Kickers don’t get on the field very often, plus the Ravens had a bye in Week 2, so it’s taken a little while for the issue of Matt Stover’s black sleeve with the Gene Upshaw patch to reach critical mass. It’s been briefly mentioned in the Ticker and in the comments, but until this week I didn’t realize that Stover had been been wearing it all season long, as you can see in these shots from Week 1 (when he also wore the giant Upshaw chest patch), Week 3, and Week 4.
The whole thing seemed very odd, on a number of fronts. First, we all know the NFL usually frowns on uniform freestyling, so how was Stover getting away with this? The fact that Stover (who’s the Ravens’ union rep) was openly critical of Upshaw’s union leadership just six months ago only made things weirder.
On Tuesday I called the Ravens to get the scoop. They promised to make Stover available for an interview, which took place yesterday. Here’s how it went down:
Uni Watch: We’ve seen lots of memorials for Gene Upshaw this season — first there was a chest patch, then that was removed and changed to a helmet decal, except for the Raiders, who’ve kept wearing a smaller chest patch — but you’re the only player I’m aware of who’s worn a black sleeve and a sleeve patch. How come?
Matt Stover: That was one of the things that went out around the league. Now, being a kicker, it’s a little easier to wear a sleeve band. That’s really what it is, an arm band.
UW: It’s a band that covers your regular sleeve?
MS: Yeah. And it was made to go all the way around. And I think that became cumbersome. But what I did with my equipment guy, Ed Carroll, his lovely wife actually cut it and sewed it onto my jersey.
UW: So originally it was sort of like a sleeve around the sleeve, so to speak, and she did a little custom tailoring for you?
MS: A little tailoring work, yeah. She did such a great job. And because of that, it’s just easy to wear, it’s not a problem. It’s honorable to Gene, and what he’s done for us. And I just want the NFL to know the solidarity we had, even though, y’know, the letter that went out and all that, I just wanted to say, “Hey, look, NFL, we’re OK. Everybody’s good here.”
UW: When you refer to “the letter,” you’re talking about the e-mail that became public about six months ago, in which you were critical of Gene. Was that situation part of why you’ve chosen to wear the sleeve band, to make an extra gesture as a way of saying, “Hey, I disagreed with him, but I still respected him?” or something along those lines?
MS: Not something extra, no. I just wanted to make sure that — I mean, the letter did say that we’re supposed to wear it all year, from the NFL. So I’m going to honor that.
UW: You mean the patch?
MS: No, the arm band, for player reps.
UW: Oh, really? You mean this was the league’s idea all along, for player reps to wear the sleeve band?
UW: But I believe you’re the only player rep who’s worn it.
MS: Well, that’s because we went the extra mile. My equipment guy asked if I wanted to do it, and I said sure. And you know, I wanted people to know that I am the player rep, I’m proud of it, and we’ve got unity, even with guys who have disagreed with Gene.
UW: I didn’t realize this was a league-initiated idea. Normally, as you know, the league is notoriously picky about uniform adjustments.
MS: I will say this: They’ve been really respectful to the death of Gene Upshaw, and what he’s meant to this league. They’ve been great. Putting the patch on the front of the jersey, yeah, that ended up being a little bit much, because with the captain’s patch and all the other things, it started getting a little bit out of hand. Then they put it on the back of the helmet, which is not bad at all. Doesn’t look too much like Nascar.
UW: But you wanted to keep something on the jersey.
MS: Yes. For respect.
UW: And again, that was the league’s idea?
MS: Yes, for union reps. And you know, I have not spoken to any of other reps around the league with regard to this, and what that meant to them, and why they’re not wearing it, and whatnot. To me, it doesn’t matter. I thought it was a good idea, so I’m wearing it.
UW: Has anyone on an opposing team, or even on your own team, said, “Hey, what’s up with your sleeve?” or whatever?
MS: They kinda look at me. One guy was starting to ask me about it right before I was getting ready to kick a field goal, and I went, “Dude, chill out — let me go kick it first, then we’ll talk about it.”
UW: This was someone on your team?
MS: I don’t remember, you know how it is in the middle of a game. He was all curious — “What’s that, Stoves?” I said, “C’mon, man, let me kick first.” So yeah, the guys wanna know what it is, and I just tell ’em, I’m the player rep and I’m just givin’ it up for Gene and the union.
Fair enough. Odd that the league never publicly announced anything about the union reps being encouraged to wear the sleeve tributes, though.
When you factor in all the other salutes (jersey patch, helmet decal, field memorial), I think it’s safe to say that Upshaw is probably the most memorialized person in NFL history. Which is pretty remarkable when you consider that the guy who basically invented the modern NFL only got a one-game helmet decal in Super Bowl XXXI.
Membership News: The good news is that we’ve gotten all sorts of cool membership orders lately (including Valerie Kyriakopoulos’s shout-out to former Browns great Leroy Kelly, shown at right; as always, you can see the full gallery of card designs here). The bad news is that a few unavoidable circumstances have kept us from processing them as quickly as I would have liked. But the good news is that about 15 cards should go out in today’s mail, and hopefully at least that many going out on Tuesday as well. My thanks to all enrollees for your patience.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Here’s a nice shot of the U. of Washington helmet cart (with thanks to Ian Reandeau). … Michael Alper reports that Syracuse now has a women’s hockey team. You can see their uniforms here. … Mike Stevens has noticed that Titans defenders sometimes have loose strings hanging off of their jerseys (presumably similar to the laces Bill Romanowski used to wear to make his jersey tighter). I hadn’t noticed this before. Anyone else..? … New hoops uniforms for Oklahoma. … Someone posted this in yesterday’s comments, which pretty got my eyes popping out of their sockets. Here’s why: Over the past five years or so, approximately skatey-eight bijillion Pats fans have told me the story about how the Pats once had a “mascot contest” during halftime, with fans being instructed to “vote” via applause for either Pat Patriot or a proposed replacement character. Pat won, so that was the end of that, but nobody has every come up with a photo of what the proposed replacement looked like. Several people have told me, however, that the replacement guy bore at least a superficial resemblance to Flying Elvis, a description that could arguably sorta-kinda apply to this fella. Can anyone fill in some of the blanks here? … “The minor league Fort Wayne [Indiana] Wizards are moving into a new ballpark and have decided to change their name, becoming the Fort Wayne Tin Caps (a reference to Johnny Appleseed, who’s buried in Ft. Wayne),” reports the pseudonymous Sean Bratton. “The team has now become the laughingstock of the town, soon to be playing in a new downtown stadium no one wanted. I don’t think the logo looks too bad, it’s just that the name would make the Ft. Wayne Strawberry Shortcakes sound intimidating.” … Sure enough, Oregon is getting new Nike uniforms — for the volleyball team (nobody likes a tease, Ken Ocker). … Could Golden State be getting a new mascot?
Who really gives a fuck? Could be (with thanks to Brendan Tarpey). … Here’s something you don’t often see: a double-decker hyphenated subscript NOB. That’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin of the Detroit Shock (big thanks, as always, to Jeremy Brahm).