Commentary

Uni Watch: Gear advantage

Uniforms could have a part to play in a cold-weather Super Bowl

Updated: January 29, 2014, 1:31 PM ET
By Paul Lukas | ESPN.com

Peyton ManningJoe Amon/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning is wearing a glove on his throwing hand all the time because of nerve damage.

Unless you've been under a very large rock, you know by know that this Sunday's showdown between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium will be the first cold-weather outdoor game in Super Bowl history.

About time, too. Football is a game of meteorological extremes -- the season begins in training camps conducted in brutal summer heat and concludes with postseason games often played in bitter winter cold. If we accept extreme weather as part of the game for the rest of the season, why should the Super Bowl be exempt?

Uni Watch

In theory, that makes the weather an intriguing X factor for this Sunday's game. (The league has even hired its own meteorologist.) In practice, though, neither the Broncos nor the Seahawks hail from warm-weather cities or play in domes, so they should both be accustomed to dealing with the elements.

Still, there are some weather-related issues to consider, and several of those issues are also uni- and equipment-related. Let's tackle one thing at a time:

1. Uniform Colors

Don't laugh. When it snows, visibility is limited and quarterbacks have a harder time picking up their receivers downfield. A team wearing solid white is at a real disadvantage under those conditions (although, conversely, white-clad defensive backs gain a bit of a stealth advantage).

The Broncos have nothing to worry about in this regard. The AFC is the designated home team this year, and the Broncos chose to wear their orange jerseys, which should be bright enough to cut through any snowfall like a beacon cutting through fog.

As for the Seahawks, it would be great if they could wear their neon green jerseys (well, great for them, miserable for the rest of us), but NFL rules don't allow for color-versus-color games, so Seattle has no choice but to wear white jerseys. But instead of wearing white pants, they've opted for their navy pants, which have green striping down the sides. The potential for snow almost certainly factored into that decision. The green striping, along with Seattle's green-accented shoes, gloves and other accessories, should help Russell Wilson find his receivers, but probably not as much as Denver's orange jerseys will help Peyton Manning. Slight advantage: Broncos

2. Quarterback Gloves

When you think about it, it's a bit odd that football quarterbacks are allowed to wear gloves on their throwing hands. Would a baseball pitcher be allowed to wear one? A baseball infielder? A basketball player?

Such theoretical queries aside, some NFL quarterbacks prefer to pass bare-handed, but more and more of them are wearing gloves -- especially in cold weather. And it stands to reason that a quarterback who has established a comfort level with gloves would have an advantage on a cold day, right? So how do the Super Bowl quarterbacks stack up in this regard?

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Ron Antonelli/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks will be in white jerseys and navy pants with neon green lines. Russel Wilson might wish his receivers were wearing their neon jerseys if it snows.

Russell Wilson of the Seahawks has experimented in practice with wearing a glove on his non-throwing hand. But when he's tossing the ball, he prefers to have his skin against the pigskin. "I wouldn't need to wear one on my right [throwing] hand, I don't think," he recently told ESPN.com's Terry Blount. "My hands are pretty big, so that kind of helps, but I don't plan on using a glove unless something is extremely bad." (Wilson wasn't kidding about his hands. According to this story, his unusually large hand size factored into the Seahawks' decision to draft him.)

Peyton Manning of the Broncos rarely wore a glove on his passing hand while playing for the Colts, but he has been doing so more and more with Denver. You might think this is due to his shift from playing in a dome to playing outdoors in the cold, but it's actually trickier than that: ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold reports that Mannning's most recent neck surgery affected nerves in his right arm and took a toll on his grip, so the glove -- which Manning has worn in cold weather and warm, in wet weather and dry -- is a late-career adjustment to compensate for that.

"I've experimented with [gloves] throughout my career, even when I was in Indy," Manning recently told Legwold. "I just never quite found a pair that I liked. … The equipment guys kind of researched and gave me some options. Found a pair that I liked."

OK, so Manning isn't wearing gloves specifically to ward off the cold, but you have to figure that's an incidental benefit on a chilly day. Slight advantage: Broncos

(As an aside, the first quarterback to wear gloves in a Super Bowl -- and possibly gloved NFL quarterback, period -- was Chicago's Jim McMahon in Super Bowl XX. But that had nothing to do with cold weather -- the game was played indoors.)

