Back when I invited people to apply for the Uni Watch intern’s position, one of the finalists was David Sonny. Although he didn’t make the final cut, he had already set up an interview with Bengals equipment manager Rob Recker, which I encouraged him to go ahead with. He readily agreed. Here’s how their chat went down:
David Sonny: How did you get to the position of Cincinnati Bengals equipment manager?
Rob Recker: Well, I actually started off as a trainer for OSU. While there I began to intern with the Browns, but I left for the assistant trainer job with the Bengals in 1991 and continued in that role until 2000.”
DS: And then you made the jump to equipment manager?
RR: Well up until then Tom Gray was the equipment manager and I was a guy who would help anyone out that I could. So basically in 1999 you could have called me the assistant equipment manager. After 1999, Tom Gray retired and Mike Brown offered me the promotion from assistant trainer to equipment manager.
DS: And so you took the job.
RR: Well yeah, when the boss tells you he’d like to move you from one area to another, promote you, and make you the head of a department, you don’t say no. Let me just say this, Mike Brown is a very intelligent man. He sees a lot… he sees everything. He really made it nice here.
DS: Nice? How do you mean?
RR: Well, I took over the first year we moved into Paul Brown Stadium, and at that time many people had very negative views of the franchise, which often happens when you lose. Mike Brown changed all that. There was a time when you would hear players complain about not getting a lot from the team, like clothes, shoes, gloves. Now we get players coming in from other organizations that come in and are wide-eyed in amazement about everything they get for free. I mean, players are actually shocked that they get all of this [referring to the seemingly endless amount of merchandise, from hoodies to gloves and anything else that can be ordered]. If I need anything for this department, I just have to ask Mike Brown, he has never once said no to anything.
DS: So what do you feel your goal is?
RR: For players to get everything they need to perform on the field. I need to do what needs to be done for us to win, whether that means getting a player the shoes he requests, gloves, pads, whatever makes that player feel comfortable on and off the field.
DS: What are your thoughts on the new NFL logo?
RR: It is what it is. I like the old NFL logo, it has a sort of classic look to it, but things change. I like the new one too; it is going to be a ton of work for me switching over, though. It’s on everything [begins pulling out business cards, jerseys, nameplates, helmets, stationery, etc.]. I have to make sure that all of the old logos are replaced by next year so that we’re in compliance.”
DS: What about other logos, such as Reebok?
RR: A big part of my job is making sure that product is on the field. Like I said, it is what it is, don’t underestimate just how much money that company makes, and puts into the game. It is my job to make sure that it looks its best.
DS: I’ve noticed that on the fieldwear and fanwear, the Reebok logo seems more toned down than in the past…
RR: Yeah, the logos seemed to get out of hand a while back. But the NFL is very strict and there are now more restrictions on logo size and placement.
RR: We no longer use decals on our helmets. That was one of the first things I changed when I was promoted in 2000. It got to a point where we were just wasting time; I would have three or four guys out there repairing helmet decals for two or three hours straight the Monday after a game. The paint holds up better and looks better, now I just have a guy look over all the helmets after a game and anything that is too scratched or damaged we just send away to have painted. The helmets are my favorite part of the uniform, they are important to me.
DS: And the uniforms…
RR: I like the new uniforms; I liked the old uniforms as well. It’s funny, I had just developed new patterns [different tailoring cuts for different positions — one for linemen, one for wide receivers, and so on] for all of the old uniforms and then we made the switch. I don’t think people realize just how tough that is; the patterns didn’t transfer over at all, so I had to make a whole new set. The new uniforms were not designed for football players though. Designers came in and came up with something that could be marketed to fans, which makes it difficult. The stripes on the sleeves, for example — I still am not satisfied there, because each pattern ends up affecting the stripes in a different way, which you just can’t get right. Take Justin Smith — he came to me early on and we sat down to discuss what he wanted in a uniform cut. Justin is very specific, he doesn’t want loose material and doesn’t want sleeves, so I basically have to butcher every one of his uniforms to get it right, and look at the stripes [laughs], count them.
DS: So you do most of the alterations yourself?
RR: I wouldn’t say that I do most of them. I will hem a jersey if a player comes to me, but there are times when you get 10 to 15 guys coming to you wanting their jersey to be hemmed — then I’ll send them out. It’s a time thing.
DS: But you do the custom jobs yourself, correct?
DS: And what about repairs?
RR: I’ll do most of those myself. If something is ripped, I’ll just whip out the sewing machine and take care of it. I can usually just add a small amount of fabric behind the tears and stitch it up, but there are times when it becomes more extensive. When that happens, we weigh whether it’s worth the time fixing it or if we’re better off just getting a new uniform.
