By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

OK, enough of this collegiate stuff. With the NFL season set to kick off Thursday night, it's time to turn our attention to the pros.

You probably know about the big storylines already, since Uni Watch covered the season's major uniform revisions months ago, as they were announced. A quick recap for latecomers and amnesiacs: The Cardinals now look like an Arena League team; the Giants have a new road uniform, which isn't really all that different from their old road uniform; the Lions have a rather unfortunate new black alternate jersey (no word on whether they're calling the color "Honolulu Black"); and the Bills have a really cool throwback outfit, complete with the old "standing buffalo" helmet (which they'll be wearing Sunday, incidentally).

Ah, but there's a slew of smaller developments that you probably haven't kept track of or even noticed. But fear not -- what seems subtle to you is salient to Uni Watch. So here's a breakdown of what to look for on the gridiron, which you'd do well to commit to memory. That way, when the loud dude with the hat asks if you're ready for some football, you can honestly and sincerely answer in the affirmative.

• No more Thanksgiving Day throwbacks for the Lions -- they'll wear that black monstrosity instead. Dallas, however, will wear this design on Turkey Day, white helmet and all. The moral: You win some, you lose some.

• The Giants have replaced their "Giants" chest logo with a "ny" logo (on the road jersey, too). Is it just Uni Watch's imagination, or is the "ny" positioned unusually low on the jersey? Very odd.

• The Giants have also switched to black shoes, which raises the number of black-shod teams to 13 (the others: Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Bengals, Lions, Colts, Jaguars, Saints, Jets, Eagles, Seahawks and Bucs) -- up from just one in 1999. Uni Watch counts this as progress.

• As if the Bengals didn't have enough problems, that stupid white side panel on their jerseys is now extending even higher -- but only for some players. So now the team not only looks like crap, but it looks inconsistent to boot. Most aesthetically impaired franchise in pro sports, hands down.

• As NFL sleeves continue to disappear, the latest development is that the Jets' contrasting sleeve color, which used to enclose the entire sleeve (green sleeves for the white jersey, white sleeves for the green jerseys), has been truncated to cover only half the sleeve. Check it out: half a white sleeve for the green jersey, half a green sleeve for the white jersey. Lame.

• The Redskins have traditionally paired their maroon pants with striped white socks, but that changed during a game against the Giants last December, when Clinton Portis wore maroon socks (without any whites, in blatant defiance of league regulations), which the 'Skins normally paired with their seldom-used white pants. The whole team adopted this maroon-on-maroon look -- with whites, thankfully -- for the rest of last season, and they've maintained it during the 2005 preseason, so expect to see more of it this year. It's a stupid move, of course, because it defeats the whole point of NFL sock design, which is to provide contrast at the pant/sock intersection (compare this, this, or this), but Uni Watch long ago accepted the sad reality that today's pro athletes are utterly clueless when it comes to hosiery.

• With Titans kicker Gary Anderson retired (again) and punter Sean Landeta falling victim to the final round of cuts in Philly, Cardinals punter Scott Player is the league's last remaining wearer of the single-bar facemask.

• The Patriots will wear a Super Bowl championship jersey patch for tomorrow night's season-opening game against the Raiders, and then will go patch-free for the balance of the season. Uni Watch likes this -- wearing the patch all season long would be ostentatious, but a one game celebration is a nice move.

• In other jersey patch news, the Vikings are commemorating their 45th season in the league. Look closely, though, and you'll see that their patch refers to this as the team's 45th "anniversary season" -- a classic blunder, since it's the team's 45th season but their 44th anniversary. Fortunately, no such syntactical errors mar the commemorative patches being worn by the Dolphins, Ravens, and Bucs (closer views of which can be seen here, here, and here), thus sparing Uni Watch the need to stand at the blackboard with a pointer and a stern look. Bonus points to Miami for acknowledging the team's AFL heritage as part of the patch design.

• On the remembrance front, the 49ers are wearing a "72" helmet decal in memory of Thomas Herrion, and the Panthers have a "51" decal for Sam Mills.

