Simply stated, these jerseys are the pits
Football -- it's the pits. Literally.
Uni Watch is of course referring to the increasing exposure of armpits on the gridiron, an unsightly development that has been brewing for years and now is threatening to boil over into a full-fledged pit-astrophe.
First, some quick background: Once upon a time, football jerseys had these crazy things called sleeves. Bizarre, right? But sometime around the late 1990s or so, players started becoming obsessed with minimizing the amount of jersey fabric opponents could grab onto. So jerseys became tighter and sleeves began shrinking. Aside from quarterbacks, kickers and punters, most pro and college players these days wear jerseys that don't really have sleeves. Instead, they have just enough fabric around the shoulder area to strrrrrretch over the player's shoulder pads, along with an elasticized armhole. The result is something more like a sleeveless T than a conventional sleeved shirt.
But some players have been pushing the sleeveless style past the limits of visual propriety. For years, the poster child for this look has been Chris Hovan, who's basically had his jersey tailored like a tank top, revealing more of his body than Uni Watch (or, most likely, anyone) wants to see.
Hovan is on injured reserve this season, so NFL fans have been spared the burden of looking at his pitiful pits. Unfortunately, massive armpit apertures have been showing up on other players this season. Let's call these guys the Pit Crew. Here are the charter members:
• Osi Umenyiora of the Giants began the season wearing a fairly standard short-short sleeve. But by Week 4, he'd had his armhole cut much deeper and wider, creating a tank top effect that rivals anything Hovan has ever worn. He's coming perilously close to racerback territory -- not a place NFL players should be venturing.
"Yeah, everyone's been asking me about that," Giants equipment manager Joe Skiba said. "A league representative even asked me, 'What'd you do to his jersey? There's nothing there!' The thing is, Osi wears the same jersey Ahmad Bradshaw wears or Hakeem Nicks. But his body frame is unusual -- it's very wide -- and it stretches the jersey in such a way that the armhole gets distorted. But there's nothing different about the armhole itself. I haven't done anything to alter it." OK, but maybe Skiba should make some alterations, if only to close up that massive underarm gap.
• Texans center Chris Myers is another player who appears to have undergone a midyear conversion. He began the season wearing a typical armhole setup, but by this past weekend, he was showing a lot more flesh.
Uni Watch initially wondered whether the Irish's short QB sleeves might be part of a sponsorship deal with Douglas shoulder pads (hey, stranger things have happened, right?), but Notre Dame spokesman Brian Hardin said the cap sleeves were actually dreamed up by coach Brian Kelly. "He likes the quarterbacks to have a full range of motion," Hardin said. "So he had them cut the sleeve really short and loose so they wouldn't be restricted."
As it happens, Notre Dame is one of several schools that have just switched to adidas' new super-stretchy Techfit jerseys. The good news is the team's QBs no longer have their shoulder pads exposed (Hardin says this is because the new adidas jerseys have little interior shoulder pockets for the pads to tuck into, a feature found on several NFL jerseys as well); the bad news is they're now showing more pit than ever.
So what do we make of all this (aside from the likelihood that many of these players will soon be landing endorsement deals with deodorant brands)? Uni Watch has a few thoughts:
1. You can't design something that doesn't exist. The disappearance of sleeves has design implications that go beyond the Pit Crew. Football sleeves used to routinely feature stripes, but as sleeves have gotten shorter, those stripes have crept upward and been reduced to splotches of color on the shoulders. The stripes can't encircle the sleeve anymore because there's no more sleeve for them to encircle. So it's no surprise that some teams have simply given up and started leaving that area blank. (One possible solution to this problem: Put the stripes on the sleeves of a compression undershirt.)
2. Here, hold this. Faux sleeves also have changed the way the game is officiated. Offensive holding penalties used to be called when a lineman grabbed his opponent's jersey, and the part being grabbed often was the sleeve. But when you watch a replay of a holding penalty today, what do you see? Often, it's a player being flat-out tackled. That's because today's super-tight sleeveless jerseys make it impossible to get a handhold on a jersey, so offensive linemen have to resort to wrestling-like tactics when they're being beaten on a play. Maybe they should just call the penalty an offensive takedown.
3. Ixnay on the exflay. Tired of the recent trend of players flexing like bodybuilders? That's yet another byproduct of the faux sleeves. Wouldn't be happening if the players' upper arms were covered.
4. Some authentics are more authentic than others. If you buy, say, a Derek Jeter jersey, you're getting something pretty similar to the jerseys Derek Jeter actually wears. Same goes for the jerseys sold by the NBA and NHL. But there's now a huge disconnect between the "authentic" jerseys sold to football fans and what's being worn on the field, because the retail versions have real sleeves while the ones being worn by most of the players do not.
5. There oughtta be a law. One reason for the sorry state of NFL sleeves is there's no rule against it. That's right, the same league that fines players for exposing a few square inches of kneecap skin or for wearing the wrong shoelace color has no regulations regarding sleeve length. Incredible but true.
It's time to change that. Here, it's easy: "Sleeves must terminate no more than 3 inches from the player's elbow." Done and done. Just write that into the rulebook, Mr. Goodell, and we can turn the Pit Crew into a pit stop.
Paul Lukas is wearing long sleeves now that there's a nip in the air. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, 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.