3. The Adrenaline Factor

Former Broncos wide receiver Nate Jackson, author of the football memoir "Slow Getting Up," recently wrote an entertaining essay about playing in the cold. This was the gist: No matter how cold it got, he never wore long sleeves, only wore gloves to protect against finger injuries (not for warmth), and generally didn't worry about bundling up. Last week he agreed to follow up on some of these points in a Uni Watch interview. Here's a condensed transcript:

Uni Watch: For most people, our instinct would be to layer up on a cold day, especially with long sleeves. Why don't most football players do that?

[+] EnlargeJackson
AP Photo/Jack DempseyFormer Denver Broncos tight end Nate Jackson says once the big game starts, the players don't notice the cold on the field.

"Jackson: You like to feel the ball, you like to show off your muscles, all of that. I don't think I ever wore long sleeves in a game. I preferred to feel light and feel like I was, basically, naked."

Did you ever regret that? Like, was there ever a time when you were out there thinking, "Damn, this was one of those times when I should have gone with the sleeves"?

"Not really, no. Also, it's a comfort thing, a ritual thing. You want to be out there on game day wearing pretty much the same thing you're used to wearing in practice. You don't want to change your routine. And the adrenaline's pumping so fast on the field, you don't really feel cold. On the sidelines, that's when you feel cold."

What about those head-warmer things? Ever wear one of those?

"Yeah, I did. I kind of pulled it down, you know, under my mouth. Those can be pretty effective, because your head and neck area get kind of cold. But it feels a little weird with your helmet on top of it."

A cold game is one thing, but what about a snowy game?

"Snow definitely affects the traction you get in your cleats. The game slows down a little bit. It affects your visual perception of the field because it's just a different color, you know? Everything is white, so it messes with your perception. Ideally, they clean off the lines, but the lines are white as well. And then when you fall to the ground, you get snow in little crevices of your facemask and stuff like that."

Is that super-annoying, or do you just deal with it?

"You just deal with it. At that point you're really hyped, your adrenaline's through the roof, and really nothing can make you uncomfortable, you know? When you're getting smashed by these huge dudes going at full speed, a little snow isn't something you're really going to think about."

You wrote that when it's snowing, "the ball is easier to handle than one soaked by rain." Why is that?

"It's just drier. It's not wet. If it's slushy and the snow melts as it hits the ground, that's bad. But if it's cold enough so the snow just accumulates, the ball stays dry. It's easier to handle than a wet ball."

What about those little hand-warmer pouches? Did you ever wear one of those? And what do you think of them?

"I never wore one because I didn't like the feel of it bouncing on my hip when I was running. Some guys like them, though."

Do players ever give each other some trash talk for wearing those, because they look a little wussy or something like that?

"Not really, not for that. I don't think they do much good anyway. But you know what a lot of guys have are those tiny little beanbag-heater things. You can drop a couple of those in your shoe, or your glove, or strategic places."

"Strategic places"? Say no more.

"No, not like that! But anyway, those things will be making the rounds. I'd use them more when I was inactive, standing on the sidelines, not when I was actually playing."

The average fan looks at those bare-armed players on a super-cold day and thinks, "Those guys are crazy." But is it possible for the average fan to understand what it's like to be an NFL player?

"Not really, no. There's this weeklong build up, it's a playoff game, everyone's calling you, everyone's talking about you, this is the moment you've been waiting for. There's this inordinate amount of attention, you know? And it convinces you that this moment is, basically, huge, and you're going to be ready for it no matter what. So by the time the game comes along, you've built yourself up to this fight-or-flight moment where you don't feel pain -- or temperature, for that matter. You get smashed by some dude and you just pop back up, whether it's cold or warm."

In other words, cold and/or snowy weather isn't necessarily anyone's idea of fun, but it's not that a big deal either -- especially when you're amped up on adrenaline. And there should be no shortage of that in the Super Bowl. Advantage: Even

Bottom line: The weather may have a slight effect on the game, but it will probably matter more to the fans than to the players. So sure, let it snow. It'll make the game look more interesting, and the guys on the field won't mind one little bit.

Paul Lukas will be watching the Super Bowl from a warm living room (but might have to walk through some snow on his way to pick up beer and will definitely wear long-sleeved layers while doing so). If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, 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.

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