In the lead-up to the 2012 NFL season, everyone was wondering what Nike would do to the league's uniforms. Turns out we should have been directing our gaze a bit lower -- to the players' shoes.
Here's the deal: For the past 30 years or so, NFL teams have had to choose between wearing white shoes or black shoes -- or "predominantly" black or white, as brand logos and other gewgaws began accumulating on the footwear. For most of the 1980s and '90s, white was by far the more popular color. In 1999, only one team, Tampa Bay, was wearing black! (Billy "White Shoes" Johnson would never have been able to make a name for himself in that era.) But then the pendulum began swinging back toward black footwear. By 2011, 21 of the league's 32 teams wore black.
But the days of seeing everything in black and white are over. Thanks to a rule change this season (which just happened to coincide with Nike's taking over the league's uniform contract), players now have the option of wearing black, white or team colors, in virtually any combination. The vast majority of players wore black or white during the preseason, but the team colors came out in force once the regular season started. Sometimes they looked good, sometimes not so good. Here's a slideshow of some of the looks that were on display during Week 1:
This isn't the first time we've seen colored shoes in the NFL. Back in the 1970s, Steelers defensive lineman L.C. Greenwood was known for his gold footwear (he was repeatedly hit with fines, but the Steelers always "forgot" to collect them). And before that, Joe Namath stood out on the field simply by wearing white while everyone else wore black.
The thing is, each player can now wear whichever color(s) he wants, so it's a chaotic mess of footwear stylings out there now. One guy's wearing blue, his teammate's wearing red, and the guy next to him is wearing black. So even the ones that look pretty good end up getting lost in the chromatic crazy quilt. But that's how the NFL looks now, so get used to it.
The new footwear situation is just one uni-related thing we've learned from the first week of NFL action. Here are five more:
1. Sometimes it's better to leave a few things to the imagination. That's the obvious conclusion after seeing Jeff Backus' pants, which turned transparent with perspiration during Sunday's Rams-Lions game.
The Uni Watch NFL season preview column had noted that the Lions' pants looked significantly less metallic during the preseason, but this see-through effect was unexpected. It raises two important points: Nike needs to do something about this, pronto. Make that double-pronto.
2. The branding wars have gotten ridiculous. Unless you've been under a fairly large rock for this entire calendar year, you're probably aware that Robert Griffin III has an endorsement deal with adidas. That probably explains why he covered up the swoosh on his Nike undershirt with some impromptu graffiti during pregame warm-ups on Sunday. What message are we supposed to take from this -- that Griffin's heart lies with adidas? That he needs some remedial lessons in internal anatomy? Either way, it's embarrassing.
But here's the best part (or worst, depending on your point of view): Adidas isn't one of the league's approved footwear sponsors. So when the game started, Griffin had to tape over the adidas stripes on his shoes.
Is Uni Watch the only one who finds all of this really silly and childish? The only brand that really matters to most fans is that Griffin plays for the Redskins. Everything else is just noise.
3. The disappearing sleeves have claimed another victim. For years now, football jersey sleeves have gotten shorter and shorter, to the point where they're not really sleeves anymore -- they're just shoulder caps. And now they've gotten so short that the Steelers' sleeve striping no longer has its bottom stripe (except for Big Ben, because quarterbacks tend to wear jerseys with genuine sleeves). To put this in perspective, the Steelers have worn that basic stripe pattern since 1946. Would it really have been so hard to maintain the pattern's full integrity? Pfeh.
4. Is that like "jumbo shrimp"? As we've covered a few times now, a new rule change now allows player names on jerseys to include generational suffixes. (Many people are referring to it as the RG3 rule.) Some fans like this, others think it's unnecessary, but one thing's for certain: It has resulted in Lions wide receiver Titus Young Sr. wearing one of the more amusing nameplates of recent years.
5. Penn State hasn't gotten the hang of putting names on the jerseys yet. OK, so this one's about college football, not the NFL, but it's a doozy. As you may recall, Penn State decided to add the players' names to their jerseys this season, as a gesture of "personal accountability" in the wake of the Sandusky/Paterno scandal. But putting names on the jerseys can be trickier than it seems, as the Nittany Lions discovered this past Saturday. D'oh! It's like the football gods are telling Penn State, "You weren't meant to have names on your uniforms!" Or maybe they were just saying, "You really need to learn how to use a heat-press!"
Paul Lukas will be sending a complimentary muffin basket to the garment worker who sewed that center panel onto the back of Jeff Backus' pants. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.