Al Grivetti occasionally will wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the Big Ten logo and get approached by strangers who think they're revealing a secret about the nationally recognized emblem.
More than once, he has been told about the inconspicuous "11'' that is hidden in the negative or white space among the letters.
"I might say, 'Well, yeah, I did see that in there,' " Grivetti said. "With some people I'll explain the background. That's what I think is fun about the (logo) — there's a little surprise in there."
It's a surprise that Grivetti created more than 20 years ago when the Big Ten added Penn State, giving it 11 schools, and turned to a group at Northern Illinois University to update its image.
Grivetti was a graduate student and graphic designer who helped the league keep its name while incorporating the addition with a touch that has gone unnoticed by some to this day.
"The term I would use is seamless," he said. "I know people that don't know what I'm talking about when I talk about the negative space. They don't see it."
He is hoping to hook up with the Big Ten again if the league wants to update the logo to account for Nebraska and any other schools that might be added in the future.
But regardless, the 1990 unveiling of his work remains a career high point that was followed by years of freelance work and teaching at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, for 12 years. The logo remains a big part of his identity.
"It put me on the map," he said. "It was a big thrill. It's exciting to see your work on TV on a court or football field. What it did for me was let me know that I know what I'm doing. It's an affirmation of my design skills. I really tried to do something that would not be dated, that would be real strong visual."
Grivetti became involved in the project, he said, because a Northern Illinois professor who was his mentor had established a working relationship with the Big Ten. They were charged with helping the league define a new identity.
Grivetti was paid for his work but said, "It wasn't anything substantial."
At the time, he gave the league designs that also included the Nos. 12, 13 and 14 to show how it could be done, if needed.
Grivetti didn't get a call when the Big Ten and Fox Cable Networks created a new logo for the Big Ten Network. However, he plans to contact the conference to see if the relationship can resume.
"I've got to call the Big Ten," he said, "and let them know I'm still alive."