DS: And if a player gets a tear on the field [during a game]?
RR: Oh, I’ll just grab my needle and thread and stitch it up right on the sidelines, I did that for Rudi [Johnson] a couple games ago.
DS: And if the tear it too extensive to repair on the field?
RR: Well, we have a backup jersey on hand. If something were to happen, though, it’s either fix the uniform, get a new one on him, or he has to come out of the game. It’s as simple as that.
DS: How do you keep the jerseys so tight to the pads?
RR: We run strips of double-sided tape across the pads and pat the jersey down. Some teams use Velcro, but I prefer tape. It really adheres and keeps the jersey from moving around.”
DS: So who are the players who really care how they look out there?
RR: Carson [Palmer], Chad [Johnson] and Rudi [Johnson]. They are my fashion designers.
RR: Not from me, that’s for sure. He went out and bought them himself.
RR: And the NFL called me complaining about it. He’s a grown man, I supply him with the correct chinstrap, and he chooses whether or not to wear it. Chad is a smart kid, he knows what he is doing… and he is going to do it anyway.
DS: What do you think about it?
RR: I really like the look; I think the whole team would look great with them. If I could do it I would have the whole team wearing them.
DS: Anything else interesting about Chad’s uniforms?
RR: Before one game a couple of years ago he comes to me and says ‘I want sleeves.’ He wanted, you know, baggier, looser sleeves. It was a fashion statement. I told him ‘Chad, they’re going to be grabbing all over you if you go out wearing sleeves.’ But he insisted, so I made up a jersey with sleeves for him.
DS: How did that work out for him?
RR: After the first few plays he came running to me on the sideline saying ‘Rob! Rob! They are grabbing all over the sleeves, I needs another jersey.’ I said, ‘No shit.’ That experiment lasted one drive.
DS: Anything else?
RR: Shoes, he has more shoes than he can ever possibly wear.
DS: Was there anything you tried during the uniform change that you still wish you could get right?
RR: Striped socks. Mike Brown and I both love simple striped socks. We tried really hard to get that to work, we were going for a similar sock stripe that the team used to wear. After some time we just decided that with the modern uniform the striped socks just looked out of place, especially with the Bengals’ stripes.
DS: One last thing before I go: facemasks.
RR: Oh yeah, we have tons of those, especially with all the new helmet styles and manufactures. For instance, look at the difference between the Revolution kicker’s facemask [left] and the standard kicker’s facemask [right]. The Revolution facemask attaches at the bottom, so it has a completely different look. It also has less eye protection and you could easily get your whole hand in there. Then look at Willie [Anderson]’s facemask — I’m surprised no one else wears it. It’s much lighter than most facemasks out there and provides great protection. It is the look, everyone is making a fashion statement these days, even with the facemask.
DS: Like L.T.?
RR [laughing]: Yeah, just like L.T. His facemask is a personal statement, just like a lot of these guys with shoes. It provides no more protection, but the look is what he wants.
Speaking of the Bengals, David came up with an interesting story while doing research for the interview — look here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Phillies finally unveiled their new alternate uni yesterday, and it looks pretty damn sharp. My only gripe: Since the design is based on this, why did they use this font on the back? … Quite a week for memorials, as decal maven Chris Willis reports that the Browns will be wearing a “BW” decal for Hall of Famer Bill Willis, who died earlier this week. … Fun factoid: If the Cowboys had worn their usual white at home last night (instead of their blue throwbacks), the Packers would have had to remove their Lambeau Field 50th-anniversary patches from their green jerseys, because the patch is only meant to be worn at Lambeau. And then they would have put the patches back after the game. But since the Cowboys wore blue, the Packers wore white and didn’t have to fuss with the patches. Details here. … As expected, both teams wore a “21” decal — which turned out to be huge — in memory of Sean Taylor. … Speaking of Taylor, check out what someone did to a McFarlane figure of him (nice find by Timothy Fesmire). … Texas prison guards are getting new uniforms (rare non-sports contribution from Brinke Guthrie). … According to this article, next season NFL players will have the option of wearing a new high-tech helmet design. The good news is that it offers a very high degree of head protection; the bad news is that it looks like a cheap Halloween costume. … Yesterday I imagined what sort of horn-based helmet design would be worn by a football team called the Unicorns. I was kidding, but Mike Stegemoller actually found a European team with that name. Unfortunately, they have a boring helmet design (and even more unfortunately, they wear the McDonald’s logo on their thighs).