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Monday, September 19, 2005
What can white do for you?

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it -- or at least that's the cliché. But it turns out you can do something about it, and teams were doing it all over the NFL this past Sunday.

Uni Watch is referring to the fact that seven of yesterday's 14 home teams chose to wear white jerseys, instead of the colored jerseys they usually wear at home. The roster of home whites included the Bears, Bengals, Eagles, Buccaneers, Panthers, Texans and Cardinals.

Why the switcheroo? Because dark colors absorb and retain more heat. So for these early-season games, when the weather is still fairly balmy, more and more teams are opting to wear white at home and make the visiting team sweat it out in the dark shirts. Several teams also did this in Week 1, including the Jaguars, whose home opener against Seattle was played in 100-degree heat (although head coach Jack Del Rio apparently didn't get the memo). It was so hot during that game, in fact, that the Seahawks paired their blue jerseys with white pants, instead of wearing their usual blue-on-blue eyesores.

These tactical maneuvers underscore an oft-overlooked factoid: NFL teams -- unlike their MLB, NBA and NHL counterparts -- don't have official home and road uniforms. Instead, the home team in an NFL game chooses to wear either white or colored jerseys, and the visiting team has to wear the opposite. But while this format allows for the warm-weather strategy of wearing white at home, it also invites mischievous counter-strategies. In Week 2 of the 2003 season, for example, the Chargers planned to wear white at home against Denver, but the Broncos "forgot" to bring their blue jerseys and "accidentally" brought their white ones instead, forcing the Chargers to wear blue.

Unamused league bigwigs fined the Broncos $25,000 and let the Chargers choose what to wear when the teams played again nine weeks later in Denver. Sure enough, the Chargers chose to wear blue, making the Broncos wear white at home for the first time in more than a decade.

Warm-weather considerations notwithstanding, most teams wear their colored jerseys at home. The primary exceptions are the Cowboys and Redskins, who always wear white at home and therefore almost never end up wearing their colored jerseys except when playing each other (as they're doing Monday night). The Cowboys, in fact, are known to harbor such an aversion to their blue jerseys that their opponents occasionally wear white at home just to force the 'Boys to wear blue, a gimmick that Carolina plans to use against Dallas in Week 16 of this season.

The weird thing about all this is how it highlights the differences between football and the other major sports. Wearing white on white, for example, looks classy in baseball, basketball and hockey, but it feels kinda plain and underwhelming in football. And the solid-color look is fine in hockey and basketball, but it's a total joke in football and baseball. Colored jersey on white pants? Bozo-esque in baseball, but timelessly classic in football. It all depends on the sport's history, and what we're used to seeing -- tradition is as tradition does. (Of course, given the disappearance of football sleeves, it's probably just a matter of time before NFL teams dispense with color vs. white altogether and simply play shirts vs. skins.)

One last item of note: Although tonight's Giants-Saints game will be played at Giants Stadium, it was originally slated for the Superdome, so the Saints are the designated home team, and they've chosen to wear their black jerseys. So the Giants, who usually only wear white on the road, will be wearing white at home -- but as the visiting team.

Paul Lukas wears black T-shirts at home and on the road, even in hot weather. His full-length "Uni Watch" columns appear every other Thursday, while "Uni Watch: Weekend Update" appears each Monday. Archives of his material are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.