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Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Updated: September 22, 1:39 PM ET
The NFL's mysterious ways

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

If the early returns are any indication, this is gonna be one doozy of an NFL season, at least from a uniform perspective. We're barely two weeks into the season, and already there's plenty to talk about.

For starters, mere hours after Uni Watch's NFL season-preview column was posted, the Chiefs announced that they'd be wearing a "H.S." helmet decal this season in memory of Hank Stram, who recently passed away. It's a classy move, for sure, but check out the size of this decal -- it's huge! Far be it from Uni Watch to suggest that Stram doesn't deserve as big a tribute as possible, but the "H.S." is almost as big as the team's main helmet logo. It's not clear if the Chiefs were trying to outdo this season's two other helmet memorial stickers (the 49ers' "72" in memory of Thomas Herrion, and the Panthers' "51" for Sam Mills), or if they just have an odd sense of scale. Either way, looks weird.

And speaking of weird, things got a bit out of hand in the Colts' season opener, as defensive lineman Corey Simon had the "7" ripped from his jersey during the third quarter, with freakish-looking results. Like, is that photo the very definition of "too much information" or what? Uni Watch never would have guessed that a mere "7" could hide such a multitude of sins. In any case, it seems safe to assume that nobody will ever mistake Simon for an eligible receiver, no matter what uni number he's wearing.

And then there's an issue that's been gnawing at Uni Watch's brain stem for some time now: the Jets' belt buckles. Check out these pix from last Sunday's game -- most of the players wore a little Jets logo on their buckles, but some just had a standard double-ring buckle (this was particularly prevalent among receivers). What gives? The logo, apparently, is on a little insert that's supposed to fit into the front belt loops but sometimes falls out. Now granted, inconspicuous uni details are Uni Watch's raison d'être, but c'mon -- a belt-buckle logo insert? It's better than this, but just barely. Uni Watch hereby nominates the Jets' insert for the exalted title of Most Pointless Uniform Accessory -- although rival nominations are, of course, welcome.

The strangest scenario, however, has involved Redskins quarterback Mark Brunell. As readers Sam Bell and Todd Carroll alertly point out, Brunell had "Redskin" -- instead of the plural "Redskins" -- printed on his jersey and on his rear helmet liner during the team's Week 1 game against the Bears.

Now, one typo might be an honest mistake. But it doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to conclude that two matching typos are evidence of more than just an innocent coincidence. Was Brunell making some sort of statement? Is he not a team player? Does he consider himself to be a big chief among little Indians? Or did he just have trouble distinguishing singulars from plurals in grammar school?

These and other questions hung in the balance when the 'Skins played the Cowboys this past Monday night, with Uni Watch vigilantly perched mere inches from the TV screen in order to get a good view of the fine print on Brunell's togs. And sure enough, he still had "Redskin" on his jersey -- but his helmet liner had been updated to include the "s" in "Redskins." With the situation getting curiouser and curiouser, a thoroughly confused Uni Watch put in a call to Redskins HQ, where the team's entire PR staff immediately stopped what they were doing and began investigating this crucial mystery.

OK, not really. But 'Skins PR rep Brian Hosmer did check with the team's equipment manager. "He says there's no significance to it at all," Hosmer reported back. "They just didn't catch it." Yeah, but how did the helmet liner change? "Uh, I don't know. He, uh, didn't mention it." Sigh. And did anyone ask Brunell about it? "No, he's been in meetings all day and I can't really bother him with something like this."

It was at this point that Uni Watch got the distinct impression that Hosmer was looking at his watch with that "really busy, gotta go" look on his face, so that was pretty much the end of the conversation. And a maddeningly unsatisfying conversation it was -- we don't know anything more about this situation than we did before, except that the equipment manager probably won't let it happen again. But Uni Watch isn't ready to let go of this one. If anyone has any insights, please speak up.

Three other quick notes about the 'Skins: First, perhaps in reaction to Uni Watch's recent critique, they've stopped wearing burgundy socks with their burgundy pants (which created an unsightly leotard effect) and have gone back to wearing their striped white socks -- a great improvement. Second, Joe Gibbs appears to have abandoned the black cap he wore last season in favor of a red cap, more like the one he wore in his glory days (although the newer version, annoyingly, has the Reebok logo).

And finally, the color scheme of Gibbs' Monday night attire prompted Uni Watch attaché Ruth Wedes to opine, "He looks like he's working at McDonald's." All game long, whenever Gibbs appeared on the screen, Wedes quipped, "Would you like fries with that?" and "Super-size it?" But of course Uni Watch was too busy scrutinizing Brunell's jersey and helmet to engage in such frivolities.

