came knocking many teams changed their playing surface to astro turf to save them money on up keep. The athletes playing on these surfaces began to realize that they were unable to maintain their footing while wearing cleats on the astro turf and many athletes were quoted saying that they felt like they were wearing ice skates. The sneaker companies ran straight to their research and development teams to try and solve this problem. Hence the turf shoe was created.

Deion Sanders Nike "Air Diamond Turf"

Although Walter Peyton was the first athlete to wear a signature turf shoe while with the shoe company Kangaroo in the late 80’s the turf shoe did not gain traction (8.9/10 joke) until primetime himself, Deion Sanders laced up his signature shoe the “Air Diamond Turf” while he was with Nike. You sell the steak but the sizzle is what puts shoes on feet and no one has more sizzle than Deion Sanders. Debuting in 1994 Nike made multiple iterations of turf shoes tailored specifically for their different athletes and their positions. These athletes included Rod Woodson (Air Bowl Trainer), Junior Seau (Air Mission) and Dan Marino (Speed Turf Max) to name a few. Deion however was the only athlete in the NFL to receive yearly iterations of his signature shoe in which Deion had five yearly versions of the “Diamond Turf” (my personal being the Air Diamond Turf Max, a pair I own and hold near and dear to my heart).

Deion Sanders Nike "Air Diamond Turf Max"

Deions turf shoes were different from other NFL players because he was a two-sport athlete, playing in both the NFL and MLB so Nike had to make sure they were able to excel in both fields of play. In the MLB however there were far fewer astro turf playing surfaces than in the NFL so the turf shoe wave did not make as big of an impact on the shores of the MLB. There were a much more limited amount of baseball players who wore turf shoes but Ken Griffey, the best player in the MLB at the time made sure he had his own turf shoe. Griffey’s turf shoe was less about athletic performance however and was more so related to training and style, but was important because it was riding high on the popularity of the turf shoes made famous by NFL players across the league. Griffeys signature shoe however would end up being the most iconic of all the turf shoes that were floating around the zeitgeist; this was due to Griffeys marketability, silky smooth swing and the fresh water teal hits across the upper of the shoe that paid homage to Griffeys team the Seattle Mariners.

Although Turf shoes have faded in practicality and subsequently in popularity I urge everyone reading this to look back into the past when making your decisions on whether the turf shoes are a cop or a drop. Back in the day these were second in popularity to only whatever sneaker Jordan was wearing while in his prime. I love turf shoes because of my background in playing sports and I urge everyone reading this to really appreciate the history. Not too much though because I want a pair of the retro Griffeys so please don’t buy them all out from under me, thanks I appreciate you.

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