Special to Page 2
The first thing you need to know about Chris Willis is that he makes decals, not stickers.
"A sticker, to me, is something that comes on a roll, it's thin, you can make a billion of 'em," he says. "A decal is something that's much more involved and -- well, I'm not gonna say it's art, but we take a lot of pride in it."
If you hadn't realized there was a difference between decals and stickers, well, neither had Uni Watch. And that brings us to the second thing you need to know about Willis: His Houston-based company, Athletic Decals Incorporated, supplies the decals for all the graphics you see on most NFL helmets. That includes the team logos on the sides of the helmet, the league and American flag icons on the back, commemorative and memorial decals, even the stripes. Basically, if you can see it on an NFL player's hat, chances are Willis and his company manufactured it. He also works with dozens of top college programs, where his product includes the award decals that many NCAA teams use.
Willis' decals are seen by millions of fans every weekend, and are arguably the key elements in the NFL's visual branding program. But like so many people along the uniform supply chain, he plays a behind-the-scenes role that few fans are aware of, and that most have never even thought about. Fortunately, he's a self-effacing guy who's content with his relative anonymity, as Uni Watch recently discovered during a lengthy phone interview with him. Wanna get the full scoop on the decal scene? Check out the transcript of our chat, here.
Meanwhile, speaking of helmet graphics; Some of you are probably wondering about Uni Watch's long-promised rundown of college football merit decals. Hang in there -- it's coming soon. Just don't call them merit stickers.
Regular readers are well aware that two of Uni Watch's favorite subjects -- OK, obsessions -- are a fondness for baseball hosiery and an antipathy toward corporate sportwear logos. So imagine Uni Watch's dismay upon seeing Rawlings-branded socks being worn in the ALCS by Kelvim Escobar, Orlando Cabrera, Paul Byrd, and Joe Crede!
Are these new additions to the MLB sock drawer? Apparently not -- Byrd wore the logo-emblazoned hose on at least two previous occasions this season. Most likely all the Angels wear them, and maybe all the Sox too, but it's just a matter of whether they cuff their pants high enough to expose the accursed logo.
Think Uni Watch is making a big fuss over nothing? Consider this: With assorted non-team insignia already appearing on jerseys, pants, undersleeves, caps, helmets, spikes, sweatbands, batting gloves, fielding gloves, and catchers' equipment, socks are the baseball uniform's last remaining logo-free zone. Or at least that's the case on the MLB level -- check out the totally bogus socks that were on display in last year's Olympics. Let's hope Crede (whose sock logo isn't even woven in a Sox team color!) pays closer attention to his pant/sock intersection in the World Series. If he doesn't, you can bet we'll start seeing a full-scale pestilence of corporate-branded hosiery in the big leagues sooner than you can say, "Maybe the pajama look isn't so bad after all." Don't stand for it -- join Uni Watch in insisting on logo-free hose! In the immortal words of Edmund Burke (a big uniform enthusiast, in case you didn't know), "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."