The NFL has not been without controversy this year. National Anthem Boycotts. Concussion Protocol. Declining TV Ratings. Amid the journalist and social media noise, let me add another topic: fan jerseys.
In my family, there are a set of longstanding rules surrounding NFL jerseys on Game Day (the only day that they should be worn). These principles are, at least in the mind of my father, ironclad. They are timeworn, dating to the 1990s and the Marty Schottenheimer era. They have been handed down to me during drives to our Sunday tailgate or walks to the stadium.
With the chance for a bit of rest and reflection this Thanksgiving week, I have found a window to put fingers to keyboard to share them with you.
- 1) No Jerseys from Former Players not in the Team Hall of Fame (and/or the actual Hall of Fame). We all get caught up in the hype of the moment. There is the special teams star that runs back punts and kickoffs for touchdowns. There is the killer first round draft pick that is going to transform the franchise. I understand the emotion. But if you have a Manziel jersey in Cleveland, you know what needs to be on your Christmas wish list. If you thought Brody Croyle was the QB of the future in Kansas City, here is a quick update: he isn’t on the 53-man roster.
- 2) No Jerseys from Teams Not Playing in the Game. This one seems so self-evident and simple. Does it even need to be a rule? Why would some show up at Arrowhead for the Kansas City-Tampa Bay game on Sunday wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey? Unfortunately, I see it time and time again –an NFL jersey from a team not on the field of play. The lone caveat here is that I not only will tolerate, but give high style points for the college jersey of a standout NFL player on the field. If you have a Derrick Johnson jersey from his days at Texas, you are delivering Super Fan class stuff. Beyond that exception, I assume you know who is playing and it is reflected in your attire.
- 3) Defense Beats Offense. While Freaknomics and others in the behavioral economics space have proven that the cliche “defense wins championships” is not nearly as definitive as pundits believe, we aren’t talking about Xs and Os. We are talking about the message you are sending to other fans as you pound the seats trying to cause a false start. If you are going to invest in a high-cost jersey, you buy defense.
- 4) No Away Jerseys. Unless you are actually at an away game, you should never wear the away jersey. How can Arrowhead be described as a “sea of red” if you are wearing white? I will concede that this fact may be colored significantly by the fact the Chiefs’ kit for away games is very weak (particularly during the 1990s when it was white-on-white and my Dad created this rule). Having said that, I am hard pressed to think of any of the 32 teams in the league with a superior away jersey. You are watching games at home. You wear the home jersey.
- 5) No Jerseys with Your Name on It. I know that many NFL teams offer the chance for the custom jersey with your name on the back. STMs (season ticket members), in Arrowhead parlance, seem to like this option. As you navigate the stadium, you see this jersey profile growing like a vine in August. However, unless you actually are a former member of the team, then you don’t put your name on the back. Period.
The NFL remains the top sports league by revenue with over $13 billion. A big part of that spending is the connection between fan and team captured most significantly by the jersey itself. It is, as the 45th president-elect might say, a beautiful thing.
The real fan, however, has to play it smart. Your style, as the saying goes, introduces you before you even speak. And in NFL stadiums, the jersey is an ear-numbing, deafening shout.
Happy Thanksgiving (particularly for fans hosting in Detroit, Indianapolis and Dallas).