By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

It was a veritable smorgasbord of uni-related details this past weekend, starting with Johnny Damon wearing an Astros cap during Boston's wild card celebration, instead of the Red Sox cap everyone else was wearing. Was Damon, who's eligible for free agency after this season, sending a subtle message about where he'd like to play in 2006? Let the uni-based negotiations -- or at least the conspiracy theories -- begin!

Meanwhile, over in the NFL, there was that green helmet decal that everyone was wearing in honor of the Cardinals-49ers game, which took place in Mexico City (where the Cards and Niners also wore a jersey patch, for good measure).

In addition, Sunday's NFL action featured Clinton Portis wearing black shoes instead of white, his teammate Mark Brunell having the properly pluralized "Redskins" wordmark on his jersey instead of the singular "Redskin" he'd mysteriously worn in the team's first two games (sorry, no photo of Sunday's "s"-inclusive version, but trust Uni Watch, it was there), and the Patriots wearing those alternate silver jerseys that are virtually indistinguishable from their regular white jerseys.

And yet Uni Watch was fixated on something else this weekend -- NFL players' midsections. This isn't a region Uni Watch makes a habit of scrutinizing, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. So why this new obsession? Blame it on the Eagles, several of whom are exhibiting a peculiar stylistic affectation: They play with their belts unbuckled and flapping in the breeze. The charter members of this club appear to be Dhani Jones, Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis, Roderick Hood (who needs to buckle up, like, immediately), and Brian Dawkins (who even goes unbuckled when posing for photos with little kids). Are these guys trying to suggest that they're about to administer a whuppin'? Are they comparing themselves to black belts in karate? Uni Watch hates to break it to them, but they just look like they're on their way to the bathroom.

It's worth noting that all these players line up on the defensive side of the ball. But their teammate Todd Pinkston -- now on injured reserve -- is a wide receiver, and photos from last season indicate that he favored the unbuckled look too. Might this have been a tactical maneuver? Imagine a defender grabbing Pinkston around the waist area and then finding himself holding nothing but the belt, with a now-beltless Pinkston sprinting down the sidelines. (In the interests of completeness, Uni Watch notes that there's one other member of Philly's offense who's been beltless lately, but that's Donovan McNabb, and he's only been doing it to ice down his hernia.)

This all recalls our recent discussion of the little logo sleeve that the Jets wear over their belt buckles. That prompted reader Eric S. Bodamer to point out that the Broncos wear a buckle sleeve too (although some players don't bother), which provides yet another reason to make fun of Denver's uni. A peek at the schedule reveals that the Jets and Broncos are slated to play each other on Nov. 20, which should be a real belt-buckle barn-burner.

Belts might seem incidental, but they have their own stylistic history, just like any other uni element. Last season, for example, the Colts switched from blue belts with lots of belt loops to white belts with no loops. Over on the diamond, baseball pants routinely had a belt loop right at 12 o'clock back in the 1920s and '30s, so many players rotated their belts to position the buckle off to one side, or even out of sight altogether. The 12 o'clock loop eventually disappeared, allowing buckles to move to the center -- until they were temporarily displaced by those snap-button elastic waistbands in the 1970s and '80s. If you think that style looks dated, it's nothing compared to the days when basketball shorts had belts -- sometimes the basic wraparound style, and others just sewn onto the waistband.

As for the unbuckled Eagles, they're not unique -- Uni Watch knows of at least one other NFL player who's been known to loosen his belt from time to time. But in his case it's more a matter of practical necessity, not style.

Paul Lukas has been wearing the same belt since 1989. His full-length "Uni Watch" columns run on alternating Thursdays, while "Uni Watch: Weekend Update" appears each Monday. Archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list, so you'll always know when new installments are posted? Contact him here.


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