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Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Suit up: The Uni Watch Super Bowl preview

By Paul Lukas

Playbook Super Bowl Uni Watch
By now all the major storylines for the Super Bowl have been done to death. Harbaugh versus Harbaugh, Ray Lewis' last game, blah-blah-blah. But there's been scant attention paid to what we'll actually be watching this Sunday: the uniforms.

The NFC is the designated home team this year, so the 49ers will wear their red jerseys, and the Ravens will go with white jerseys and black pants. But that's just the tip of the uniform iceberg. Here are a dozen additional uni-related storylines involving the Niners and Ravens that are worth considering as we gear up for Sunday's game:

1. Hosiery High Jinks. 49ers running back Frank Gore has been wearing his pants at a disturbingly biker shorts-esque level for several years now. But he took things a step further in the NFC Championship Game, as he went bare-legged. That resulted in a $10,500 fine, so he probably won't do it again Sunday.

2. The Man in the Mask. Amid all the fuss about Ray Lewis' return from a triceps injury, his impending retirement, his drive toward one last Super Bowl, his dancing and all the rest, here's a uni-related detail worth noting: Since coming back from his injury, Lewis has been sporting a new face mask (and, as you can see, a bionic arm!). Interesting to see a player switch to a new mask so late in his career.

3. Unfinished Business. You know that move where 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kisses his tattoo, or sniffs his armpit, or whatever it is he's doing? Ever wonder what he's thinking when he does that? Here's the answer. He's right, too -- the Niners' sleeves have one full stripe and then two other stripes that start but don't finish. The only players with three full, wraparound stripes are kicker David Akers and backup quarterback Alex Smith. OK, we get it -- football sleeves are practically nonexistent these days, so it's hard to fit three stripes on there. But why bother with partial stripes? Why not just go stripeless and be done with it?

4. Patchwork. The Super Bowl logo patch is traditionally worn on the upper-left chest area of the jersey. But the Ravens already have their Art Modell memorial patch in that spot, so they'll be wearing the patch on the other side of the jersey. You can see a video of the patch being applied to the Niners' jerseys here.

5. Art Lover. Speaking of the Art Modell memorial, here's something you might have forgotten: The Ravens wore a helmet decal for Modell during the first game of the season and then upgraded it to a jersey patch the next week. It's extremely rare for a someone to be uni-memorialized in two different ways by the same team like this.

6. And Speaking of Memorials ... After the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., all NFL teams except the Redskins wore a "S.H.E.S." helmet decal for the last two weeks of the regular season. Some teams that made the playoffs continued wearing the decal in the postseason, while others didn't. In the case of the two Super Bowl teams, San Francisco wore it during the postseason and Baltimore didn't. The Niners will keep wearing the Sandy Hook decal on Sunday, even though the Super Bowl logo decal will be added to that same area of the helmet. "We will move the Sandy Hook decal down and put the Super Bowl decal above it," says a member of the team's equipment staff.

7. Sweat(shirt)ing the Details. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh likes to wear a black sweatshirt with his team's logo (even when he's out with his family!). Last season Reebok made one for him. But Nike, which took over the NFL's apparel contract this season, didn't offer a black pullover for coaches, so Harbaugh pulled out one of his old Stanford sweatshirts -- complete with the Nike logo -- and had the Niners' equipment staff cover up the Stanford logo with a 49ers patch. Nike eventually made a black Niners sweatshirt especially for Harbaugh, but he was back on the Uni Watch radar during the divisional playoff round, when he wore a mock-turtleneck shirt backward. That's a lot of uni-notable moments for an NFL head coach. (Harbaugh's brother, John, who coaches the Ravens, has had a uni-uneventful career, at least to Uni Watch's knowledge.)

8. We're Talking About Practice. The Ravens do something that is, to Uni Watch's knowledge, unique in the NFL: They award little merit patches for their practice jerseys. The top design is called the "Arm and Hammer" patch and is given to players who attend at least 85 percent of the team's voluntary offseason workouts. The lower design is based on the biblical story of Nehemiah and is awarded to players for making the playoffs.

9. New Jersey? No, Old Jersey. Joe Montana's winning drive against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII -- the one that ended with the touchdown pass to John Taylor -- is one of the most-watched highlight sequences in Super Bowl history. Look closely at photos and video of Montana from that game, however, and you'll notice something odd about his uniform: His sleeve stripes were much wider-spaced than those of his teammates, and his name on the back of his jersey was in a different typeface. Why? Because Montana wasn't wearing his usual jersey from that season. His wife had packed his jersey from Super Bowl XIX in his luggage for good luck, and he decided to wear it against the Bengals.

10. Unplugging the TV. TV numbers -- the uniform numbers worn on the jersey sleeves or shoulders -- are mandatory in the NFL, but the rule is sometimes waived for throwback uniforms. As it happens, the 49ers wore throwbacks without TV numbers in Super Bowl XXIX. They remain the only team to go without TV numbers in a Super Bowl. (And if you're wondering why TV numbers are called TV numbers, look here.)

11. Going Old-School, Ravens-Style. Remember the Ravens' original logo, which was used from 1996 through 1998? Many fans say they like it better than the cartoon bird that currently adorns the team's helmets. Wouldn't it be cool to have a T-shirt with that logo on it for Sunday's game? You'd be the guy with the old-school Ravens cred, dude! Unfortunately, the Ravens stopped using that logo after being sued, and now it's impossible to find any gear with the old design. Or is it? Uni Watch reader Bob Dlotkowski was at a discount store just last week and spotted this display of dusty merch. Priced to move, too. Get crackin'!

12. Going Old-School, Niners-Style. One of the most infamous uniform chapters in NFL history involves the 49ers' one-day helmet. The new design was presented at a 1991 news conference, but fan response was so swift and so negative that the team basically said "Never mind" the next day. The design was included in the 1991 NFL Style Guide and showed up in a few promotional campaigns, but that's about it. Still, wouldn't it be cool to have a T-shirt with that logo on it for this Sunday's game? You'd be the guy with the old-school Niners cred, dude! OK, that would actually look ridiculous, never mind.

Additional Notes: The NFL will require all players to wear thigh pads and knee pads next season, so Sunday's game is the last time you'll see any players wearing pad-free pants (well, unless they violate that rule like they violate all the other uniform rules). ... Here's something you won't often see: two shipping pallets of Super Bowl paint. Those were produced by Pioneer Athletics of Cleveland. Here's some of that paint being used to paint the Ravens' end zone. ... Bet you've forgotten this: In the 49ers' glory days, their pants striping was absurdly wide. ... Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith celebrated his birthday the other day and received a cake shaped like a Ravens jersey and helmet, complete with a Super Bowl patch. ... 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has a big tattoo of the NFL logo. ... The 49ers were named after the California gold rush of 1849, so it's a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to see that they used to wear silver. They didn't switch to gold until the mid-1960s. ... Before they were football coaches, the Harbaugh brothers suited up in youth hockey uniforms. That's Jim in the back row, second from right. John is in the front row, far right.

Paul Lukas, a lifelong 49ers fan and a passionate anti-purple partisan, views this year's Super Bowl matchup as one of history's purest expressions of good versus evil. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, 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.