Football’s All About the Outfits
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I was a football fan once, for about three weeks.
Eleven years old, I spotted a set of NFL pencils at the
drugstore and was immediately enchanted by the rainbow of colors
beneath the slick plastic packaging.
I didn’t watch football. I disliked the mud, the unpleasant
grunting, the nasty injuries and the way it made my father scream
obscenities while I was trying to read Judy Blume. The point system
seemed designed expressly to frighten away left-brainers like myself.
But, oh, those pristine pencils… Painted and printed in each
team’s gleaming trademark colors, they looked to me like long,
hexagonal jewels, and I fingered them with something approaching
awe. In particular, I fell madly in love with the more glamorous
color combinations: The Seahawks’ royal blue and sparkling silver,
the Vikings’ rich purple and vibrant yellow, the Dolphins’ aqua
green and coral orange and the 49ers’ regal red and glittering gold.
Who knew football could be so astoundingly pretty?
I began to see the sport with new eyes, noting the way different
teams adorned themselves with bright stripes or dark shoulder
patches to appear faster, meaner, bigger or simply (and I applauded
them for it) more fashion-forward. Helmets contrasted gloriously
with jersey cuffs. Belts—my god, belts!—matched socks. To me, the
entire gridiron looked like an astroturf catwalk.
I told no one how I felt, figuring such an
effeminate affinity for the game would get me mocked, chided and,
quite possibly, doused in Lite beer by “real” football fans. The
guys I knew, the ones who came over on weekends to fixate on our
television and rant about good trades and bad calls, believed that
football players were either beating the crap out of their
opponents, or they were worthless—stylish pants notwithstanding.
But I learned something recently while listening to my husband
and son engage in a testosterone-fueled squabble over the facemask
color and jersey font for the custom-designed team on their Madden
Football video game:
Even for a chest-thumping pastime like pigskin-chucking, outfits matter.
Men would rather we didn’t know it. They’re not especially proud
of it. But why else would there be such excitement over all the new
“throwback” jerseys, and such an outcry over the Vikings’ new
oddly-striped uniforms—especially when fans ought to be decrying
the team’s lousy record this season?
Why else would Home Depot team up with
Glidden Paint online to let you decorate a digital bathroom in the
Green Bay Packers’ drab green and mustard yellow? (I hope you won’t
Men are more visual-oriented creatures than women, so we
shouldn’t laugh at them when footage of the San Diego Chargers —
wearing their classic powder blue jerseys — makes them sigh out loud.
There’s evidence that the players themselves take their Sunday
garb to heart: The Bengals, Buccaneers and Broncos all made it to
or won their first Super Bowls shortly after adopting snazzy new
uniforms, and the Cowboys have long considered their own dark blue
Fashion terms abound in football: Yardage, buttonhook,
clothesline. But ESPN.com’s Paul Lukas denies the connection.
“It has nothing to do with fashion,” insists Lukas, whose Uni
Watch column—devoted to “the obsessive study of athletics
aesthetics”—laments monochromatic uniforms, explains why purple
should never appear on sports clothing and staunchly defends his
heterosexuality. “It’s about documenting and maintaining the visual
history of sports design, and about minutiae fetishism as its own reward.”
He can color the clothing obsession whatever shade he likes, but
read between the yard lines this Sunday and you may come to the
same shocking but satisfying conclusion I have:
That “man-to-man coverage” is actually guy-code for “Dude, check
out the laces on the tight end’s pants!”