• The schedule of when teams will be wearing their alternate jerseys tends to change as the season progresses. For now, though, the breakdown looks like this:

Alternate Jersey Schedule
Team Color Date(s)
Falcons Black 12/12
Ravens Black 9/11, 12/19
Bills Blue (throwback) 9/11
Bears Orange 11/13
Bengals Orange 10/30, 12/11
Cowboys Navy (throwback) 9/19, 11/24
Lions Black 9/11, 11/24
Texans Red 10/23, 12/24
Patriots Silver 10/2
Eagles Black 9/25, 12/5
Chargers Powder Blue (throwback) 10/10, 11/20
49ers Red (throwback) 10/30
Titans Blue 10/30, 12/11

• With the league having relaxed the rules regarding wide receivers' uni numbers prior to last season, expect to see more and more wideouts wearing 10 through 19 -- not just young players like Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, and Darius Watts, but also veterans who've joined new teams and taken the opportunity to change numbers, like Randy Moss and Plaxico Burress. Even Jerry Rice was doing it before he called it quits earlier this week. Several readers have written in with complaints about this trend, but Uni Watch likes it -- a cool reminder of the days of Gene Washington and Lance Alworth.

• You may recall that 49ers head coach Mike Nolan wanted to wear a suit on the sidelines this season but that the league put the kibosh on that plan (despite some enterprising fashion suggestions from fans). Here's how Nolan looked during the preseason -- pretty much your standard-issue NFL coaching look. Speaking of which, some of the other coaching attire displayed during the preseason looked surprisingly cool, although there were, of course, exceptions. Well, actually, several exceptions.

• Logo Creep Alert: You probably already knew that Reebok is the NFL's official sportswear partner, what with the Reebok logo appearing on every player's jersey sleeves and pant thighs. But Reebok apparently isn't taking any chances, because some players are now also wearing Reebok-logo undersleeves. The good news is that these undergarments don't carry a visible NFL logo -- yet. (With thanks to reader Mayer Weisel.)

• Speaking of the NFL logo, officials are now wearing it on their caps, a move that was first tried out in the last Super Bowl -- just in case you didn't, y'know, realize which league you were watching.

Finally, it's a safe bet that the Saints -- and maybe the whole league -- will be wearing something to commemorate the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but Uni Watch hasn't had the heart to ask anyone about that.

Minor League, Major Attitude
Uni Watch has attended plenty of minor league baseball games over the years, several of which featured MLB players who were on rehab assignments. And as Uni Watch recalls it, all of those big leaguers were wearing the minor league team's batting helmet during such rehab stints.

But that policy appears to have changed. Kevin Gee notes that Jeff Bagwell wore his Astros helmet while recently rehabbing with the Corpus Christi Hooks, and Jacob Pomrenke reports that Seattle's Bucky Jacobsen and Anaheim's Dallas McPherson and Steve Finley all wore their big league helmets during minor league rehab stints last month. And this isn't just a 2005 phenomenon: Andrew Schall, responding to a Uni Watch query on the Society for American Baseball Research listserv, points out that Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Kenny Lofton all wore their Yankees helmets while rehabbing with the Trenton Thunder in 2003 and 2004. And Uni Watch's own research turned up this photo of a rehabbing Nomar Garciaparra in a Red Sox helmet.

Uni Watch takes a dim view of this trend. It not only looks silly, but it furthers the notion that MLB players are insufferable prima donnas who have to be catered to on every level. C'mon, if you're a guest in someone's house, show some respect and play by their rules (or wear their helmet, as the case might be). Say what you want about Sammy Sosa, but at least he wore a West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx helmet while rehabbing last year -- although it was a single-earflap helmet, which wouldn't ordinarily be permissible in the minors (plus they apparently forgot to sew any buttons onto Sammy's jersey).

