Picking your fave team by uniform is not okay (Rookie move, for sure), but knowing the elements of the uniform makes you a knowledgable fan. Here’s the basics, from head to toe:
This is the hard-shelled equipment used to protect the head. Today, helmets are made of a polycarbonate material. But, in the 50’s they were plastic, and prior to then they were made of leather. Helmet styles have changed as a result of safety technology, with the primary focus on concussions.
The helmet has some specific features. Every team has a standard-issue shell, with the colors and logo of the team as a part of its design. Most teams “wire up” their QB’s with a headset inside their helmet. Players may customize their helmet, based on safety, comfort, and functionality preferences.
Air pockets – the interior of the helmet has these pockets to ensure accurate fit. Players can adjust the air as desired.
Sunshade – not mandatory, some players choose a sunshade to help block glare. Running Backs and Wide Receivers are most likely to use a sunshade for two reasons: first, they are likely to look up in order to catch the ball. Second, shades disallow other players from seeing their eyes, which sometimes serves as an advantage on trick plays.
Face mask – Depending on a player’s position or personal preference, you might notice different types of face masks (there are 15 allowable designs!). For example, a lot of masks have a bar between the eyes, holding the rest of the cage in place. But Quarterbacks rarely use this type of mask, because it inhibits their vision. There are two major rules: first, the metal bars cannot be more than 5/8 inches in diameter. Second, face masks have to be transparent.
Chin-strap – The chin-strap holds the helmet in place. They are easy to clip closed and reopen. You might notice players strapping and unstrapping during the game, but it must be secure during play.
Mouth guard – mouth guards are not mandatory, but many players utilize them. Their styles vary from a small, thin guard, similar to a night guard you may use at home, all the way to bulky pieces that look like baby binkies. The large size is common for players who wear grills on their teeth when they play. The last thing you’d want is a diamond-encruted front tooth jabbing through your top lip if you got hit!
Most pads are worn underneath the visible uniform, but all pads are designed for additional safety.
Neck roll – a tube of foam worn around the back of the neck, the neck roll is intended to provide additional support to the neck. But, because helmets and shoulder pads have progressed so far, neck rolls are less necessary. A neck roll is not mandatory, and has gone out of “fashion” in the NFL.
Shoulder pads – These pads are made of a hard shell, with a soft padded lining. They cover the shoulders, upper back, and ribs. They absorb intense contact as well as help the player regulate body temperature. Beginning this year, shoulder pads are also equipped with tracking devices, to more accurately collect data for player statistics.
Thigh and knee pads – These pads are contained within pockets on the inside of the pants.
Other pads – some players elect to wear additional padding, including a cup/jock strap (ew.), a tail pad (which is a hard plate protecting the tailbone – or my favorite science word, “coccyx”), elbow pads, and hip pads. Some QB’s even wear a flak jacket, to give them extra protection should they get hit.
The jersey is standard, to maintain team unity. On both the front and back of the jersey, the individual player number is prominently displayed. On the back, players also have their last name. These are used to identify the player easily be everyone on and off of the field, and officials refer to players by number. The numbers do have some additional meaning:
Quarterbacks and kickers – 1 to 19.
Running backs and defensive backs – 20 to 49.
Linebackers – 50 to 59 or 90 to 99.
Offensive linemen – 50 to 79.
Defensive linemen – 60 to 79 or 90 to 99.
Receivers – 10 to 19 or 80 to 89.
Football shoes are called cleats, and players have a lot of choice when it comes to them. The color of the cleats is controlled by the team. Some teams have strict rules (black or white only), and some don’t. Often, during October, you’ll see pink cleats as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Their functionality is the biggest consideration for most players.
Cleat length – the studs on the bottom of the shoes are the actual cleats. Their individual length varies, depending on the conditions of the field. Dry fields require shorter cleats, but long cleats are better for wet fields, to prevent slipping. Linemen usually prefer long cleats, helping them to dig into the ground while blocking.
Cleat number – the fewer the cleats, the easier it is to run. The more cleats, the easier it is to “dig in” and hold positions. So, typically, QB’s and Receivers will have fewer cleats than Linemen.
Field material – it should be noted here, is that weather isn’t the only consideration when picking out a cleat for the day. Players also consider the field material: grass, turf, or hybrid. On pure turf, with no chance of rain, turf shoes might be worn, which are nearly just gym shoes, their cleats are so short, few, and rubbery.
The Sexy Factor
The overall design of the uniform is important. It is used as an intimidation factor, a way to inspire players and fans, and for marketing in selling jerseys. It’s important for the jerseys to be … well … sexy. No one wants to wear (or buy!) a dorky looking jersey.
Most teams change their design every few years, to remain contemporary. This renders the older jersey designs vinage – or throwback, in sports vernacular.
In 2012, the entire NFL transitioned to an exclusive contract with Nike, facilitating an opportunity for re-design. The Seahawks were one of the pilot teams to the re-design. Designer Todd Van Horne took on the task of designing for the Hawks, creating the best-selling line of jerseys in Seahawks history. Sexy.
Thanks, Annie, for inspiring this post!
Hugs and loves!