Look closely at the photo shown above and you’ll notice something odd: The player (who happens to be Titans linebacker Ryan Fowler) has cut holes in the tips of his shoes, and his sock-covered big toes are poking out.
Football players are known for modifying their equipment, but I’d never heard of this one before. And it turns out that it’s actually quite common, at least according to a faaaaaaascinating article that ran in yesterday’s Nashville Tennessean (helpfully brought to my attention by reader Wade Harder), which explains that many players cut holes in their cleats — sometimes for performance-related reasons, sometimes to avoid damaged toenails. Here are some of the choicer bits:
It’s an NFL equipment oddity and something most fans would never notice. But in a locker room where players pay attention to every last uniform detail, at least a dozen Titans lace their cleats and then cut slits or even gaping holes over the big toes.
Some players believe it might make them better because it helps them feel lighter, faster, able to change direction more quickly. If nothing else, they at least feel more comfortable.
“I like tight shoes, and it kind of makes you feel like you’re out there with no shoes on at all,” said cornerback Kelly Herndon, who cut slits that make an X at the tips of both his cleats. “You want something light, and as tight as possible so you can move around better. If that means cutting them to make them tighter, that’s what you do.”
Linebacker Ryan Fowler has gone to the extreme. Both of his entire big toes hang out through man-made holes cut in his cleats.
Fowler said he’s not worried about someone stepping on his exposed toes. He’s more worried about moving around effectively. … “Also, a lot of times when you change directions and you stop, your toe hits the front of your shoe and toenails crack and you get an in-grown toenails. … It’s for comfort as well.”
Cornerback Eric King said he feels a little faster with the tight shoe, so he doesn’t mind breaking out the scalpel.
Cornerback Michael Waddell started experimenting after seeing some of his teammates perform shoe surgery. After he puts on two pair of socks and has his ankles taped, sometimes a little relief at the front end is nice, he said.
This probably qualifies as the coolest, most Getting It™ article of the year so far, so let’s give credit to Tennessean reporter Jim Wyatt, who wrote it (and to his editor, for not saying, “What the hell is this? An article about shoe surgery? We’re not running that!”). You can read the full article here.
And the Titans aren’t the only ones with one little piggy sticking out of their shoes. When the Tennessean article was briefly discussed in yesterday’s comments section, Mike from Queens pointed to this short item about Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, and a few other readers offered enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that cleat-cutting is a fairly standard practice.
Who knew? Not me. Do Reebok, Nike, and all the other shoe companies realize that the players are cutting up their footwear? How long before these companies start manufacturing cleats with pre-cut toe holes?
And it’s a shame that the late artist Don Martin Don Martin didn’t live long enough to be aware of this phenomenon. The guy was obsessed with toes (like, really obsessed), whether barefoot or shoe-clad. He would’ve had a field day with this.
August Raffle Announcement: With college football just around the corner, our good friends at Helmet Hut and Gridiron Memories have generously volunteered to raffle off one of their NCAA helmets — a selection that includes over 500 designs — to a lucky Uni Watch reader.
To enter, send an e-mail to uniraffle at earthlink dot net (please note that this is not the usual Uni Watch e-mail address) by next Thursday, August 23rd, at 10 p.m. eastern. I won’t actually be reading these e-mails, so don’t bother including any messages or questions. One entry per person, but anyone enrolled in the Uni Watch Membership Program by the time of the drawing will automatically get three bonus entries (i.e., members will get their names put in the hat three times even if they don’t send an e-mail entry, or four times if they do).
I’ll announce the winner a week from today.
Speaking of the membership program, I believe we’re now completely caught up on card designs (including the one shown at right, which is based on Belmont Park jockeys’ silks). If you’ve signed up and don’t see your card in the design gallery, and/or if you don’t see your name listed on the active roster, please let me know.
For the roughly four dozen of you who haven’t yet received your membership kits, you’ll be happy to hear that I plan to get your cards printed today. Figure another week for trimming, laminating and envelope-stuffing. Thanks for your patience.
Uni Watch News Ticker: If you click here and scroll up to the 12-minute mark, you’ll find a not-too-bad interview I recently did with the MLB Video guys (with thanks to Todd Krevanchi for reminding me to post the link). … Spectacular work by Richard Craig, who checks in with the following report: “At the beginning of last night’s Braves/Giants game, Jeff Francoeur’s name was misspelled on his jersey. He must have been clued in and switched jerseys later on, because suddenly his name was correct again. I know his name is easily misspelled, but wouldn’t you think he’d notice while suiting up?” … Major NBA hairstyling story here (with thanks to Vince, who also notes that there’s been some hair-related rookie hazing at Patriots camp). … A year ago I did an entry about the Oldtime Baseball Game, an annual charity event in which the players wear flannel throwbacks. This year’s installment of the event just took place, and there’s a great photo gallery here. … More amateurs. … Todd Krevanchi notes that Shanna Zolman-Crossley was wearing a full-length Under Armour-ish undershirt the other day. … Matt Craig wonders why Darrell Royal had No. 20 on his jacket sleeve during the 1970 Cotton Bowl. Anyone..? … Decent breakdown of all the current and pending NHL uni changes here (with thanks to Kim Kolb). … Oliver Perez fell victim to the classic bubble gum prank last night (as captured by James Fleming). … Great contribution from Jared Wheeler, who writes: “The Houston Colt .45s had a minor league team named the .22s — check out the caps on John Hoffman and Dave Adlesh.”