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Wednesday, September 5, 2012
The long-awaited Uni Watch NFL preview

By Paul Lukas

Playbook NFL Uniwatch
The Seahawks uniforms, the neck roll, and the "Nikelace" collar are the most noticeable NFL changes.
A year ago, football fans were all aflutter -- some with excitement, some with dread -- about Nike getting set to take over the NFL's uniform contract for the 2012 season. But a certain uniform columnist had the temerity to suggest that a Nike-outfitted NFL probably would look pretty much the same as a Reebok-outfitted NFL.

Twelve months later, a certain uniform columnist doesn't want to say he told you so, but, um, he told you so. Aside from the Seahawks, who were put into the Nike centrifuge and emerged with a predictably eccentric costume, the rest of the league still looks like the NFL, at least for now.

But that's not to say the transition from Reebok to Nike has been seamless. There are three Nike-related visual elements you'll be seeing a lot of this year -- all of them, unfortunately, rather annoying:

1. The Nikelace: Most teams have adopted Nike's Flywire collar, which has extra bands of stitching at the neckline. There's no way Uni Watch is going to keep repeating "Flywire" all season, though. The visual effect is sort of like a necklace, so let's call it the Nikelace. The good news is it isn't too visible on white jerseys unless the light is hitting it just right, but you'll still be seeing a lot of it on colored jerseys.

2. The neck roll: In addition to the Nikelace, many teams are going with a two-tone collar design that looks like an old-fashioned neck roll. Judging by the communiqués that have been arriving here at Uni Watch HQ during the preseason, this feature is particularly unpopular with fans (and with good reason).

3. The sweatbox: Many of Nike's college jerseys in recent years have incorporated stretch panels and ventilation panels. The idea is to provide just the right kind of fabric at each area of the body, rather than using the same fabric for the whole jersey. When the jersey is dry, you can't really tell the difference. But when the players perspire, these fabric panels turn dark, creating a two-tone effect. College football uni fans refer to this as the sweatbox, because of the square-shaped panel on the abdomen that typically turns dark with sweat. And now Nike has brought the sweatbox to the NFL.

Some teams have incorporated all three of these changes, a few have incorporated none of them and most have chosen just one or two. Here's a breakdown that shows where all 32 teams stand on these Nike elements, along with other developments for the new season (you can click on each team's name to see its primary 2012 uniforms):



Meanwhile, there are some league-wide developments worth discussing -- some Nike-related and some not:

• The NFL Equipment patch, which has appeared on every jersey collar and pant thigh for years now, has been revised. It's now a little plastic chip instead of a cloth patch, and the word "Equipment" has been eliminated.

• Up until now, teams have used stretch-fabric panels for pants striping. But Nike's pants use mesh panels. You can't really tell the difference unless there's a close-up of the pants, but it's there. (A few teams appear to be sticking with the old stretch-fabric panel stripes, including the Packers.)

• For many teams, the players' names on the backs of the jerseys now appear to be positioned closer to the uniform numbers, as you can see in these shots of the Dolphins and Cowboys. This isn't an across-the-board change -- some teams still have the traditional spacing, and Uni Watch hasn't yet been able to document the situation for all 32 clubs. But it's something to keep an eye on.

• When Nike outfitted several NFL teams in the 1990s, the swoosh on the right sleeve always faced to the left. But the new NFL jerseys all have the right-sleeve swoosh facing to the right. Judging by Uni Watch's inbox, many fans find this visually jarring. But every pair of Nike sneakers has two rightward-facing swooshes, so what's the big deal?

• Captaincy patches weren't worn during the preseason, but most teams will start wearing them now that the regular season is starting (a few clubs, such as the Packers and Steelers, don't wear them). As you might recall, the number of gold stars indicates how many years the player has been a captain. Last season was the fifth year of the patch program, and fifth-year captains got a gold "C" to go along with the four gold stars. So what will sixth-year captains get this season? The same thing as fifth-year captains -- four gold stars and a gold "C." So basically, after your fifth year as captain, your patch design stays the same.

• Thanks to a rule change, players now can wear generational suffixes ("Jr.," "Sr." or Roman numerals) on their nameplates. Two such players are on the Redskins: Robert Griffin III and Roy Helu Jr. (For further info, look here.)

• As you are probably aware, the NFL has been using replacement officials. What you might not have noticed is that they appear to have been wearing replacement uniforms. For one thing, the position designations on the backs of the jerseys have vanished. Also, every officiating crew during the preseason was wearing the long black slacks -- no more white knickers, at least for now. It remains to be seen whether these protocols will be maintained once the real zebras eventually come back on the job.

• Teams will once again wear pink accessories in October, in order to raise awareness of breast cancer.

• Motorola was the NFL's headset sponsor for the past 13 years, but that deal ended after the Super Bowl. The NFL apparently wasn't able to find a new sponsor, because the coaches' headsets now are branding-free, except for the NFL logo. Chalk it up as a rare victory against logo creep.

OK, that's it for this season. Did Uni Watch miss anything? If so, send your updates here.

Meanwhile, here's something to think about for next season: Starting in 2013, all players will be required to wear knee and thigh pads. So if you're a fan of the pad-free look, enjoy it while you can, because its days are numbered.

Paul Lukas, a lifelong 49ers fan, can't decide whether Jim Harbaugh's cover-up patch is really cool or really lame-o. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, 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.