Number Crunching
Several readers have inquired about the situation at Florida State, where there are multiple instances of two players wearing the same uni number: Drew Weatherford and Gerard Ross both wear No. 11; Tommy Keane and Mikhal Kornegay both wear No. 16; and Rodney Gallon and Chase Goggans both wear No. 37.

"We've been doing that for years, unfortunately," says FSU information director Rob Wilson. The reason is that rosters are much larger in the NCAA than in the NFL: A typical NFL roster has about 60 players -- and that's including the practice squad -- while FSU lists a whopping 87 active players. Toss in the restrictions on which numbers can be worn by eligible receivers and it's not surprising that NCAA teams frequently face a number crunch.

"It's happened to us pretty regularly, but I think this is the first time we've had two starters with the same number," says Wilson, referring to QB Weatherford and CB Ross. "We're allowed to do it, as long as they're not on the same side of the ball. And, obviously, they can't be on the field at the same time."

Uni News Ticker
While other MLB teams continue to support Hurricane Katrina relief by wearing the Red Cross logo on their batting helmets, the Yankees have quietly removed the cross from their lids. The Salvation Army sleeve patch they were wearing is gone, too. … With the NBA's Katrina-displaced Hornets now slated to play their home games in Oklahoma City, the team's home uni -- which previously read, "New Orleans" -- will be changed to read, "Hornets." The road uni will still carry "New Orleans," and both uniforms will have an "OKC" patch. … Photos of the Cardinals' pennant-clinching celebration included this shot of Julian Tavarez, revealing that he wears the team's striped stockings (with a bogus faux-stirrup pattern, but the stripes are still pretty cool). So why would someone wearing such great hose insist on wearing his pants like this? … Similarly, it's disappointing to see that Twins call-up Jason Tyner, who wore real stirrups during his stints with the Mets and Rays, has now joined the pajama brigade. … According to a recent survey, Americans think the Cowboys have the NFL's best uniforms and the Browns have the worst. The Dolphins were somehow picked as the fourth-best and the fifth-worst. … Some genius in Chicago got the bright idea of turning the White Sox into the Green Sox on September 9, to celebrate being "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day." Yes, really. Of course, the real St. Paddy's-and-a-half date wasn't until September 17, which means the Chisox marketing staff needs a brain transplant and a calendar. … Logo Creep Alert: Those green White Sox caps just happened to feature the New Era logo on the side, the third time this season that the milliner snuck its mark onto MLB caps. … More logo creep (courtesy of reader Gregory Johnson): Gee, who do you think manufactured the ball-boy and ball-girl uniforms for the U.S. Open? … You know something's wrong with the NFL when 49ers coach Mike Nolan isn't allowed to wear a suit on the sidelines but Bills coach Mike Mularkey is allowed to work in a T-shirt (with thanks to Phil Morris). … Uni Watch doesn't mean to come across as Honky McWhitey yet again, but what exactly is the deal with this trend of players untucking their jerseys immediately following a game's conclusion? Like, is it meant to signify that you're now on your own time and are no longer working for The Man (as if your "job" was really so oppressive to begin with)? Or is it just another case of "it's a hip-hop thing, you wouldn't understand"? Either way, it's weak. If players want to look like slobs out there, let them join a beer league like the rest of us. … Just as the Vikings' jersey patch incorrectly refers to the team's 45th season as its 45th anniversary, reader Alexander Chester notes that superbowl.com is erroneously referring to Super Bowl XL, which will take place next February, as the game's "40th anniversary." Look, it's simple: Super Bowl II was the first anniversary of Super Bowl I, Super Bowl III was the second anniversary, and so on -- the anniversary ordinal is always one number less than the Roman numeral (of course, the first two Super Bowls were actually called NFL/AFL Championship Games, since the term "Super Bowl" hadn't been invented yet, but we'll save that issue for another day). So Super Bowl XL is actually the game's 39th anniversary. Is that so hard to grasp? … The Giants dressed up as the Gigantes on September 12. They had previously done this back on May 21, in honor of Juan Marichal; this time it was for a "Fiesta Gigante" promotion. … Wanna see something weird? Check out the massive "C" logo on Ray Olmedo's batting helmet -- it's way bigger than the one worn by his teammates (with thanks to eagle-eyed reader Matt Bellersen). … In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University president Dr. Scott Cowen urged displaced students and staff to "carry the torch, be the face, and represent the name" of the school. That quote is the basis of a new patch, which all Tulane sports teams will wear during the 2005-06 academic year. … As you might have noticed, Indiana wore red pants last weekend -- first time they've done that in over a decade. But Chad Edwards points out something you probably didn't know: The team actually wore white pants during pregame warm-ups and then switched just before game time, so the reds would be a surprise. … What's the deal with the NFL's obsession with special-occasion blazers? Not only do Hall of Fame inductees have to wear those stupid yellow blazers, but Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith had to wear logo-emblazoned jackets for their recent induction into the Cowboys Ring of Honor. Can't anyone just wear a regular suit? … Interesting note from reader Alessandro Brandoni, who points out that British runner Joanne Pavey wore high socks during the recent IAAF World Athletics Championships in Helsinki. Uni Watch, ever the sucker for athletic hosiery, applauds Pavey's move and urges other runners to follow her lead.

