Special to Page 2
Every now and then, an e-mail arrives that's so brilliantly detail-fixated, so unswervingly minutiae-fetishistic, that it single-handedly reconfigures Uni Watch's weekend football-viewing habits. Reader Matt Rainone recently sent such a communiqué, which can only be fully appreciated by reading it in its entirety:
"The absolute best look in football, undoubtedly, is the spat -- the over-the-cleat ankle tape job that looks soooo cool. Who wants to wear clunky black cleats with high white socks? Gross. Not to mention black cleats with low white socks -- horrid. And the spat is completely functional: Having played football in both high school and college, I can't imagine what I would have done without the spat. It made cutting so much easier -- I could almost put the outside of my foot against the ground with little or no chance of a twisted ankle. My feet became so accustomed to the spat that in Friday walk-throughs, it sometimes felt that my ankles would explode on the turf due to 'lack-of spat.'
"Distinct spat styles include the college spat (which often involves a bare calf), the NFL spat (which is so greatly displayed by Dante Hall and probably accounts for 98 percent of his punt-return abilities), the 'fat-man spat' (primarily found in NFL Europe, where almost everyone uses the spat, including the linemen), and the up-and-coming black-tape spat (most often seen on the Chicago Bears).
"Spat culture has a great following -- the pregame ritual of a good spat can almost rival Notre Dame's visit to the Grotto. In fact, I think the spat should make it into other sports. Well, that might be pushing it a little bit, but you get the idea."
Um, yes, we all do. Rainone might have wandered into the deep end of Lake Obsession here (not that Uni Watch would know anything about that type of behavior), and his swipe at "clunky black cleats" seems a bit misguided, but he has adroitly identified an oft-overlooked subsection of gridiron stylings, so let's humor him long enough to investigate the whole spat phenomenon.
In case you're scratching your head: Spats are cloth coverings that fit over the top portion of shoes or boots. Football players don't wear actual spats, natch, but the way they tape their ankles sometimes makes it look that way. The godfather of the spatted look was Colts halfback Lenny Moore, who wore so much white tape over his black cleats that it often looked like he was wearing white cleats. Why'd he do it? The short version is that it provided more ankle support; the long version, in Moore's own words, is available by scrolling down to the second question on this page.
To Uni Watch's knowledge, Moore (whose nickname was, of course, "Spats") is the only player whose tape was restricted to the upper part of the shoe. The more typical football spat involves tape looped under the sole or under and around the ankle. Because the tape can obscure the Nike and Reebok logos, the manufacturers have responded by moving their logos toward the toe of the shoe instead of on the side (another literal example of logo creep!), even for players who go spat-free. In fact, it was a dispute over this very issue that led Auburn to switch from Nike shoes to New Balance this season -- a spat over spats, as it were.