Uni News Ticker
Logo Creep Alert: If you look closely at this photo of Barry Bonds taking batting practice a few days ago, you can see that he's had his personal logo stitched onto the shirttail of his warmup fleece, right next to the Authentic Collection patch (with thanks to reader Brandon Davis). … It was Braves vs. Braves at Miller Park on Aug. 26, as the Brewers wore Milwaukee Braves uniforms for a game against Atlanta. Sloppy job on the throwback unis, though, since the real Milwaukee Braves wore zipper-front jerseys and red belt-tunnel piping, neither of which appeared on the Brewers' retro attire. Still, it's interesting to see the old-school brown tomahawk, which Uni Watch prefers over the current red one -- the Braves should switch back to it. … If we can put a man on the moon, why can't Fox find a way to do its "Sounds of the Game" feature without making players wear an ugly clip-on mic right in the middle of their chest insignia? … Remember our recent discussion of Crew Askew? According to a 1969 comic strip that was republished on Aug. 28, the crooked-cap phenomenon may have been inspired by a rather unlikely source. … The Cubs retired Ryne Sandberg's uni number on Aug. 28. … Good to see that Rafael Palmeiro is now spending his lunch money on earplugs instead of steroids. Uni Watch knows of at least two other ballplayers who've resorted to 'plugs: Bobby Bonilla, during his first stint with the Mets in the early 1990s, and Chuck Finley (look closely and you can see him wearing them here). Anyone know of any others? … Speaking of the Orioles, Uni Watch realizes the Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson situations have provided a double-whammy of bad PR, but having the team wear a sleeve patch commemorating the 10th anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's ironman streak seems like a bit much, no? … Mark Bellhorn always wore a double-earflap helmet while playing for the Cubs and Red Sox, so it was surprising to see him wearing a conventional single-flap helmet when making his Yankees debut on Aug. 30. The problem, apparently, was that the team wasn't able to acquire a double-flap model for Bellhorn in time for that game, but they got one for him by the time he made his next plate appearance three days later. … When John Abraham of the Jets ended his holdout last week, he also changed his uni number from 94 to 56. A closer look at the second photo, however, reveals that he was still wearing "94"-imprinted shorts during his first day of practice. … Tigers pinch-hitter Craig Monroe stepped up to the plate in Cleveland on Aug. 29 wearing Detroit's home batting helmet -- the one with the white "D" -- instead of the orange-logo road helmet he should have been wearing (with thanks to Jon and Chris Emerson). … Latest evidence of eccentricity among placekickers: Matt Ciciarelli reports that Rams backup kicker Remy Hamilton was wearing his wedding ring during a preseason game on Aug. 29. Reminds Uni Watch of longtime punter Reggie Roby, who routinely wore a wristwatch on the field. … Uni Watch Lifetime Achievement Scholar Mark Mihalik checked in on Monday with the following: "Some wicked logo creep action in Tallahassee tonight. Some players for both FSU and Miami were wearing a Nike undershirt that not only featured the [swoosh] logo on the sleeves, but the sleeves were two different colors." The garment in question appears to be this, and it turns out that some USC players, including Matt Leinart, were wearing it last weekend too. The frightening thing, as Mihalik points out, is that the undershirt also comes in long-sleeved versions, which could make for a retina-wrenching autumn -- stay tuned. … Remember when Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were wearing each other's wristbands a few months back? Now the Yankees are getting into the act: Josh Mosby reports that A-Rod was wearing Gary Sheffield's "11"-imprinted wristbands the other day. Next thing you know, Derek Jeter will be sporting a Johnny Damon haircut. … Can someone please explain what the hell Dominik Hrbaty was wearing at the U.S. Open? His shirt was pink, his shorts had those weird little side vents, and he had some bizarre peek-a-boo action going on across his shoulders. As reader Jan Vogelskamp puts it, "It looks like something Serena would wear, but turned around the wrong way."

While last column's rundown of college football uni changes was extensive, it was hardly exhaustive, as many readers pointed out additional changes that Uni Watch missed. So let the record show that new attire is also being worn this season by Hawaii (adding silver as a team color), Temple (going from this to this and this), Northwestern (jersey numeral font changing from this to this), Illinois (white shoes instead of black, and the "Illinois" helmet wordmark is now outlined in blue), SMU (going from this to this), Wake Forest (home jersey numerals and "WF" sleeve insignia are now gold outlined with white, instead of the other way around), New Mexico (going from this and this to this), Virginia Tech (players who will have graduated by December will wear a very nifty mortarboard and tassel helmet sticker), Army ("41" jersey patch in memory of Glenn Davis), Troy ("76" helmet decal in memory of Al Lucas), Texas Tech (going from black pants to red), Florida Atlantic (helmet logo, chest logo and shoulder stripes going from this and this to this and this), East Carolina (jerseys going from hideously ugly to just moderately ugly), Arkansas (jerseys changing from this to this), Maryland (sesquicentennial logo patch on left shoulder), San Jose State (now look like this), Auburn (changing shoe suppliers from Nike to New Balance, in part because Nike complained that too many players had tape covering the Nike swoosh -- good riddance, says Uni Watch), Ohio State (appears to have changed from shiny pants to matte-finish pants), and Missouri State (school's name change, from Southwest Missouri State, is reflected in an incredibly boring new helmet). Big thanks to all who wrote in to set the record straight, including Julie Kim, Tom Chaump, Marc Richards, Benjamin K. Taylor, Tod Meisner, Ben Ginn, Rob Montoya, Christopher Enger, James Maino, David Powell, Ben Dumas, David Wiechmann, Patrick Campbell and Jim Matheny.