Follow-Ups
• Lots of ground to cover here regarding non-uniform accessories, beginning with Uni Watch's recent mention of Rafael Palmiero, Bobby Bonilla and Chuck Finley wearing earplugs on the field. This prompted many readers to recall additional 'plugged players, including Joe Magrane (during the 1987 World Series), several members of the Braves (during the '91 Series), Sammy Sosa (while playing for the Cubs during interleague games at Comiskey Park), Steve Carlton (during the 1980 NLCS) and Carlos Beltran (when the Mets played in Houston last month). Big thanks to all who wrote in, especially Shane Drahota, Charlie Connell, Arden French, John W. Royal, Jerry Wolper, Tim Petranek and Alexander Chester.

There's also this, from reader Don Montgomery: "In 1969 or 1970, Carl Yastrzemski got off to a terrible start. Red Sox fans, with huge expectations after the Triple Crown of '67 and the batting championship of '68, booed him mercilessly. Mid-season, Yaz ran out to his left field position with two huge wads of cotton sticking out of his ears. As the boos started again, he made a big gesture of removing the cotton and putting it back in, at which point the fans gave him a standing ovation."

• On the topic of football players wearing wristwatches and wedding rings on the field, Ryan Thompson and Matt Thomas report that Texans quarterback David Carr wears his wedding ring with tape over it while playing. And according to Sid Steinberg, Eagles kicker David Akers not only wears his wedding ring but also wears a watch under his wristband (which is tough to confirm definitively, but it sure looks like he's got something under there).

• We can also add two additional names to the roster of bespectacled football players: Joe Washington and Chester Marcol (with thanks to Jason Buenning and Bill Kiel, respectively).

• And in one last accessory-related note, it turns out that when Alex Rodriguez recently wore "11" wristbands, he wasn't doing it in honor of teammate Gary Sheffield after all. Reader Colin Judnich sets the record straight: "When the Yanks were here in Seattle, Seattle broadcaster Dave Niehaus interviewed Alex before the first game and spoke about it on the air during the telecast. He said Alex wears those wristbands in honor of Edgar Martinez, his longtime good friend and hitting mentor."

• Turning our attention from accessories to actual uniforms, Uni Watch's discussion earlier this week of NFL teams wearing white at home prompted this response from reader Russell Goutierez:

"Have you seen the 'Lost Treasures of NFL Films' segment about when the Vikings decided to wear white at home on October 11, 1964? Games were seldom on TV then, so fans almost never got to see the Vikes in their white-over-purple road unis. So they decided to wear 'em for a home game. But the Vikings forgot to notify the Lions, who also wore white jerseys. The game started with both teams in white, and it wasn't until mid-second quarter that an equipment man could go from the stadium to the Vikings' practice facility and retrieve the purple jerseys. What followed was the odd sight of all the Vikings simultaneously changing jerseys on the sideline, followed by the Vikings finishing the game wearing purple jerseys over purple pants. Coach Norm Van Brocklin was so grossed out by the mono-purple look that the Vikings did away with the purple pants the following year and went to white-over-white on the road."

• On the logo creep front, Uni Watch's recent mention of Barry Bonds wearing his personal logo on the hem of his fleece reminded reader Blayne Green that Wayne Gretzky has a logo of his own, which he wore on his collar in All-Star and regular-season games alike. The Great One? More like the Greatly Self-Promotional One, says Uni Watch.

• Finally, regarding Dominik Hrbaty's bizarre tennis outfit, reader Angelo Sergnese checks in with this: "Hrbaty's sponsor, Lotto, is an Italian soccer company. His pink-and-black outfit seems to be inspired by the Palermo [Sicily] team. They are the main team whose jersey is pink." It's not clear if they're also the main team that wears gonzo peekaboo cutouts like the ones on Hrbaty's shirt, but we'll leave that question for next time.

Paul Lukas was only six months old in October 1964, too young, thankfully, to fully comprehend the horror of the Vikings' solid-purple uniforms. 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.