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Behind The Play: Mark Guarino (XvsOsports Founder & Designer)

Since we launched this Behind The Play series at XvsOsports we've heard from both players (former NFL wide receiver, JJ Birden) and coaches (Coach Marc Skelton), who have helped pull back the curtain on their big play and moment in sports history and take us behind the play. 

Now it's our turn. 

With our latest installment, XvsOsports founder and designer, Mark Guarino shares his journey from Boston Architectual College, to starting his own design firm, the idea behind the diagrammed shirts, and the one play and shirt that really started it all for XvsOsports. 

Where did the inspiration come from to feature a diagrammed sports play on a tee shirt? 

I can remember exactly where and when the idea struck. It was the spring of 2005 and I was driving home from work in Cambridge listening to sports radio and the discussion was about iconic Boston plays, and there sitting in traffic I started replaying the moments in my head. The version I had seen countless times in highlight reels of great moments in Boston sports got me thinking and the designer in me pictured it as that moment frozen in time and I saw it as a diagram, so like a lightning bolt I  thought; "Hey, I can diagram all of those plays like this and immediately my mind went to the possibilities of other sports and how every fan of every team probably has those moments burned into their own memories".  

From that initial design idea, you helped launch XvsOsports along with Chris Stockwell...people have reached out in support and have purchased shirts, posters and book from around New England, the US and internationally; from Italy, to France, the UK, Australia, and Japan among others. As a designer and owner of sports brand, what has this experience been like? 

It truly is gratifying to see these connections. Using just a simple diagram of the play broken down to X’s and O’s as a coach or manager might draw-up, I didn’t want to get into licensing team logos and wanted to avoid player names. My hope was to create a riddle that needed no language to understand: just a passion for sports and a depth of knowledge about the team. I wondered how much or how little information needed to be communicated graphically for an “educated fan” to recognize the play, and I saw the possibility to expand beyond the sports. I know and recognized that all over the world there are passionate fans that would want to show off their sports knowledge.  

It's really about capturing a brief moment in time within sports you have a favorite play or moment that helped lead to you wanting to launch XvsOsports? 

Anytime a big play or moment goes down, people automatically think back to that time – where they were, where they were sitting, who they watched the game with? That's part of the history of the game and an experience we want to honor.  One of the first plays I thought about was the Bobby Orr “Flying Goal” in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals for the Boston Bruins. I had become a huge Bruins fan and can remember watching that goal on a very small black and white tv with lots of static. I had the poster on my bedroom wall like every other kid in the area. Now that's one of our top-selling shirts and posters too, so it's great to be able to create a design that helps tell that story.  

Was the Orr goal the first shirt you drew up then? 

I think that's safe to say...I drew up Orr, but I did a series of 5 to demonstrate to myself how the concept could be applied to a wide range of sports. That initial series included Larry Bird's steal in the 1987 playoffs against the Detroit Pistons and memorable pass to Dennis Johnson's lay-up for the Boston Celtics, Carlton Fisk waiving his home run fair for the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 World Series, Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal to give the New England Patriots their first SuperBowl victory, and Doug Flutie's Hail Mary touchdown pass for Boston College in 1984.  

What was the process like in putting the XvsOsports book together (Great Plays and Moments In Sports History: Diagrammed). Was it difficult to select the 101 iconic plays for the book with co-author, Chris Stockwell? 

Chris and I grew up following different teams so he has knowledge of so many plays I had never heard of. He also has lots of knowledge about college sports, so Chris contributed many unique plays and memories I would never have known or missed the chance to capture. At that point, the extent of my “Great moments in college sports” was limited to the band being run over at the end of the Stanford-Cal game and Flutie’s Hail Mary! 

Along with shirts honoring these plays in these collections, XvsOsports also offers people the chance to customize their own shirts. But what's been the most interesting XvsOsports design project to work on? 

I have no understanding of cricket, but I know that far more people follow it than any US sport. So, I diagrammed a few big moments in cricket that I will readily admit I still don’t fully “get” but I like the graphic that the field of play and the action creates. 

Did you ever think you'd be the head of a sports tee-shirt company? 

No, definitely not! I have a degree in architecture from Boston Architectural Collegestarted a graphic design department in 1983, and formed Guarino Design Group in 1990. When I had the initial idea back in 2005 and shared it with my designer friends, we explored a few design alternatives but we got distracted by our jobs and families. I wasn't sure where the design would go from there. 

Then, in 2013 I was diagnosed with cancer and while going through treatment I literally started making a list of all the things I had wanted to do but never found the time. As I recovered, I decided it was time to actually see what I could do with the concept. I mentioned my idea to Chris and he was hooked – with his marketing experience and passion for big plays, it was the perfect complement to my design abilities. He also has a ton of enthusiasm and positive energy that is infectious and much needed in an effort like this.

Wendell Maxey
Wendell Maxey


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