By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Another weekend, another team wearing one orange sleeve. And over in Oregon, the Ducks were busy jettisoning whatever was left of their aesthetic self-respect.

Yawn. By now these Nike-driven monkeyshines have grown trite and predictable, no? Let's not give them any more free publicity, especially when there are more interesting things to focus on. Por ejemplo: Now that there's a nip in the air and the radiators are clanking away at Uni Watch HQ, it's time for the annual arrival of that most undignified of football accessories -- the waist-mounted hand-warmer.

Seriously, is there anything more pathetic than the sight of a millionaire athlete -- especially one who's paid to administer and withstand punishment, all macho-like -- strapping on one of these prissy accoutrements? Actually, yes there is: When the hand-warmer is turned around, so it looks like a fanny pack. (Why yes, it does make your butt look fat.) What's next, galoshes? Training wheels? And don't forget to pin your mittens to the inside of your jacket!

To put this in some context, let's take a look at the people who traditionally wear a hand-warmer: check, check, check, and double-check. OK, so it gets a little chilly out there on the field this time of year, but that doesn't seem to bother these guys. Like, dude, you're supposed to be rough and tough, so what's with the muff?

Hand-warmers are arguably justifiable for quarterbacks, but Uni Watch preferred the days when they just had sweatshirt-style pockets sewn into their jerseys (which were sometimes also used by non-quarterbacks). And besides, most players these days wear gloves, and that includes many quarterbacks -- Tom Brady, for example, goes bare-handed in warm weather and indoors, adds one glove when things get a little chilly, and sometimes even wears a glove on his throwing hand. But even when going double-gloved, he still wears the hand-warmer. What a wuss!

Speaking of football gloves, they're a huge business nowadays, but they're a fairly recent phenomenon. Look at old photos of cold-weather games and you'll see most of the players going gloveless. Even in the Ice Bowl, when the temperature was minus-13, some of the players wore standard winter gloves but others stayed bare-handed (including Chuck Mercein, who's No. 30 in this photo).

Back in those days, players didn't need gloves to get a better grip on the ball, because they just slathered themselves with stickum. But that was banned in 1981, which was probably the impetus for the development of today's super-grippy gloves. Despite making inquiries on a variety of fronts, however, Uni Watch has been unable to pin down when football-specific gloves debuted. The closest thing to an answer comes from historian Curtis Worrell -- the man behind Helmet Hut, although his expertise extends well beyond headwear -- who checks in with the following info:

"The first football gloves were literally golf gloves. They were really worn more for the cold, not for performance. Lee Roy Selmon had them on in '83, and Chuck Muncie in '82 [interesting knee pads on him, too], but Lynn Swann and John Stallworth wore them in the late '70s during cold weather. Linemen were wearing gloves even back into the late '60s, but those had open fingers (still gotta be able to hold, ya know!). But it wasn't until the mid-'80s that it became widespread -- even the ballboys started wearing them then!"

Interestingly, golf gloves also gave rise to baseball batting gloves (for more details on that, look here). Even more interestingly, as reader Phil Wyman points out, at least one Major League Baseball player has worn NFL football gloves: David Eckstein. The NFL logo is clearly evident on his gloves in this photo, taken during the 2004 playoffs. It looks like the NFL shield may also have been on his gloves here, and it appears to have been blackened out here. The logo vanished from Eckstein's gloves when he joined the Cardinals in 2005, but the gloves he's wearing here sure look like this football glove.

But Eckstein has never worn his gloves like today's NFL players, many of whom keep their gloves unstrapped (a style that Uni Watch believes was pioneered by Deion Sanders) or partially rolled down. And just two Sundays ago, Keenan McCardell appeared to have cut slices between his gloves' thumbs and forefingers, suggesting that glove styles are still evolving.

As for the hand-warmers, which started showing up on the gridiron about a decade ago, they're made by a Canadian company called B'Warmer. Uni Watch still thinks they look lame-o, but they do have one advantage over virtually every other piece of NFL clothing and equipment: They are blissfully free of the ubiquitous NFL logo -- a bit of a shocker, considering the league's carpet-bombing approach to brand saturation. NFL spokesguy Dan Masonson couldn't explain the logo omission, but the answer is obvious to Uni Watch: The NFL didn't want its crest associated with such a milquetoast product.

Paul Lukas played bare-handed back in his Pop Warner days. Archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.




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