Thanks also to the many folks who pointed out that contrary to what Uni Watch wrote two weeks ago, Syracuse's new jerseys do indeed have player names on the back.

Phew! OK, moving on: On the four-eyes front, visual confirmation of bespectacled hockey players continues to trickle in. In addition to the ones listed last time around (Al Arbour, Hal Laycoe, Charles Shannon, Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson and Jack Carlson), reader Dave Walker has provided photographic evidence for Clint Albright and Brian Conacher, and reader Blaise M. Lamphier has done likewise for Tommy Williams.

Meanwhile, over on the gridiron, most football fans know that Chuck Muncie wore glasses. But reader Russell Goutierez has found an old print ad that actually used Muncie's specs as the basis for an advertising pitch -- good stuff.

So we might as well try to compile a list of bespectacled football players. In addition to Muncie, Uni Watch recalls Bob Griese, Eric Dickerson, John Jefferson, Wymon Henderson and Joe Lavender. Additional nominees welcome.

Last column's contribution from Ross Yoshida, who gave an account of Cesar Izturis using "a medieval-looking, vise-like, wooden-and-metal device that stretches caps" to stretch out the cuffs of his baseball pant legs, prompted a response from reader Matt Sanderson, who thinks he's got the same device Yoshida was talking about. He writes in with the following:

"I got it on eBay a few years ago. I'd been looking for one ever since I took a baseall cap into an old-school hat store in Chicago 10 or 15 years ago, asking if they could stretch it out. They had one of these devices in that store, and I told myself if I ever saw one, I'd buy it. The manufacturer appears to be a New York company called Gorvé [which, Uni Watch notes, is no longer in the Manhattan phone book]. Mechanically, it's basically a reverse vise: You twist the handle and the metal halves spread apart with a fair amount of pressure, and a needle on a gauge marks the size and circumference you're stretching to. A funny story is that I had the hat stretcher shipped to my office, and for some reason this ultra-nosy receptionist opened the package. She sent me this sheepish voicemail about how she 'accidentally' opened the box, but she never asked me what it was, nor did I offer up any information. I had several people in my office look at it and try to guess what it was, and only one person got it right."

All of which is very interesting, except Yoshida says Sanderson's hat stretcher is completely different from the one he saw Izturis using. "Holy crap, that thing looks like a torture device!" he wrote after Uni Watch forwarded him photos of Sanderson's gadget. "The one I saw in the Dodgers clubhouse was considerably smaller, with a lot less metal, more like an old wooden vise/clamp." He's apparently referring to this, which is used like this -- booooooring! If MLB teams insist on equipping their clubhouses with a stretcher, Uni Watch heartily encourages them to use the kind that Sanderson has (and to impose stiff fines on players who use it on their pant cuffs).

Call for Entries
Uni Watch wants to devote a future column to the topic of college football helmet merit decals. But so many schools are now using them that it's impossible to keep up with them all. So in the interests of compiling as complete a listing as possible, Uni Watch issues the following call: If you know of schools that issues helmet merit stickers to their players, please write in with the name of the school and a description of what's depicted on their decals. Links to photos are helpful, but don't feel obligated to provide them if it's too much hassle. Full credit will be given to all contributors, natch. Many thanks in advance!

Paul Lukas, a lifelong 49ers fan, is in for a long season. Archives of his early "Uni Watch" columns are available here and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.

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