PITTSBURGH -- It all starts with the shoes.
Every morning, Joe Haden stands in front of his collection of more than 1,000 pairs of Jordans and carefully selects the pair of the day.
Then, he wanders over to the sweatsuit section of his color-coordinated closet and picks a set that matches the shoes.
Every single day.
On this warm November afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl cornerback is wearing the Guava Ice Union Jordan 4s, an off-white sneaker accented in a washed reddish pink and sky blue with a light highlighter yellow sole. He paired the kicks, which hit the market only a couple months ago, with a light red Jordan shorts-and-hoodie set.
“I knew it would go with the pink,” Haden said. “I said, ‘This will work today.’ Every day I wake up, I go to the closet and I get dressed. I put on an outfit like I’m about to go somewhere even if it’s just to the facility. The dudes are like, ‘Joe, you don’t take any days off?’ I’m like, I just like waking up, get my stuff -- you know I have a lot of clothes, so might as well wear it.”
Haden, a cornerstone of the Steelers’ secondary, exudes swag on and off the field. Sidelined by a foot injury for five weeks, he returned to the lineup against the Tennessee Titans with an exclamation point as he executed a game-saving -- perhaps season-saving -- tackle on fourth down to seal the win. He also recovered Cam Sutton’s third-quarter forced fumble, one of four Steelers takeaways.
“He’s Joe Money,” T.J. Watt said Sunday. “He’s got swag. He’s the freshest looking guy in the locker room and out on the field.
"He just brings a little bit of swagger, a little bit of mojo with him. I think it rubs off on all of us. He’s just a vet who makes a lot of those really smart, veteran plays, and a lot of that stuff rubs off on other guys as well. Really happy to have him back.”
It’s not just his play and on-field mojo that leaves an impression on his teammates. Haden's outfits recently earned him the Swag Award at the team’s annual Rock Steelers Style fashion show. He posted the trophy and acceptance speech from inside his massive closet.
For Haden, fashion is intentional, and he uses it to express himself every time he gets dressed.
“Joe Haden’s style is clean,” safety Terrell Edmunds said. “It’s calm, and it’s just, swag 24/7. You’ll never get a light day from Joe. ... We call him Joe Money not because of his clothes being expensive, but more so because man, he just looks like he’s nice. He could put on a white T-shirt and some jeans, but the way he puts it on and the way he walks, man, and how confident he walks with it. He makes it look good.”
Haden traces his obsession with clothes and shoes to his Maryland roots. As a seventh-grader, he went to Shoe City with a friend at 4 a.m. to snag a pair of the all-black Jordan 8s.
“We waited in line,” Haden said, “got our shoes, went to school that day and everybody was like, ‘Oh my god, you got those fresh Js.’
“From the seventh grade, I was like, I want that feeling all the time.”
Haden doesn’t have to wait in line at the shoe store to get his swag anymore. Six years ago, he worked his connections to secure an invitation to the exclusive Jordan Brand trip to Mexico. There, he fulfilled a lifelong dream and signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, giving him access to a limitless catalogue of shoes. He’s now Jordan Brand’s current longest-tenured football athlete.
“I still get starstruck when I see Michael Jordan,” said Haden, who chose No. 23 in Pittsburgh to pay homage to the basketball icon. “It’s crazy. It’s MJ. I never thought I’d be that close to him or talk to him. He knows who I am and signed me to his brand. I’m still in awe of MJ.”
Haden doesn't gatekeep his Jordan Brand connection, either. Every year, he gifts every person in the locker room a new pair of Jordans. Shoes given out this year included the Cool Grey Jordan 11s, Bred Patent Jordan 1s and the Black Cement Jordan 3s.
Haden dresses with a purpose every day, but game days have extra meaning. He starts collecting his pregame pieces over the summer, combing through Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and FARFETCH.com for things that catch his eye. He doesn’t use a stylist, instead going with his gut feeling.
“It’ll be hot in California, but I’ll be getting winter clothes, like ‘This will be crazy for the game,’” Haden said. “I like to go buy pieces. I won’t buy it for the time I need it, it’s more like, this will be nice for during the season. So during the offseason, I’ll be setting up outfits. Eight dress-up suit and ties, and eight like I’m going to the club.”
And it’s not just about the clothes and shoes. Haden is a master at accessorizing, adding vintage buttons, coordinating socks and hats. Recently, he has been working with Jerry Adams of Hourglass Hats to make custom buckets. He owns three, including a baby blue distressed felt hat with a frayed beige band and brown-and-white feather he paired with an oatmeal-colored suit and white banded collar dress shirt for the trip to Green Bay.
“He can wear anything and make it look good,” Adams said. “The possibilities are endless with him. I can go as crazy as I want, and he’s still going to rock it.”
Haden tries out different combinations in the offseason, taking pictures of the ones he likes so he doesn’t forget his favorites. And, he has a dress code. The suits are for the road, and the streetwear he saves for home games.
The bigger the game, the better the outfit.
“It’s the way he finesses the business look, the shirt, the tie look,” tight end Eric Ebron said, describing what sets Haden’s style apart. “The business aspect of it. A lot of people can put on street clothes and look a certain way, but when you’re able to finesse style in both casual and business attire, that’s when you realize you have swag.”
When the Steelers hosted the Seattle Seahawks for Sunday Night Football on Oct. 17, Haden wore a Christian Dior hoodie, Dior backpack, Amiri jeans and the limited edition Air Jordan 1 Dior.
“His style is top of the line,” Edmunds said. “He’s someone you try to mimic, someone that you try to bounce ideas off of, just when we’re talking in the locker room, like oh, you went and grabbed this, I’m gonna go mix and match this one for me and put it together like that.”
Haden was an influencer before his pro career, too, helping turn now-Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, his freshman year roommate at Florida, onto some trends. Haden said back then he was the better dressed of the pair.
“I promise you Cam would tell you that, too,” Haden said with a laugh. “I think I might’ve got him into his fashion, crazy like it is. When he was at Florida, he wasn’t dressing like that.”
Haden’s attention to detail with his look extends to the field, too. He rarely repeats cleats, and he has a custom gold backplate on his pads. The plate, inspired by one former teammate Vince Williams used to wear, has the shape of a dollar bill engraved on the back with 23s in each corner and the Steelers' logo prominently in the middle.
He also hooked Edmunds up with a colorful visor to replace his clear one.
“He already had two or three of them in his locker, and he just gave me one and from there, I had my practice swag on point,” Edmunds said. “Joe, he’s always swagging in practice, going to the plane and meeting us all the time.”
“That’s why we call him Joe Money.”